French drills put on screen

By making a video, with the help of a Becta award, Kilgraston pupils extended their language and ICT skills, writes Eleanor Caldwell

Primary 7 pupils at Kilgraston School in Bridge of Earn, are proud of their contribution to entertainment at the local dentist's waiting room. Their six-minute video made last session, acted and directed by the pupils, offers patients comprehensive information on dental care. A fun scene with dancing teeth appeals to little children and adults are pleased with its encouragement to eat fruit, not sweets.

Patients' foreign language skills have to be good, though. The Kilgraston film, Sante (Health), is entirely in French.

The Perth and Kinross school is one of five in Scotland (50 in the UK) to win an iMac computer and digital video camera through the BECTA Creativity Digital Video awards. French teacher Susan Gruson-Stokes and information and communications technology teacher Heather Dempster decided to focus on the class's topic of teeth for a cross-curricular introduction to digital film-making.

The film takes a three-pronged approach: a dramatic scene at the dentist's, a market scene and a didactic PowerPoint presentation. Each scene was first sketched out on a basic story board. Script writing was a collaborative effort.

Mrs Gruson-Stokes acted as glossary, introducing a range of words. For example, the dentist needed to tell his patient: "Il faut vider l'abc s" ("We'll have to drain the abcess"). Pupils wanted to use their topic knowledge to script the PowerPoint presentation: "Il y a huit premolaires" ("There are eight premolars"). The market scene script involved revisiting the familiar vocabulary of food. In the surgery scene - shot in local dentist Harry Beattie's - the serious dentist, assisted by the equally serious nurse, chastises negligent patient Mimi Mal aux Dents: "N'oubliez pas de brosser les dents!" ("Don't forget to brush your teeth!") Casting was a group decision and not dependent on language ability. However, Mrs Gruson-Stokes says the girls' level of pronunciation has improved markedly. "They wanted to get it just right and were motivated by using the new and more difficult language."

Music also has a key role in the film and work on the film score fitted into several areas of the 5-14 curriculum. The class worked with head of music Linda Marshall using a 4Learning Backtracks CD-Rom to explore different types of music. The pupils composed music for a French song that they had already written in class. They were also taught to consider copyright and so use existing music only for inspiration.

For Mrs Dempster, the digital video film project has been an enjoyable way to introduce primary pupils to more advanced skills in ICT and she is pleased with the use of PowerPoint. "This was an ideal introduction for the girls; they were learning key skills and immediately using them for a real purpose," she says.

Mrs Dempster also taught the pupils filming techniques such as sound and lighting and the effects of different shot lengths. On a more technical level, pupils learned to import and edit scenes to produce the final film - which was crucial to the production's success - and Mrs Dempster encouraged them to consider adding special effects.

Serious decisions about acting and camera shots were combined with discussions about the use of French and the musical soundtrack. Pupils were not allowed to edit their own acting, although they were encouraged to chip in with opinions and suggestions.

Both Mrs Gruson-Stokes and Mrs Dempster admit to being absolute beginners in each other's subjects and have gained a lot from the collaborative approach. They attended a one-day BECTA training session before embarking on the project and its website (www.becta.org.uk) has a forum for all 50 schools working on digital videos to chat and share ideas.

The pupils' reaction to film-making is positive: "The best thing was working as a team"; "It's great because the whole thing's made just by us."

Mrs Gruson-Stokes adds that it included the shy, "back-seat passengers" who might otherwise have been reluctant to speak up in class. Specific learning difficulties were not a barrier either. One pupil with speech and language difficulties was confident enough to deliver her lines in French on camera.

The class is now in the early production stages of a follow-up dental education film. The teachers are hoping to establish a digital video film club and anticipate that the experienced Primary 7 film-makers will pass on their skills to teachers and pupils.

Heather Dempster and Susan Gruson-Stokes talk on Inspiring Pupil Creativity Through the use of Digital Video at 3.15pm, September 25; and 10am, September 26

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