November Issue

Vol 23|No 2|November 2013

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Good Short Cuts - Teaching Students High Impact Film-Making

Movies are almost too easy to make these days. We walk around with smart phones that can capture daily events with little effort. The challenge we face is teaching students how to wield these tools in a powerfully persuasive and artistically evocative manner.

The Challenge

There are few serious, well trained teachers of film available to address this challenge in middle and high schools in countries like the USA, Australia and New Zealand. In previous articles ("Questioning Video" ), I have mentioned that most media literacy experts state that film making is a critical element when introducing students to media literacy. It is not enough to engage them in deconstructing videos aimed at changing the buying, the voting and the thinking of citizens. Students must also be skilled producers of video if they will be critical consumers and viewers.

This video-making challenge looms as seriously as the challenge of teaching students to write effectively and powerfully with idea/word processors. For thirty years we have bought computers to support student writing without seeing results. The chief element missing in these efforts has been robust investment in professional development. If we have not seen the value of engaging teachers in powerful adult learning experiences with writing, how likely is it we will invest in classroom teachers learning to make great videos so they can turn around and do it with students? Are we willing to invest in one week of learning for each teacher?


When schools first engaged students in making presentations with PowerPoint, there was a flood of mediocre work, some of which was proudly displayed at national conferences by teachers and Microsoft. Many of these early presentations were superficial and flashy. The software became the preoccupation and the ideas faded into the background. Dilbert published a wonderful cartoon showing "PowerPoint Poisoning" and commentators lamented the decline of reporting as gadgetry and special effects trumped content. In 2000 I published "Scoring Power Points" - an article suggesting ways to use the software in a more thoughtful manner.

Thankfully, there are many resources available to support teachers as they seek to engage students in making thoughtful, tightly constructed movies. These become increasingly important as many schools are putting video cameras in the hands of students when they give them an iPad type device.

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Useful Film-Making Resources

1. Filmmaking Across the Curriculum - from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

"Learning to create film stories from start to finish can significantly enrich learning, enabling students to develop diverse skills, understanding and knowledge in a wide range of areas. For example, film projects can explore an idea or present information as part of a Humanities/English/Science/LOTE/Health unit of work; create or re-tell stories in English; and develop media and screen literacy skills in Arts and English."

"Filmmaking experiences foster imagination, innovation, creativity and problem-solving and support the development of a range of skill sets central to dealing with a changing world, including high level personal, communication and social competencies needed to work independently and within groups."

This source provides detailed, wonderful PDF files on the three stages of filmmaking:

  1. Pre-production - getting started, creating a script for your film, learning key filmmaking guidelines.
  2. Production - crew roles, using the camera, planning the shoot, filming the shoot.
  3. Post-production - editing, publicity and screening, student assessment.


2. 3-2-1 Vocabulary: Learning Filmmaking Vocabulary by Making Films - from the International Reading Association's ReadWriteThink site. The authors provide ten 45- to 60-minute instruction sessions plus one 60-minute evaluation session. The activities are outlined in good detail and the package makes for an excellent introduction to filmmaking. Hats off to authors, Deborah Kozdras, Ph.D. and Allison Papke for a job well done.

"Students are introduced to the vocabulary of film as they go through the process of creating a short original film. This unit provides instruction on key aspects of digital video filmmaking: plotting, script, storyboarding, camera work (shots, angles), and editing (transitions, title, credits, visual effects, sound effects, etc.). Once students are familiar with the techniques and terms introduced in this lesson, they can apply their new skills to bring other content areas to life through filmmaking. The activities involved in filmmaking can be particularly helpful to English language learners (ELLs) because the visual component helps ELL’s consolidate their knowledge".


While there are many other Web sites that offer some hints and resources, these two were the most comprehensive, thoughtful and school-appropriate that I found. If you do a Google search for "Making Movies on the iPad" you will find most sites speak mainly of apps.

Smart filmmaking does more than capture action. It should tell a story of some kind or communicate a message.


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