Questions for Claire A
These questions may pertain either to your general concerns or curiosities about teaching in secondary classrooms or to your specific interests in the teaching of film.
What types of film genres are best suited for classroom instruction?
>> I believe that any genre of film are easily teachable in a classroom (to a reasonable extent of course). I have had many success with 'horror', drama, action, animation, etc. I tend to study two films in one unit, a 'classic' and then something a little more modern. My best advice to you is to teach something you feel passionate about. To start your film unit, teach a film you are familiar with so that the students can see your passion with the film. For example, I will never teach a Western film because I am just not interested in that genre. Remember though, that some films depict certain aspects better than others. E.g. some focus more on character/plot development while others employ excellent examples of cinematic techniques. So you need to ask yourself what is the purpose of teaching that particular film?
Which unit do you situate film within and why?
>> I tend to situate film in a unit on its own, as I am a big believer in teaching 'film as film' and not just using it to portray filmic adaptations of texts. I introduce film studies near the beginning of the term so the students have the knowledge of the terms/techniques/theories that they can apply throughout the year. I.e. later in the year, when studying Romeo and Juliet, and comparing the Zeffirelli and Luhrmann versions, they know to apply the film terminology to support their opinions/explanations, etc.
What types of activities do you employ in the teaching of film?
>> Many, many different kinds... hopefully my presentation will help to show this.
Do you take risks with the types of films you show?
>> YES! I believe that this is a must. Challenging students to view foreign films and 'older films' or even films in black and white helps to demonstrate not only the history of film, but also to create a deeper appreciation of the genre. If by risks, you also mean something violent or films with extreme nudity or foul language, then my answer is still the same, but it all depends on how comfortable you are with teaching such films and, of course, how your students (and possibly admin and parents) will accept the film. One way around this is distributing permission forms... just a thought....
Just how sophisticated are high school students in terms of media literacy in general and film in particular?
>> Again, it depends on your group of students. But overall, on average, I found that the majority of students are very sophisticated in dealing with areas of media literacy and film because, let's face it, they are the experts. For the most part, they know more than we do, it's just, in regards to film, they don't have the metalanguage and need guidance in order to navigate and analyze film. It will astound you how much they already know... And, the lower academic students or the students who never say one word in class will all of a sudden have the confidence to contribute to class discussion and to actually write more than one sentence for a response. Film can be viewed to be a universal language- we are all able to view something and come to some sort of interpretation.
What are the best resources you can think of in terms of lesson planning both in terms of film and literature in general?
>> For film, I hope to direct you to some sources in my presentation. But for literature, you will have to give me some time to think and reflect on that.... it's been awhile....
Would you mind sharing some of your lesson plans?
>> Yes. Just so you know though, my lesson plans are mostly stored in Alberta, but I have some files available on my computer. I would be more than happy to share or offer advice or to just be someone you can bounce ideas off of.
In terms of high school in general, how safe and supported do you feel to take risks in terms of subject matter?
>> Most of this depends on your administration but also with your school board and staff members. I was fortunate enough to work in a school where the admin (as well as the school board and staff) supported me 110%. I was free to explore nearly any kind of literary text (and I taught in a Catholic school!) I taught most of the administrators' children and they knew exactly what I was teaching and I never heard a complaint nor did they ever question my choices. (I even had one embarrassing moment and still, the admin never questioned my choices.) I have, however, had friends who have tried to take risks (whether it be introducing a 'racy' text or even using film or technology in the classroom) and their administrators would not support their decision. Some administrators are willing to listen and may be swayed to support you.
Are kids these days any different really than any other generation?
>> In a way, yes. This requires a long winded answers, but the short of it can be described in one word: entitlement. Some students don't feel they need to work for anything anymore. But that's not to say ALL students are like this, but generally, I feel there is a difference in 'kids these days'....
Would you mind sharing your feelings about the BCTF, the Ministry, the PLOs, and standardized testing?
>> This is hard for me to comment on, coming from Alberta. But, I believe Alberta's ministry and area of education is severely lagging behind in keeping up-to-date with the English curriculum. Much of their focus is on developing the sciences and math. I have yet to hear of a new initiative to change the English curriculum. Standardized testing is a whole other issue. To some extent, I agree with it, but I don't agree with how the English exams are administered. Furthermore, I don't agree with the grade 12 provincial exam being worth 50% of the students' final grade.
In showing a film, what are the best ways to keep students engaged and attentive in the actual viewing?
>> One way is to show a film they WILL be interested in. Avoid showing films they are already familiar with. Introduce the film with as much passion (similar to my comment to one of Mike's questions). If you know that the film might take some 'getting used to', connect the students to the piece. Try to have them picture experiencing a similar event in their lives. Michael Vetrie writes an article where he discusses the benefits of film, specifically in increasing literacy skills. He talks about connecting to the students 'schemata' or background or experiences. In order to engage students in active viewing, sometimes you need to find a film they might be able to connect with. But also, if you provide the building blocks in order for the students then they gain deeper appreciation for the film. E.g. Schindler's List (I hope to discuss this further in class, but if I don't feel free to e-mail me...)
Do you generally use a film as a "hook"/opening or as closure?
>> As I commented to Mike, I use film as an entirely separate unit. But, sometimes, I use it as a hook for some activities, such as writing. Using clips of films or even still shots can be just as powerful as viewing a film in its entirety. Again, I hope to discuss more of this in class, but if I don't, feel free to e-mail me.