The gift of sound and vision

1st June 2012 at 01:00
Teachers are discovering how video clips can enhance learning in the classroom. Darren Evans reports

No one who was a pupil in the 1980s or 1990s will ever forget the experience of watching a video in school.

The whole affair was an emotional roller coaster ride: the thrill as the television and VCR (usually a top-loading behemoth of a machine with an analogue counter) was wheeled into the classroom; attempting not to laugh as the teacher tried in vain to make the thing work before giving up and asking a pupil; the excitement of expectation as the blinds were drawn; and finally the crushing realisation that instead of Back to the Future or Star Wars, you were going to have to sit through another film about soil erosion in the Nile Delta.

Fast-forward a few decades and the experience could not be more different. With the spread of computers in the classroom and new technology such as DVDs and the internet, the school video-viewing experience has been dramatically improved. And instead of the interminable tedium of watching a mustachioed man from the 1970s cooing over Etruscan earthenware, today's pupils have access to professionally made videos featuring the latest teaching techniques that challenge their thinking skills and not just their ability to stay awake.

Now there is a plethora of websites containing cutting-edge educational video resources, from the Khan Academy, which has more than 3,100 videos, to Channel 4 Learning's Clipbank, the BBC's Class Clips and the 3,500 Teachers TV videos (both of these collections are now also hosted by the TES website).

Even online video giant YouTube has a school-friendly version of its website, which it launched last December to allow teachers and pupils to view its vast range of educational clips without the distraction of viral favourites such as a sneezing baby panda or a chimpanzee riding on a Segway.

But in a world saturated with screens, in which visual media dominates, how can teachers use video and film in a useful, educational way in the classroom?

Video has long been used to supplement individual subjects such as English literature, where film and television adaptations of books and plays have helped to bring the source material to life, and history, where filmed re-enactments and dramatisations have given pupils a different perspective on world events. It is also a common method of teaching English as a foreign language.

And with laptops and interactive whiteboards now ubiquitous in classrooms, teachers can spice up any lesson with the use of video clips.

Slipping clips into lessons

Abigail Beacon, deputy head of Gaer Junior School in Newport, has been using video in the classroom for a number of years, and uses a range of sources including YouTube and even on-demand television services such as BBC iPlayer. Since September, she has been increasing the use of video clips in lessons as part of the school's push to improve literacy.

A recent example is when pupils went to YouTube to find animated film clips to illustrate the use of emotion and unspoken language. The project continued with pupils writing their own scripts and sketching out storyboards, and culminated in a trip to watch Oscar-winning silent film The Artist.

Beacon says much thought has to be put into what clips are used and why. "It has to be something that is carefully chosen, otherwise it becomes white noise for the pupils. It can't be really long either or you will just lose their attention. Two to three minutes is optimal; you don't want them sitting in front of something for 20 minutes of an hour-long lesson."

Jamie Keddie is a teacher, teacher trainer and writer. He is the founder of, a teacher resource site that explores the potential of video in the classroom.

"My starting questions for any engaging clip are: how can I turn this material into a whole-class communicative event?" he says. "How can this clip be used to stimulate language production? How do I ensure that I do not turn the classroom into a cinema?"

Keddie says he likes to choose clips that are short in length but rich in content and issues. "My way of delivering a video to a class is to take a 'slow release' approach and reveal it gradually to pupils one layer at a time," he says. "Deconstructive techniques give teachers the opportunity to ask questions that require pupils to consider and predict the nature of the bigger picture, the video as a whole.

"For example, we could give out a transcription of a short dialogue from a clip and ask pupils to guess who is speaking, where they are and what their relationship is before viewing."

Keddie says that as a teacher trainer he has become aware of a tendency for teachers to take a "quick release" approach to video, where they focus on pupils listening out for a very specific piece of information. "But this can miss out on the great potential that video has to offer," he says.

In response to this, he wants teachers to think more about what he calls "videotelling". "So many of the narratives that we consume and share are video-based. We view material from the screen and then reconstruct narratives in our own words with an added personal perspective.

"Imagine, for example, a child passionately telling the rest of her family about a clip from a natural history series that showed how polar bears hunt for seals in the Arctic. For me, as a language teacher, this is where video becomes communication."

Feature-length learning

Many schools are going a step further and using full-length feature films to drive learning.

A recent report published by a number of organisations running film education projects said that film was increasingly being used both inside and outside the curriculum to help pupils improve their literacy skills.

In a survey of 387 teachers who have used film in the classroom, all of those polled said they had seen improvements in the educational attainment of their pupils.

One scheme that has become hugely popular is Filmclub, which was formed in 2006 and is now run in 7,000 schools in England, with a growing influence in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The charity helps teachers set up film clubs that give pupils the chance to watch, discuss and review a diverse range of movies from around the world. They can choose from a vast selection of films on the scheme's website, which are then sent to teachers for in-school screenings, after which pupils are encouraged to upload reviews. Filmclub currently receives around 6,000 reviews a week.

Chief executive Mark Higham says there are many benefits for pupils. "It is often difficult to teach something in an engaging and stimulating way that becomes something children absorb in detail," he says. "But film, because it's so rich, does achieve that. You have images, sound, music, speech all woven together to create a compelling experience."

John-Paul Gayford, head of media at Battersea Park School in South London, had been running his own film club before coming across the charity several years ago. He now runs a club every lunchtime.

"We watch a wide variety of movies from different genres," he explains. "The important thing is giving pupils access to experiences they wouldn't have access to in their normal South London lives."

For Gayford, the club is primarily about the pupils having fun and enjoying movies for the sake of it, but he says that it is clear from speaking to other teachers that it is helping their learning in other areas, too.

Beacon started Filmclub in Gaer Junior School last September. "We are in a deprived area and a lot of the pupils don't get the opportunity to go to the cinema very often because it is too expensive," she says. "Many have had a diet of Disney films or films that really aren't appropriate for them, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to see films that they wouldn't have otherwise.

"What I like about using film is that it is quite a subversive way of getting them to learn. It's covert because they are enjoying themselves and often don't realise they are learning."

Although it is a weekly extra-curricular activity, Filmclub at Gaer has had an impact on all sorts of aspects of pupil development, says Beacon.

"The children who attend have increased confidence and self-esteem. Literacy standards are steadily rising across the school, and I'm sure part of that is to do with Filmclub. They have a greater level of understanding about text, and in creative writing tasks they are writing in more depth, thinking more about what they are writing and justifying their decisions.

"Not only that, but it's broadened their horizons and, I hope, lifted their aspirations a bit further than just Newport."

A teacher's video tips

Noel Jenkins, an award-winning geography teacher at Court Fields Community School in Wellington, Somerset, is keen on using video to enhance his lessons.

He has come up with some ideas for using short clips in the classroom:

1. Write a short critical response in YouTube style, or following more formal guidelines.

2. Play "stop the video". Give pupils three questions in advance and get them to pause the video when a question has been answered.

3. Turn the sound off so that pupils can write their own voice-over.

4. Pause the video and ask pupils to guess what happens next.

5. Remake the video (could be done in puppet or stop- motion style).

6. Embed the video in a PowerPoint or blog post.

7. Give pupils a selection of clips and ask them to choose the clip that best represents the theme.

8. Sum up the video in three words, three sentences or three paragraphs.

9. Use the video as source material for completing a writing frame.

10. Get pupils to write down five words associated with the video. Save to a shared folder and analyse the contents using Wordle, a tool that generates word clouds (


Reel gains

In a recent report and survey on film education, teachers said that through working with film they can see improvements in pupil attainment, creativity, cognitive ability and cultural education.

73% of teachers said they saw an improvement in the critical thinking and understanding skills of pupils.

83% saw an improvement in creative thinking.

71% saw an improvement in reading and writing.

29-75% The increase in the proportion of children writing at the expected level for their age group on one project.

Source: Making the Case for Film Education, BFI, Filmclub, Film Education, First Light and Skillset

Watching videos offline

It is all very well having thousands of educational video clips available to use online - but not much use if the broadband does not work in your classroom.

Although schools have increasingly reliable systems, some teachers still do not have a stable enough internet connection.

The safest plan in such a situation is to have an offline version. Options here include:

- The old-fashioned approach: watching a DVD.

- Finding a clip that happens to be available for offline download and is already in a video format that your computer recognises.

- For mainstream programmes on Channel 4 and the BBC, downloading the programmes to watch offline using their official media players. But be aware that they may delete themselves from your computer's hard drive a few days after being viewed.

- Waiting for the offline version of BBC Class Clips, expected to be launched this summer.

- Trying YouTube Feather, a stripped-down version of YouTube that keeps bandwidth at a minimum.

Online resources

The TES website contains links to a range of free videos from different providers, including 3,000 BBC videos, 3,500 Teachers TV videos and 1,600 Green.TV videos. They are searchable by level, topic and subject.

Other sites you can go to directly include:

- YouTube for Schools A portal specially designed for schools, providing educational material in a controlled environment.

- BBC Class Clips Contains at least 3,000 free clips, by level, subject and topic.

- Khan Academy This US site has more than 3,100 free educational videos "on everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history".

- Green.TV A large collection of videos related to the environment and climate change.

- 4 Learning Clipbank Channel 4's collection of educational clips - for full use a subscription is required.

- British Council A recent addition, this site has more than 120 short films offering "snapshots of the UK's cultural, sporting, industrial and political heritage". http:film.britishcouncil.orgbritish-council-film-collection

Other sites:

- Filmclub State schools can join Filmclub for free. The charity gives them access to a curated catalogue of DVDs and other resources.

- Jamie Keddie's site.

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