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Talking About Films  In The Classroom

To take full advantage of the prior knowledge that children bring to film viewings you may need to consider a different approach to teaching and learning. Children are likely to offer more complex and thoughtful responses to film than they do to other kinds of text. And because the LIAF films may be very different from what your children are used to, they may need encouragement to approach a film viewing with an open mind. There is no ‘right way’ to set up children’s first encounter with one of these films, the key principle is to try and ensure that the children enjoy the film and get something from it.

Preparing for the viewing
You will have your own ideas about how best to get the children interested in seeing the film and looking forward to it. But it is easy to over-prepare and to pre-empt the children’s own responses by setting them specific things to look or listen for, or by setting the film within a teaching sequence that imposes your own agenda on how the film could be interpreted.

You have three choices here:
• Undertake some extended preparatory work (for ways of doing this, see the following section: Preparatory Activities).
• Introduce the film very briefly and show it right through, followed by discussion and analysis (see Strategy A in the Strategies for Viewing section, p 5).
• Show the film in sections with pauses for comments and discussion (see Strategy B in the Strategies for Viewing section).

Which of these you choose depends on the film, on your class, and which approach makes you feel most confident. There is no right way; with other films or another class, you may decide on a different approach.

Preparatory Activities
Undertaking ONE of the following would probably be enough: each activity could  easily take 30-60 minutes if it works well. The first two activities should sharpen children’s inferential and predictive skills and alert them to the fact that films are constructed in complex ways; the third activity is designed to raise children’s awareness and stimulate their ideas about the themes the film deals with.

1 Listen to some of the film’s sound track (x)
Children are likely to be intrigued by this and will also be alerted to the important relationship that films construct between sound and image. Don’t make this into a ‘guessing game’ in which those who guessed wrong feel foolish when they see the film. Not every film will be suitable for this treatment. Signalis, A Sunny Day or The Propellerbird would work well. Select a SHORT bit of sound track: 30 seconds is ample; a minute is probably too much) and listen to it first yourself, to make sure that it will work. You could select something that is all sound effects, something that is just music, or a mixture of the two. Before playing it to the children, ask them to listen very carefully and to think about what clues the sound track offers about what may be happening in the film. You could divide the class into groups, asking each group to pay attention to a different aspect.

Aspects to consider:
Time: can you hear anything that suggests what time of day it is, whether the film is dealing with the past or the present?
Place: can you hear anything that suggests where the story is taking place: indoors or outside, city or countryside, etc?
Character: can you hear any characters doing things or making noises? (Remember that characters are not necessarily people). If so, how many characters can they hear and what do they seem to be doing?
Story: can you figure out what sort of story this might be and what might be going to happen?

Cover the screen or turn off the visual track and play the sound track extract at least twice. After discussion, play it again, so that the children can refine their ideas. Competent writers could try writing the opening sentence of the story, not to use the sound track as a stimulus, but to help them reflect on the differences between film and writing and the kinds of creative choices filmmakers and writers can make.

2 Look at one or more still images from the film
‘Grab’ an image from the film to show to the children on your IWB. You could show only part of the image to start with, especially if it is complex and detailed: use an IWB tool that allows you to move a ‘spotlight’ around or to progressively reveal a larger section of the image. You can take charge of the ‘reveal’ process or ask children to take turns. At each stage, ask the children to describe what they can see, using an open question such as “Tell me what you can see now”

and follow-up questions such as “Can you see anything else?” Where children are guessing, ask them “What can you see that makes you think that?” You need to alert them to the fact that everything in the frame has been put there on purpose and has a function in the story. Once the whole image is revealed, children can use their inferential skills to speculate about what may happen in the story and/or what they think they are going to learn about the character(s) they have studied in the still image.

3 Use writing, drawing or performance
For preliminary exploration of ideas, issues or stylistic approaches (to get ideas for this, look at the Things you might notice and Themes to explore sections in the notes for each film, pp 19-50).

Organising the viewing
Ensure that everyone can see the screen and hear the sound track properly. Group children on the carpet or in rows of chairs, rather than at tables spaced out round the room. Make sure no light falls on the screen and makes it hard to see. Establish some rules about behaviour. For a first viewing or when the children are looking carefully for something specific, you may want to have complete silence. In other contexts you may want pairs or trios to talk quietly. For some films you may expect strong reactions (laughter, surprise, disgust, etc) which could be discussed later.

Strategies for viewing
The big decision you have to make is (A) whether you want to start by showing the whole film right through, or (B) whether you want to stop at various points during the first viewing to ask questions and elicit responses. By opting for (A) you enable the children to respond to the film in its entirety. If you are confident that they will enjoy it and understand at least some of it – and/or be intrigued by what they don’t understand at first viewing – then try (A). If you think they will find the film challenging and may be resistant to it, then opt for (B). But in either case, turn to the other option afterwards: follow (A) with re-viewing, pauses and analysis; follow (B) with a chance to see the whole film through without interruption.

Strategy A
After showing the complete film, it is important to ask open questions. So don’t ask “What did you like best?” Instead, try some or all of these questions:

Questions to ask:
Q Was there anything you liked in the film?
Q Was there anything you didn’t like?
Q Was there anything you didn’t understand?

Note where there are differences of opinion (but don’t try to resolve them –
point out that “…it’s interesting that different people have different ideas and we’re going to have another look in a minute and check…”).  After a second or third viewing, these further questions can generate more reflection and probably a third or fourth viewing:

Further questions:
Q Did you notice any patterns?
Q How much time did the story in the film cover?
Q What would you tell other people about this film? (without giving the
story away)
Q What do you think were the most important things that happened in
this story?

Strategy B
Decide in advance on an interesting stopping-point, when you can ask things like:

Questions to ask:
Q What do you know about this character so far?
Q What do you know so far about the place (or ‘world’) that this story is
set in?
Q What do you think might happen next/in the end? (if they have not
seen it before)

Alternatively, or as well, you could encourage the children to ask their own questions at these points – but be ready to acknowledge that it may not be possible to answer them yet. You can prompt further comments by asking supplementary questions such as:

Further questions:
Q What did you see that gave you that idea/told you that?
Q What did you hear that gave you that idea/told you that?
Q How could you tell….[repeat the child’s comment]
Q That’s interesting: can you tell me a bit more about that? (especially
when their comment is not very clear)

After collecting comments and questions from the class (either as a whole- class discussion or from work in groups), show the film from the beginning, either to the same stopping-point, or right through to the end – whichever seems more appropriate. This time, use the still-frame control, to freeze the image at points relevant to their earlier comments. Don’t use this to introduce things you think they ought to have noticed – stick to their agenda. They may come up with new comments at this stage.

If you want to get them to look more closely at a freeze-frame, try not to prompt them but ask “What can you see?” and “What else can you see?” This can take a long time! Use the same supplementary questions as before. Some children may come up with ideas from their other media experiences and you may need to prompt this with questions like “Have you seen another film/heard another story where that happened?” They may also use their experience of having seen and discussed the first part of the film in order to make inferences and predictions based on clues that they feel are important.

Making the most of classroom talk
No two people’s experiences of the same film (or poem, or play, or story, or picture….) are ever exactly alike. You are trying to elicit their own unique point of view on this film, and then seeing to what extent they can articulate this, and perhaps whether they can relate it to what they have seen and heard. It’s important, therefore, to try and resist comments such as “That’s right!”, “Well done!” and “Yes we did see that didn’t we!” etc – however well-deserved they may seem. These establish the sense that you are seeking ‘right answers’, and encourage children to ‘Guess what’s in your mind’. If a child can’t answer right away, it’s important for her/him to know that this doesn’t matter. You could say “Do you want a bit of time to think about that?” or you could make a note and come back to it later, as in “You were saying something very interesting earlier on about….could you tell me a bit more about that?”

To summarise, the challenges for you are:
• Can you convince the children that what they say really matters and that there are no right or wrong answers?
• Can you reflect back enough of their response to show that you think it is interesting and worth reflecting on, without pre-determining their next
• Can you take up the cues in what they say in order to identify what kind of comment they are making?

The Crib Sheet (pp 51-59) is intended to help you recognise where some responses might lead in this kind of discussion. Having the Crib Sheet information in your mind as you listen to their responses may help you to frame follow-up questions. You’ll be listening for indications that they may be able to notice and comment on ANY aspect of film language: framing, composition, editing or sound. They may also make comments that relate to modality (ie how real it seemed/was meant to be) or to genre (ie other films like this; other films not like this). Use the question “Can you tell me a bit more about that?” when you think you might be able to elicit a bit more, but try not to prompt them or lead them to think that there’s a right answer.

Be careful not to exclude discussion about the sound track. Questions like “Can you remember what you heard at that point?” and “Do you think the character(s) in the film could hear that sound?” can be useful prompts.

Interesting lines of discussion to spot and develop:
• Modality: Are children interested in exploring the extent to which the film is/is not real/true to life/plausible/scientifically possible?
• Agency: Are children aware that the film was made by someone? Are they interested in how it was made? Do they have their own theories about how – or why – it was made? Do they have questions about this?
• Expectations: Did the children find anything unexpected? Did they enjoy the film? Did they mind if questions were left unanswered or did they find it puzzling?
• Confusion and misunderstanding: The children may ask you questions. As far as possible, try to counter these with “That’s interesting; I’m not sure. What do you think?” or at least say “Well I think it might be…[give brief explanation] …but I’m not sure.” You do not have to have the right answers.

Following up
Children may be keen to do a drawing about, or inspired by, the film. Some children may desperately want to solve a problem posed in the film, or to create a sequel, whether in play, drawing, writing or their own filmmaking. Younger children may talk you through their play or drawing, which can generate both questions and comments. Children may be keen to return to a film some days or even weeks after they have worked on it. Let them ask you to stop the re-viewing at any point if there is something they’d like to say. You might also want to ask whether they have changed their minds about the film. Did they see anything new or something that they didn’t notice last time?

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