Making Curriculum Pop

On the first day of class I was very inspired listening to Alan Teasley present "Why Film Matters: Teaching Film in the Age of You Tube and iMovie". On a personal level, I was excited about the direct connections between his emphasis on teaching moving images in way that is so connected to how I discuss still images with children everyday. But I was also struck by his universal approach of welcoming film into the classroom to accommodate the technological and cultural understandings of students at hand. Teasley has been teaching film for decades and began first teaching from reel to reel format then video tapes and now DVDs, iMovie and You Tube. Throughout this time, it appears that he aims to meet students where their interests and knowledge might lie. But also then pushes them into new realms of thought by exposing them to new ideas, new cultures and different eras of film.

Teasley's presentation revealed the educational value of film in the "literacies" it teaches. According to Teasley, the primary types of literacy learned through film can be:
- critical literacy
- information and communications technology (ICT)
-media literacy
-visual literacy

Teasley quotes Goodman in his description of critical literacy and media "A critical literacy empowers low income, urban teenagers (Teasley describes that this could be all people) to understand how media is made to convey particular messages and how they can use electronic and print technologies themselves to document and publicly voice their ideas and concerns". Teasley then continues to describe ICT literacy as a means for individuals to understand how to communicate with all forms of technology. Media literacy can allow one to question if what they see in the media "really represents reality" and what might be some of the messages behind these various forms of media. Finally, visual literacy connects our preexisting knowledge of language to what we see and how we interpret these entities within communication.

The argument for the use of film and other media in the classroom is closely related to the statistics Teasley shared regarding children and their current use of media outside of school. For example, he cited that, according to the Kaiser Foundation, "students are exposed to 8:33 hours of media content per day in 6+ hours of use" and that "Media use increases with age: 61% of babies to 90% of 4-6 year olds". Therefore, Teasely calls for a break down of these forms of media for children to have a greater understanding of what they experience on the screen. He seems to believe that the best place for this learning to take place is the classroom and even offers specific rationale for including film in the English curriculum. As part of this rationale, he claims, "Given the amount of visual information students cope with these days, critical viewing is a survival skill" and continues, "Since films deal with many of the themes and subjects English teachers are interested in, viewing film together as a class provides opportunities for discussion and writing". Therefore, he developed a clear way of breaking down films to accommodate learning in the English classroom.

Teasley calls this process of breaking down a film for greater understanding "how to read a movie". Students learn how to read a movie by dissecting a film according to it's literary elements, dramatic elements and cinematic elements (film terms). It was very helpful to see this in practice as he demonstrated with us as a class. Alan played two short clips from the first scenes of the film, E.T. As we watched these two clips, we were asked to complete a worksheet with spaces for us to identify what we noticed about the different elements of film evident within those scenes. Among these elements of film were types of shots (close, medium, long), camera angles (high, low, eye-level) and editing (cut, fade, dissolve, wipe). After we completed these worksheets, we collectively discussed the similarities and differences between these scenes then connected the these elements of film to what we believed might have been communicated through these elements.

When learning "how to read a movie", I began to realize the very close connections between this process and what I do everyday with children. As a museum educator, I essentially work with school groups learning to read a still image (drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture). One of my main goals in teaching is to teach visual literacy and critical thinking skills. I came to realize that these goals are directly connected to those of Alan Teasley and his approach to film. Therefore, we are both concerned with how children can learn how to communicate with a visual language.

As a museum educator, I work with children k-12 in various art museums. Prior to their visit to the museum, I talk with classroom educators to find what their students have been studying and then apply this information to the objects on view within the institution. I then develop a lesson to help emphasize their topic (World War II, influence of Asia on America, storytelling etc.) in the form of visual art. In the galleries, I conduct an inquiry-based discussion of the selected objects to connect what students already know about the topic to new ideas they might come to realize through the works of art. Hands-on writing, drawing or movement activities often accompany these discussions to make further (and hopefully exciting!) connections between the subject, the objects and the students in their experience at the museum. It was not until I began the Teach Think Play III course, when I realized that I too commonly stick to teaching from still images rather than moving images. Although there are often films on view within the institutions for which I work, I primarily stick to using only the still image in my lessons. With Teasley's guidance in "how to read a film", I realized that I already have many of the tools to teach from film with students. It is also advantageous to use films when working with students in the museum since, as Teasley points out, they are already so connected to new forms of media outside the classroom.

I have already been very inspired to teach from film within the museum environment as well as in the classroom setting. In my research of films to connect to student learning, I have discovered films by many artists whose still images I commonly teach from. For example, Andy Warhol produced a wide array of films that can be taught independently and also in conjunction with his still images. Similarly, films created by Salvador Dali echo his Surrealist style and can be used as tools to create a better understanding of this art movement.
I also began to more thoroughly research extensive collections of films owned by the institutions for which I work. For example, the Museum of Modern Art holds more than 22,000 films in their film library. This film department also regularly holds exhibitions of films with themes directly connected to the exhibitions held within the galleries of the museum. For example, the film department is now showing films by Andy Warhol focusing on one aspect of his aesthetic based on the West coast "The West: Character and Reinvention by Andy Warhol" as the photography exhibit, "Into the Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West" shows in the main galleries. Although other museums, such as the Guggenheim Museum, do not hold regularly scheduled exhibitions of films, they often incorporate short films into exhibitions within the galleries. For example, a recent exhibition "The Third Mind" focused on art inspired by Asian philosophies and accompanied sculptures, paintings, ephemeral art and films. One example of the films on view is Mark Thomsons "Immersion" which could have served as a helpful bridge for students to understand the concept of zen and the acheivement of a peaceful state of mind.

I also found that some art museums offer a number of opportunities for young people to watch and discuss films together. For example, the Museum of Modern Art offers "Films for Tweens", a series of films that provides facilitated discussion between tweens and their families within the museum. This series often includes filmmakers who speak at the film showing. Therefore, many of the discussions are geared towards the process of creating the film. The museum also offers a series of films for older teens to engage in film discussion with one another. On these Free Teen Nights, teens watch films then generate discussion based on the political, social and emotional aspects of the film. These opportunities allow young people to discuss film in an open forum. However, the discussion is facilitated in a different manner from Teasley as he breaks down each aspect of the film and interjects discussion between scenes in the film.

Teasley's method of reading a film compares the the object-based teaching conducted by museum educators because it encourages viewers to spend a longer time looking and analyzing the images in front of them. Museum educator, Rika Burnham describes this process of facilitating "how to look" in her article "The Art of Teaching in the Museum". Similar to Teasley, Burnham encourages viewers to focus on literary aspects of images (characters, setting, theme etc.) as wel as some dramatic elements (costumes and sets). Similar to the cinematic elements of films, Burnham and other educators encourage viewers to observe paintings according to the points of view exhibited (types of shots) and cropping (editing). But there are still a number of aspects of film that cannot completely connect with the use of still images (sources of sound, duration of shots, direction). As a result of these differences, I was inspired even further to implement Teasley's methods.

Not only did Teasley's presentation inspire me to use film more in discussion, it also directed my attention to the teaching of film making with students. His breakdown of cinematic elements can be helpful in letting students know what they can also include in their own films. As Teasley demonstrated, these cinematic elements do not need to be used only in the creation of elaborate films. But can also be incorporated into the creation of iMovies. I found that Stop motion animation can be another way for children to put the cinematic elements of film into action. Yet another way for children to apply cinematic elements in a hands-on way was suggested by TTP III speaker, Jen Powers. Powers developed an activity where she gave her students a collection of still images and they were challenged with selecting and arranging the images, combined with sound, to create a narrative.

The presentations of Alan Teasley and other speakers in the Teach Think Play III course helped me learn a great deal about the elements of film and how this learning can be applied in specific ways in classrooms. This inspired me to consider how I can apply film discussion and film making in the context of my own teaching environment. Additionally, I now feel empowered to explore the area of film even more and find new ways to apply it to all the age groups I teach. Among the new resources I have found to help me do this is the British website, Film Street. This website it great for young children to learn vocabulary and elements of film through fun interactive activities. I also came across another (British!) website, MediaEd, which seems to be a great resource for teachers who plan to teach film making in the classroom. Discussion of film and film making are so closely tied to what I have been doing with children in museums with still images. In addition to this new information that I have come across, I look forward to applying what I have learned from Alan Teasley and the other presenters of Teach Think Play III in my own practice.

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