Getting the picture

19th May 1995 at 01:00
Martin Phillips considers different approaches to teaching media studies. These three publications are each worthy additions to the growing media education canon. Creating Vision is the most ambitious, attempting to establish photography's place in the national curriculum. It gamely details the possible contribution this medium might make in art, English, geography, history, science and technology.

Given that the subject will often be starting without a toe-hold in the curriculum, it's understandable to want to mark out all possible connections. Both philosophically and pragmatically, however, art and English seem the most likely points of entry.

There are useful appendices incorporating a glossary, a well researched and extensive bibliography and networking advice.

The heart of this book, however, is its presentation of a conceptual model for photography in the national curriculum, daunting perhaps for the casual geographer or scientist, but relevant reading for media educators. It also includes a grid linking photographic concepts with those from the British Film Institute's primary and secondary media education guidelines.

This raises many complex issues, but one of its crucial definitions might be considered to be that of "engagement".

This proposes that there will be some texts or products which powerfully affect us as individuals, with an aesthetic which is not easily described solely in critical terms. Revisiting the debates around practical media work from this standpoint could prove worthwhile as it introduces wider possibilities for personal responses to particular aspects of the media.

Creating Vision is strongest on theory. The other two books offer solid, off-the-shelf classroom activities. "We aim to make life easy for teachers by setting out exactly what is needed for each activity and relating them to the national curriculum requirements," the authors of Framing the Child state. Reference is made to the conceptual model for media education, briefly and succinctly. The obligatory national curriculum links are sketched in, but essentially this is a booklet about getting children analysing images and taking photographs and in this it is a good amplification of Creating Vision.

One page of instructions is provided for each of the 12 sessions described. The format is the same in each case: objectives; materials required; number of children; time needed; cost and method. Where necessary simple notes are added at the bottom of the page which either suggest ways of developing the activities further or give practical advice.

Any individual session could be used as a free-standing unit but the activities are designed to be taught as a series and that is the way to derive most benefit from them. Even the most committed technophobes will find this publication beguiling and will hopefully be set on the slippery slope to becoming media educators.

Production Practices is also rooted in the practicalities of the classroom. It provides nine photocopiable media simulations aimed predominantly at upper secondary and post-16 students. The introduction deftly charts the advantages of using simulations as well as pointing out some limitations and pitfalls, and there are some useful tables of data at the back.

An introductory page explains the aims and how to get started and then considers issues for teaching and suggestions for follow-up. The materials are presented with clarity, but the language level of some of the photocopiable sheets will challenge some students.

Particularly useful for the English teacher wary of media work are the simulations on the publishing industry and the video exercise based on Kate Chopin's The Story of an Hour. They're safely book-based but involve active learning.

None of the activities are ground-breaking and some have appeared in earlier English and Media Centre publications. What they do provide is thoroughly researched material for those without the time to assemble the many things necessary for an effective simulation. This book should become one of those stalwarts on all departmental shelves.

Martin Phillips is English and media adviser for Devon.

CREATING VISION. By Sue Isherwood and Nick Stanley. Pounds 9.95. Arts Council, Cornerhouse Publications, 70 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 5NH

FRAMING THE CHILD. By Cathy Poole, Sarah Shaw, Georgia Taylor, Kamina Walton. Pounds 5.95. WatershedTrentham Books, Westview House, 734 London Road, Oakhill, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST4 5NP

PRODUCTION PRACTICES. Pounds 17.50. English and Media Centre, 136 Chalton Street, London NW1 1RX Ronald grant archive

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