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The right spirit

SCREENING STORIES. Film Education Pounds 9.99. From Film Education, Alhambra House, 27-31 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H OAU (Tel: 0171 976 2291 Fax: 0171 839 5052). 50-minute video with study pack

I am enthusiastic about the notion of film education, so I came to this material with positive expectations. Not all primary school teachers are like-minded. Some hold visual media at arm's length, believing children gawp at the screen too much already. After they've passed a few solid GCSEs, maybe it'll be all right for them to do media studies. But not at primary school. Dear me, no.

This package has convinced me we must engage children much earlier in discussion about what they watch. So much of their waking time is spent watching television, videos or film. Packs such as Screening Stories prompt teachers to plug into that range of shared reference.

Children who struggle to find the right words when discussing character motive, or narrative development in a book can be startlingly lucid when talking about the same things with reference to a favourite film.

The first two of the 16 clips on the video are from the 1995 film Casper. This turned out to be the favourite film of one of the boys in the group watching it with me. He has the video at home, and claims to have seen it 25 times. His familiarity with the film encouraged him to participate fully in the discussion and follow-up activity on genres. We had tackled this subject earlier in the term with reference to books, when he was entirely disengaged.

Other areas covered by the clips include characterisation, use of music, and the relationship between text and image. I liked, in particular, the way this latter was approached. A three-page extract from Lynne Reid-Banks's The Indian in the Cupboard is reproduced, to be read before watching the relevant film clip. And story-boarding is demonstrated using the train sequence from The Wind in the Willows.

Study packs must always be used with discrimination. A few of the pupil-sheet activities are a bit lame. The one that accompanies Alaska says: "Find out as much as you can about Alaska." Find out, instead, where you can obtain a copy of this otherwise excellent video package.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, Sussex

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