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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reading Film: The Story of Movies

Martin Scorsese champions a visual-literacy curriculum, available free to teachers for use in middle school classrooms. Read the article.

Colleen: So, right now your job is to figure out where the light's coming from, how strong it is, the intensity, and perhaps how it makes you feel. Caroline?

Caroline: There was more than one light source, because you can see that half of the guy's face is lit up and that other half of his hat.

Narrator: These Santa Barbara sixth-graders are analyzing scenes from classic films like "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Student: It kind of seems like there might be moon -- a moon.

Narrator: They're in the middle of a four-week project called "The Story of Movies," a free curriculum that helps students develop critical-thinking skills and fosters an appreciation for the complexities of moviemaking.

Cathy: What we want teachers and children to do is look at film through three different lenses. The first lens would be film as a language, as a powerful communication tool. The second lens would be to look at film as a historical, cultural document, and then the final lens is to look at film as a work of art.

Narrator: Filmmaker Martin Scorsese started the program when he realized that kids needed tools to interpret the visual imagery they're immersed in every day.

Martin: So much of today's society is done visually and even subliminally for young people that it could be dangerous, and one has to know it's a very, very powerful tool. We don't mean to be having young people take two hours of their time to just sit and enjoy a movie. No, this is a learning experience. What you're doing is training the eye and the heart of the student to look at a film in a different way by asking questions and pointing to different ideas, different concepts.

Colleen: Can we have some people tell us why a cinematographer changes the lighting in a film?

Student: If it's lighter, it's more happy sometimes, and if it's darker it's mysterious and...

Colleen: So many of my children have told me that the way they get their information is from the television or from the movie screen, and when I ask them, "Well, how true do you think it is? How valid are those pieces of film clip?" they seem to think that it's all true because they saw it on film. So, I feel that this program and others like it that show how films are made, how it is artificial, will help them not just to believe things just because they're on the screen.

Narrator: The "Story of Movies" curriculum package, including lesson plans and DVDs, is available free of charge to teachers around the country. In a cross-curricular approach, students first learn the history of film, then move to lessons about the tools filmmakers use, from science experiments dealing with the properties of light...

Colleen: Watch what happens to the light, how it changes.

Narrator:... to observations of how various musical scores convey different emotions.

Cathy: Students have to tap their knowledge of music, their knowledge of art, their knowledge of literature, their knowledge of history in order to understand what's going on in the film. We can't just show it to them and say, "Now tell me what it means."

Martin: They need to know how ideas and emotions are expressed through a visual form, panning left and right, tracking in or out, booming up and down, intercutting a certain way, the use of a close-up as opposed to medium shot. What is a medium shot? What is a long shot? And how do you use all these elements to make an emotional and psychological point to an audience?

Student: I've never really thought to make my own movie before, and now I think it would be really fun, especially because now I've learned so much about the lighting and how much work it takes behind the scenes to make a movie and how lighting and music really affects the setting and the mood of it. I think it's a lot of work.

Narrator: For more information on what works in education, go to edutopia.org.

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Comments (57)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Joan Peters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The comment that was made in the video clip, "about what they learned in the movie, must be true." I never really thought of how the students really connected to the videos. I already took a class this summer on how to do movie maker and plan to incorporate it in the classroom. It will be interesting to see how much knowledge they remember from my videos.

Joan Peters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the time allowed. I feel that as teachers we are always playing catch up, so finding time to create and play they clips might be a squeeze.

adriana hardy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with using video to enhance student's learning. I have shown several movies to my students in preparing for the benchmarks and they seem to retain the information that they have seen on video as well as from my story telling more than if they had just read it straight from the text.

Claudia Pitman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As I watched this video I noticed that the children were really engaged. However, they're not going to think critically about the movies on their own. As the teacher mentioned in the video, students originally think that what they are looking at is "real". It is up to facilitators to model and scaffold critical thinking skills in order for them to learn about analyzing what they see every day and challenge its validity. These are skills that many of our students have difficulty internalizing and therefore can be of great use in learning social studies in our classrooms.

Stacy Coughlin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the video. I have shown my students several video to prepare for upcoming benchmarks and to teach new information and the students seem to get it more when they see it in a video. I think they find it more interesting. I also think it would be a great learning tool to have students make videos as well.

Anna Patrice Garcia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kids are brilliant regarding technology - this program makes it even better. The mixture of art, music, and language (reading, writing, speaking, listening) through video and movie making (behind the scenes) is incredible. We should all teach this way! It's the perfect way to engage all students.

Nicole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our social studies book is very difficult for my kids, so I have begun using many different pictures, audio, books, videos, and games to help the kids learn concepts. They are much more interested in social studies and are better able to interpret and relate information.

Laura Varela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I definitely agree that using video's enhances student's learning. Students are automatically more engaged in the classroom when they know we are doing something that incorporates some sort of movie or video of the subject that we are discussing. There attention is definitely much more engaged into something that is more technologically based than from just reading straight from the text because everything around them is based on technology and these students are technologically savvy. I too use movies/videos to help my students prepare for benchmark exams and I also see that they can retain the information that they see on the screen much more than that of reading straight from the book. I believe that movies/videos are a great source of information for all students but especially those students that don't have a lot of exposure to experiences outside of the classroom.

Shanda Whitley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a third grade teacher at Hairgrove Elementary in Houston. I totally agree that students learn from this type of learning. They would much rather learn from visuals than from black and white print everyday. Thinking about what they have probably done all summer and I am sure it includes some type of video games and movies. Why not implement these types of things in their learning at school?

Karen Clayton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This will be my first year to teach Social Studies. I have been viewing the curriculum and text this summer and agree the reading is very dry and boring. Our students are such visual learners, why not direct our teaching in that direction. I have already started compiling a list of videos and video clips from United Streaming to show along with the text book reading. But the "time" to fit it in is going to be my challenge. I like the idea of incorpoating liturature as well, but again when??

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