Making Curriculum Pop

Reflection Paper: 2009 Teach, Think, Play III: The Moving Image in the Classroom

Our second session of Teach, Think, Play III, The Moving Image in the Classroom, held at Teachers College, Columbia University on Saturday April 5 2009, began with a presentation by Mary T. Christel entitled “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Gender (But Were Afraid To Learn From Classic Hollywood Comedies)”. Christel presented the pedagogy of using film in the classroom through a “genre” approach towards instruction for middle school and older aged learners. She focused on comedy through its basic types of slapstick, screwball and romantic form, naming “repetitive repartee” the “building blocks of comedy”. Christel discussed the fundamentals of analyzing film to identify its constructions and characters such as “pinpoint[ing] the comic premise” and roles of “comic protagonist” and “fish out of water”. We reviewed comic techniques (i.e. sight gag versus running gag) and Christel spoke to “Going Beyond Content Analysis” that examines, among other areas, mise-en-scene, setting, and physical expression of figures. In a packet for the class, Christel included resources of film excerpts, supplemental videos and print texts.

The remainder of our session focused in film clips Christel presented from Bringing Up Baby, It Happened One Night and His Girl Friday. These clips were our visual texts to examine the performance and structure of gender roles in America during 1930-1940. Gender prototypes of this era include female “ice queen” and male “befuddled patriarch”. Christel distributed worksheets to our class labeled “Developing Guiding Questions for Critical Viewing of A Comic Sequence”. These supplement student viewing in coordinating their responses through exploration of filmic narrative and expressive technique. In application to our sequence “The Thumb on the Limb” from It Happened One Night, we examined the “incongruent” appearances of the male and female characters’ to their situation and identified the female character at greater disadvantage given her physical attire, inclusive of high-heeled shoes.

After naming the “fish out of water” we queried dialogue between characters. When the male “asserts” his knowledge how does the female “regard [these] displays”? Ultimately she 'hitches' their ride, which offers an interesting departure point for dialogue concerning the inversion of gendered power roles being discussed.

Christel advocates film viewing for advanced English classroom learning and literacy. Chapter six includes a list of films to be developed alongside literary texts in the classroom and film curricula for complex dramas such as “Reversal of Fortune”. Christel states that film can represent “meaningful enrichment” to students considered “eager reader[s]” (2001, p. 68). A multi-literacy learning experience for the student is unique through utilizing "techniques" gleaned from both text and visual resources wherein the student applies his/her “very sophisticated insights” (2001, p. 68) cultivated through literary texts to new forms of media text. To strengthen the fusion of multiple medias in text-based classrooms Dr. William Kist describes the “power unleashed” in his students when they composed work using “non-print-based media” (Kist, 2005, p. 2). In tracking developments of traditional literacy leading to defining a “ ‘new literacies classroom’ ” (2005, p. 4) he describes a vision of contemporary literacy linked to critical literacy that “disrupt[s] dominant social practices through resistant reading and writing of texts” (Rogers 2002, as cited in Kist 2005, p. 7).

To address this emerging question of reflexive versus critical literacy that film may provoke (and the interactive possibility of these learnings) Christel’s presentation directly assessed a formal educational imperative as the focus of film viewing and learning for students. It is imperative, Christel stated, that prior to creating a film curriculum an educator must query his/her intention of using film and should create a curriculum based on goals of those student learnings. The inclusion of film clips or full-length film can be considered here. As Kist invoked within his Teach, Think, Play III presentation the following day concerning the global (actual and virtual) aspect of media literacy learning, Christel reminded us that film can be taught through its representation of inherently epistemological inquiries of civilization and humanity. As such, film can be a very important tool to reflect and problematize these developments for students. The Museum of the Moving Image could be an excellent field trip resource for classroom teachers to further explore with students the histories and significances of multiple media.

As each genre of film may hold unique instructional value, Christel mentioned that tropes of her comedy curriculum can be adapted to other genres in a teaching context. For comedic film, Christel’s pressing questions include, “What makes something funny or intentionally comedic?”; “What makes [a film] classroom friendly?”, and important to the educator teaching and learning in an American classroom, “How do [films chosen] explore the American dream?”. This latter inquiry can link the exploration of multi-literacy learning to content areas of American Studies, Cultural or Social Studies, and specifically to cultural historiographies, those examining various inter-america relationships. Through these questions posed by Christel, my understanding of the role of multimedia literacies coheres neatly. It indicates student learning that results from a teaching, which values and incorporates technological complexities into the classroom, within an understanding that using human-created materials (perhaps otherwise considered "art") can hold substantial value for students' formal development in the classroom.

These materials can include print text; computer generated text; filmic narrative, and materials of aural, tactile, aesthetic sensation i.e. interpolating student learning with museum artifacts. Rather than a focus to the type of motivational learning text selected it is rather how that text is invoked and discussed with students that define the openness of learning to which students may enter. As we examined Depression era comedies, Christel commented, “Comedy can have a great deal of pathos”, inclusively reflecting “social commentary of the time”. If film can provoke questions of history, there are likely other disciplines that can benefit through the inclusion of film to promulgate class discussion. To reviewing contemporary comedy in the classroom, a critical question is how to "make bridge" from early comedy. I would be very interested to learn how Christel might consider the original Pink Panther film series (beginning in 1963) as applicable for middle or high school classroom curriculum? Could the relationship between Kato and Inspector Clouseau explore ethnic tensions and power roles in employer relationships through its use of "humor" (versus an appeal to wit) comic sequence? The series uses "violence" of their fight sequences to illustrate their relationship to often absurdist comic effect while offering a sense of "order", legitimacy and honor between the two. Could Inspector Clouseau be viewed as "comic protagonist" and studied for the comic technique used to create his character as one of the iconic comedic characters of the 1960's? An example of a possible teaching sequence could be:

Christel shared that she initially encountered difficulty at administrator and curriculum developer levels in advocating film curricula because film was “not seen as a legit kind of composition process”. To me Christel’s persistence and development of extensive coursework in film and media studies adds to her passionate ethos as an educator. Within today’s developing new literacies, an integration of film knowledge capital to text-based skill may fuse into a new all-adapted literacy. Ideally Christel said, her work is to facilitate the student’s journey from “cinephile to cineaste”. Here is an interesting interdisciplinary new media PhD program UC Berkeley offers in Film ... and a link to the American Film Institute’s “Education” page. These are interesting sites to review in considering the value assigned in contemporary higher education to film study and within a major national film organization in its ethos to education. A revealing of attitudes and considerations of film study today within these scholarly, organizational circles has value to its reflection on the adult world that younger scholars may be joining as they develop concurrently in cinema studies.

In our first three sessions, two dominant theories have arisen that assess the educational valuing of film. How is film perceived as a valid content area for education (film studies) and conversely as an imagistic medium to supplement non-media based learning? Our second session can be summarized through Christel’s observation of the “kinesthetic” nature of “so many kids” today. This is where the question of how educators respond to such lively learners takes root. Christel commented that if students continue to study film they will “build [a] cultural literacy”.

This conceptualization of the contemporary classroom as the space where a teacher can grow with his/her students to create a learning environment of film appassionatos is very interesting to me, not least of all because I am a cinephile but because I see genuinely prolific and heuristic value in film. Expansive literature in education affirms the connection of formal education to the possibility of synthesized success and growth of student-individuals with motivation towards specific capital goals (Feinberg&Soltis, 2004 and Shields&Mohan, 2008 offer interesting perspectives on this). Thus there is a responsibility for contemporary educators to represent and teach within the walls of a classroom that reflect to its outside, empirical world. I am interested in what aesthetics education can offer students as a way of assessing this 'empirical world'. Beverly Naidus' new book, and her ning, are excellent resources that explore the intersection of art literacy to frameworks of peace educatory instruction. These can be applied through any discipline approach and can certainly use new media in its curriculum developments. I look forward to continuing to explore our emerging definitions of media literacy and its purpose for world education in our final workshop session and continuing dialogue on the NING.

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Comment by Kate Burch on May 5, 2009 at 12:06am
Dina, thank you so much for this post. It's incredibly thoughtful and your language really opens up a central concept I had been struggling with, which is the emancipatory angle of critical viewing. Mary Christel started to open the way to this by naming a gender dynamic, one that we all live with to the point that we may not see it. This how critical practice, in Freire's sense of it, can lead to transforation.
Comment by Dina Paulson on May 1, 2009 at 9:51am
Hi Megan!

Thank you for your comments. I think it's terrific that our class and NING discussions are offering expansive learnings for you about the way any 'moving image' can be used in the classroom. As we talked about in group work last Saturday (and also generated ideas as an entire group during 'speak out'), there are a plethora of reasons why using live media to engage students in learning lessons today is so valuable and important for educators, and their education systems, to recognize. Not least of all these reasons focus to Christel's statement of the kinesthetic learner today. Since kids are spending such significant time with media, also demonstrated through Dr. Kist's presentation and work, it is the duty of educators to learn to assess these skills and apply them to content learnings in the classroom.

I think it's wonderful that you have derived a sequence of meaningful clips from "The Ringer". In thematic kind, I can suggest screening the entire film (or portions of) "Patch Adams" for students. You can supplement discussion and learnings from Dr. Adam's website, to explore with students the life story of this medical professional and the educational activity in which he has involved himself through his work.

I am wishing you the best of luck for your upcoming classes that explore these issues through media with students. I would love to hear feedback from you about your students and their perceptions of these lessons!

Comment by Megan Lucas on April 30, 2009 at 7:05pm
Hi Dina,
I agree with your comment that teachers should not feel bound to using mainstream "Blockbuster" films in the classroom. During the course, however, I also came to realize that students can learn great concepts without only viewing cinematic materpieces and independent films. When Napoleon presented his curriculum for teaching genetics from the film "The 6th Day" I was at first a bit skeptical of what students might learn from a Hollywood action film. After his presentation, I was amazed to see how he used small clips to draw attention to certain concepts and the plot remained in the background of their learning.

Similarly, I was interested in Pam Goble's use of the Kit Kitredge film. Again, I was not expecting a great deal of cinematic excellence from this tween film whose father company makes large profits from the dolls sold in association with the film. But when Pam allowed us to dissect the film from a historical perspective, I realized how much information can be gained from such films, especially when used in small doses.

These realizations have allowed me to become less hesitant when considering the use of segments from films whose overall quality I may tend to question. For example, I recently just watched the Johnny Knoxville movie, "The Ringer", a film about athletes with developmental delays. I now plan to use certain clips from this film when discussing pre-judgement and misconceptions. Hopefully I can also include other films that students may not have seen in their local blockbuster movie theater.

Comment by Dina Paulson on April 29, 2009 at 5:30pm
Hey Alicia!

Thank you for your question, and I'm glad you enjoyed my post! I wonder if a guided study with students in mainstream, popular films such as "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" (2008) could be used to problematize stereotypes that can evolve from unexamined social inequality? I don't know if you've seen this film, but I thought it achieves this societal critique rather well. For example, in the beginning of the film when the two main characters have boarded a plane, a female passenger looks at Kumar (who might physically appear to be of Middle Eastern descent) and imagines him as "a terrorist" crashing the plane. The way this scene is filmed offers good comic effect (you can see it beginning at :23 in this trailer) and I think the reason why it is humorous can be examined critically.

Questions for students might be is this scene funny; if so, what makes it funny? Are there other reactions to it? What image does the female passenger see and where might this come from? After she "expresses" her stereotyping by screaming "Terrorist", panic ensues in the plane and Harold and Kumar are officially interrogated. Here an educator might provoke a conversation concerning 'truths' or 'assumptions' about these situations, and possibilities of social violence that result from stereotypes and their vocalization.

Also, to a general discussion we generated within Teach, Think, Play III, I think educators should not be afraid to use mainstream 'Blockbuster' material in the classroom, especially if kids are already following such works. School can be a place where such stereotypes embedded in filmic language can be evaluated through facilitated ethics discussion. Even if the film is not specifically 'instructional', it can be the educator's responsibility to assess a modern film piecemeal and present it as critical viewing for students.

Comment by Dina Paulson on April 29, 2009 at 4:51pm
Dear Kate,

Thank you for your support! You're right, when I look at issues in education, I address them through a holistic worldview. In the recent New York Times article "In Singapore, a More Progressive Islamic Education", I am interested in the positive review of these schools to include teachings about globalization and The United Nations. The intersection of new media studies within a 'globalization' unit or discussed as the affect of globalization can be considered progressive study but dependent to its schooling context. As some schools in Singapore experience profound change in their curricula and approach to learning, perhaps new media learning and its literacies will be considered supplemental to lessons in global worldviews. It might also be considered the next, progressive curricula development for classroom inquiry. One mother commented that within the new madrasas, her child would be learning "the Muslim and the outside world". For me, this raises the question of what kind of knowledge capital would the student-citizen accumulate in a classroom towards global foci, and how might this be furthered by multi-media literacy learning?

I think this article provokes interesting examination of such global and cultural classroom development and how it might intersect to the formation of media studies curricula.

Comment by Dina Paulson on April 28, 2009 at 7:51pm
Dear Caitlin,

Thank you for your comment! I am glad that you enjoyed reviewing the Berkeley link.

Regarding your commentary about wishing you had engaged in high school cinema studies, I definitely understand. My first exposure to the pedagogy of cinema occurred within an undergraduate course, which forever altered my framework of the intersection to viewing humanity and aesthetics. Here is a very interesting news release, which documents "World Cinema Day" for Wisconsin high schools, organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Language Institute, with collaboration of the Wisconsin Film Festival. The program is considered an "outreach" program for select Wisconsin high schools, with the goal of introducing films to students whom otherwise might not be exposed to such international film, and its provocation for world-culture discussion. This event focused around the German and Iranian documentary "Football Under Cover", after which the students had opportunity to engage in discussion with one of its directors.

I am excited and supportive in reviewing film events such as Wisconsin's "World Cinema Day". As Christel demonstrated solidly throughout her presentation (and to which Teasley & Wilder attested in citing that a tenth grader, upon viewing Samurai I during class, rented the remaining films in the trilogy), middle school and high school aged students are not too young to be exposed to filmic works, nor to be engaged by them. And, particular to international film, exposure to worlds or storylines that might not seem to resonant to a student's lived experience can offer the opportunity to begin dialogue about cultural relationships, identify linkages and grow a cultural knowledge base. Through engaging with a film such as "Football Under Cover", discussion can begin around "the other" in a way that is progressive and not diminutive. Relevant portions of Edward Said's 1999 memoir, "Out of Place" can supplement this discussion through its provocative treatment on historical and individual perspectives of "otherness".

Comment by Dina Paulson on April 27, 2009 at 10:34am
Hi Julia!

Thank you for your comment. I agree that the physical representation of actors and their setting in films can be powerful in promulgating deeper understanding of the narrative and context of performance. I can recommend an excellent film by Chen Kaige, a well-known Chinese director, called (the English translation) Together (2002). I believe this film can be affecting in the humanity of its narrative as well as its interpretation and representation of globalization. The humanity theme, I feel, regards the storyline of a father and son who leave their rural background in China to live in Beijing. Given today's economic climate (and its affects in, for example, the re-patriation of national and professional development social structures), I think this intra-national migration can be applicable to other nation-state situations. This can be explored in Japan's recent legislature concerning immigrant status. "Together" holds meaningful scenes for instructive viewing, such as when the son befriends an older woman in Beijing and we see her apartment decorated carefully with Western paraphanelia, i.e. the image of Marilyn Monroe. These might be the moments, as you commented, in which viewing a sequence can reveal a great deal about the lived time period of the story vis-à-vis its political, social, and in the case of developing China, global bildungsroman.

I wish you many more revelational moments of film viewing!

Comment by Kate Rosenbloom on April 26, 2009 at 8:09pm
Hey Dina.

Its so good to hear that you're thinking deeply about ways that new media can be incorporated into all different types of classrooms in all different types of countries. I know you're in the International Studies program, so the issues behind using media in international classrooms, especially in developing countries, must be an interesting and thought-provoking challenge for you!

Comment by Julia Kim on April 24, 2009 at 9:41pm
Hiya Dina- When we watched 'It Happened One Night,' without guiding questions, I probably didn't pay attention to characters' appearances all that much. I'm the person that usually don't pay attention while watching movies/shows, perhaps I should prepare myself guiding questions before watching a movie hahaha. Ok, back to seriousness, the short movie clip (a few seconds of the characters walking together... a minute of conversation) did represent that time period's culture pretty well. Power of moving images~
Comment by Caitlin Nagle on April 23, 2009 at 4:18pm
Hi Dina,

I was also struck by Christel's dedication to developing film coursework! I wish I had been given the chance to study cinema in high school, it would have helped engage me in the classroom during a time when students struggle with staying mentally present.

Great link to the Berkley program too!


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