Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsI think using film as a text helps our children to access written text more regularly, because we can actually teach them the skills using film as a medium. A lot of the children using film can actually think very deeply about characters, motivation and so on, and other aspects of comprehension. And then that is something that they can easily transfer to written texts. We found that children's reading scores and their progress in their reading accelerates because of the skills that they can bring to their reading through their work with film. I think most aspects of literacy can be covered using film. It's very suitable for grammar, including sentence structure and punctuation. For organising whole texts, text structure and organisation.

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 secondsAlso, the use of imagination, and composition, and effect. When you analyse a scene in a film and then when you analyse the same events through the paragraph of a book and you compare them, it's a really rich and engaging activity for children to do. I think using film as a natural text helps children to understand every aspect of the text including atmosphere, mood, the story, the setting, the characters. Particularly with younger children who have limited experience. No matter what background they're from, they still have a limited experience. If you start talking about deserts and things, they struggle to picture in their mind along with the actual process of reading the text.

Skip to 1 minute and 38 secondsTo me, the film just brings everything alive for them. And from the start, they are engaged and want to learn. What we found is, when you use the film you can link it into the text as well. For instance, you could say at a certain points in a film, this will be a paragraph break in a text because the scene is changing, or a new character has come in, so that this is a paragraph. Paragraphing, again, is a really tricky thing to teach children. You can use film to also look at use of punctuation within a text, and where would you use your adverbial openers. I even use clips to actually bring in grammar work as well.

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 secondsI was once working with a class of children who were viewing and working with the film El Caminante, one of the BFI story shots films. There was one young man in the class who found writing from a sequence within that film particularly difficult until he was shown how to break it down shot by shot. Once he'd analysed the shots, once he had done a lot of close-up work on the detail of the shots, he was able to write a free-flowing paragraph talking about the tightrope walker's walk across the gorge. In his writing, in brackets for the benefit of the teacher, he put the name of the shot. He would write a sentence, open brackets, close up shot, close brackets.

Skip to 3 minutes and 7 secondsWrite another sentence and write long shot, open brackets and close one. Mid shot and so on, so that the teacher and anybody who read it, without doubt, knew that it was looking at the shots that had actually helped him to construct the sentences.

Why use still and moving image to teach literacy?

Moving and still image play a central role in children’s lives and cultural understanding. Whether watching the latest blockbuster on Netflix, a Minecraft tutorial on YouTube or absorbing the images from an advertisement on the side of a bus, young people are surrounded by image stimuli from which they gain meaning.

Using image as a text provides us with a way of making literacy lessons relevant to young people, using a language that they revel in, and that is core to their understanding of the world. As we will see, the use of imagery in the classroom is also an excellent way to help children build on their literacy skills; creating opportunities to support comprehension, written expression and communication skills more generally.

Into Film, BFI and our partner organisations including Bradford Innovation Centre have carried out a wide range of independently assessed research projects which evaluate the impact of the use of moving image on pupil learning. In the video above, Tim and Philip from Bradford Council’s Curriculum Innovation Service discuss their work using film as text. Through the Media Literacy Project they worked with over 1,000 children in 37 schools for a three-year period (2014–17). The evaluation of the project, which was run in partnership with Bradford UNESCO City of Film (CoF), the BFI and Cape UK, found that:

  • On average, pupils progressed at a rate of 23% above expectations

  • This approach benefited pupils from a disadvantaged background to an even greater degree.

Improvements in inference, comprehension and vocabulary were especially praised by the report’s author, who went on to say that:

‘…image was an engaging part of the children’s social and cultural lives. Acknowledging its importance and utilising it in the literacy classroom does not only confirm to children that their culture, personality and interest are taken seriously, it also has the potential to transform literacy teaching and learning.’

In Into Film’s Full STEAM Ahead project, Northern Ireland (2016–18), support staff and the school community looked at integrating moving image into lessons across the curriculum through an in-depth programme of teacher training and in-class support that underlined the benefits of moving image in the classroom. The independent evaluator for that project found that:

  • Teaching practice was transformed, leading to broader cultural changes

  • The project became a catalyst for a range of new approaches to curriculum planning and strategic development

  • There was an increase in teacher confidence, skills and motivation in using a range of technology

  • Teachers and Senior Leaders also identified two key characteristics of film-based work that proved critical to success in the classroom:

1) It can be fun and engaging for pupils, as the introduction of film techniques enlivens lessons and motivates pupils of all abilities

2) Content creation is a mutable and accessible route into self-expression that promotes creativity and experimentation among pupils of all abilities.

Over the next two weeks we hope that we can share with you some of the key approaches that have made these projects such resounding successes, so you can reap the benefits of using still and moving image in your classroom.

How do you think the use of image as text can be a powerful tool for learning:

  • For your students?

  • For educators?

Please add your comments to the Comments section.

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This video is from the free online course:

Developing Literacy: A Journey from Still Image to Film

Into Film