Making Curriculum Pop

The Importance of Teaching about Moving Images in the Classroom

Today, the media plays a greater role than ever before in our daily lives. By incorporating moving images into the curriculum, educators can both make it more interesting and relevant for students and help them think critically about this influential, though often neglected, aspect of modernity.

Before we get into teaching moving images in the classroom, let’s talk about what kind of environment our kids experience nowadays, and what they can expect in the future. We live in a high-tech society, and all forms of technology are rapidly advancing. The media occupies a very important place in our culture, and many teens are fascinated with it to the extent that it influences how they think, behave and participate in society. The introduction and advancement of media and television has revolutionized the ways people communicate, study, work and perform many other daily activities. The media has also given teenagers new avenues of interest, including research tools, new forms of entertainment and social networking.

Not only do teenagers use the media for entertainment; it also influences young people’s political and civic participation more than any other social force, including parents or family members. Hoffman and Thomson “concluded that mass media constitute the principal source of political information for young people. This influential study also found that newspapers and television are the dominant tools for learning political information, and that young people attribute considerable influence on their opinions to the media” (2009, p. 5).

Consequently, it is important to understand how young people use the media as a socializing agent and as a source of political insights. The last presidential election demonstrated how the media and modern technology can influence young people’s political affiliations and concerns. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were able to recruit substantial support from teenagers because they could blog and express their views and concerns on the Internet. Subsequently, many politicians will begin to use these forms of technology to attract young voters.

Technology plays an important role in the field of education, since teenagers can use it to conduct research, obtain information about any subject, and complete assignments for classes they are taking. They can also watch movies, DVDs or videos that pertain to their class work. Therefore, technology has many advantages for educating youth. More “approachable” than traditional print sources, the media and moving images have become part of students’ everyday lives. Most students enjoy and are proficient in using them and they can be great teaching tools.

The next step for educators is to capitalize on students’ familiarity with and interest in moving pictures by incorporating them into the curriculum. We can integrate moving images into many subject areas in order to positively affect students’ learning skills. For instance, in English, the teacher could provide a film and ask pupils to identify metaphor and symbol in the movie. In a history lesson, the teacher could show a documentary about slavery and have students figure out what kind of camera angle, distance and lighting the filmmaker used to depict slaves’ pain and agony. The class may have a discussion about why these choices were made. In science class, the teacher could present a biology or wildlife documentary that provided a variety of actual images to correspond with the area being studied. As part of a music lesson, the students could be asked to notice how the

soundtrack influenced the mood and tone of a movie. These lessons can be fun and enjoyable for all involved. Not only would moving images enhance class discussion, but they would also motivate students to work on future research projects related to what they have learned.

In our conference, I loved Pam Goble’s activity, which provided a variety of roles for students to assume after viewing one scene of a film. In this activity, students were asked to play connector, economist, fashion critic, questioner, recorder, sociologist, technology specialist, and so on. It is great how this one lesson introduces so many roles that students can participate in. Also, this lesson gives students ideas for further research they may want to pursue. Both teachers and students can benefit from this activity, since it encompasses such a broad range of subject areas; it also teaches students that moving pictures are complex, multifaceted productions, a concept which they might otherwise not appreciate.

Additionally, incorporating film into the classroom can develop students’ literary perceptions and can advance their media literacy skills. Movies have a lot in common with literature. Novels possess character, setting, and plot; movies also contain the aspects of character, theme, lighting, narrative and so on. It follows that when students observe film, they can connect how its various elements relate to those in literature. Catherine Gourley mentioned how films have a beginning, middle and end structure just like novels, that serve to create meaning. They also have cause and effect just like history narratives.

Opponents of the widespread use of moving pictures disagree, and argue that movies are just for pleasure, and do not make good teaching tools. Critics may think that showing movies in the classroom is a waste of time and doesn’t connect to academic improvement. However, interestingly, the content of film is very similar to that of written text. Bell states that “the production of a film follows a process parallel to that of the written composition. Film provides not only a means of improving the visual literacy students so badly need but [is] also a way of improving language literacy” (1980, p. 94). Therefore, the use of film helps students think critically and creatively.

Furthermore, Catherine Gourley discussed the use of an “interdisciplinary approach,” which encourages pupils to carefully observe a film to discover how and why the moviemakers used particular visual and audio arrangements to deliver their message. I thought she effectively explained the purposes of the “read the book, watch the movie” approach and the “multi-disciplinary connections” approach in assessing a film’s value. Perhaps these two methods were used too frequently in many classrooms, and this is why kids do not engage well and do not think outside the box. We shouldn’t ask them, “Which one is better, the movie or the novel?” or “Which one is wrong and which is right?” We should not expect them to provide simple yes or no answers. We need to make students adopt more complex, nuanced patterns of thinking about media-related forms of expression.

Finally, in order for pupils to acquire critical viewing skills, instructors need to educate themselves on how to teach through moving images and media. Without constructive and valuable lesson plans, they may deliver negative or inaccurate messages and information to students. Teachers shouldn’t use media and moving images in their classrooms just because administrators say so or because everyone is using them. It is part of the teacher’s responsibility to make lessons fun and exciting for kids. However, teachers may need some help from school districts. Schools should provide workshops, teacher training courses and other resources to help educators develop creativity in their lesson plans.

As Bell explains, “Film is a visual language that shares the same basic principles of all languages. In its goal to communicate, film is dependent on the same rhetorical framework as written language. Speaker (sender)—Subject (purpose)—Audience (receiver)” (1980, p. 94). I think it’s very important that educators open their minds and adopt new, media-conscious teaching strategies and learning styles. Why use moving images in schools? We’re living in a world where technology and media are growing exponentially. Let’s acknowledge that they are here to stay, and recognize what our kids need and want to learn.

Hoffman, L., and Thomson, T. L., (2009). The effect of Television Viewing on Adolescents’ Civic Participation. Journal of Broadcasting. Vol 53.
Kathleen Bell (1980). Non-Print Media: Film in the Classroom: Reason, Resource, and Reference. The English Journal. Vol. 69, No.6, pp 94-96

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Comment by Sophy Joseph on May 5, 2009 at 6:22pm
Jiyean, Your post confirmed for me why it is so very important for teachers to use media in our classroom. I completely agree that in the age of blogging, online chatting and social networking, it is imperative for a teacher to engage her students into a technological classroom. It is the responsiblity of the teacher to educate herself on what is out there and how this can be used to enhance the classroom curriculum. Thank you for your insightful ideas.


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