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.