The gift of sound and vision

8th 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 '90s 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 were wheeled into the classroom; attempting not to laugh as the teacher tried in vain to make the thing work; the excitement of expectation as the blinds were drawn; and finally the crushing realisation that instead of Back to the Future you were going to sit through a film on soil erosion in the Nile Delta.

Fast-forward a few decades and the experience could not be more different. 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 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 (the last two are 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 the sneezing baby panda.

But in a world saturated with screens, how can teachers best use video and film in the classroom?

Video has long helped subjects such as English, where adaptations of books and plays bring source material to life, and history, where filmed re- enactments and dramatisations give 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 video clips.

Slipping clips into lessons

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

Pupils went to YouTube, for example, to find animated film clips to illustrate the use of emotion and unspoken language. They wrote scripts and sketched out storyboards, culminating in a trip to watch the Oscar- winning silent film The Artist.

Ms 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, a teacher, teacher trainer and writer, is the founder of, a 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?"

He likes to choose clips that are short in length but rich in content and issues. "I take a `slow release' approach and reveal it gradually to pupils one layer at a time," he explains. "De-constructive 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."

As a teacher trainer, Mr Keddie 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.

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 used 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 said that they had seen improvements in pupils' attainment.

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, and pupils are encouraged to upload reviews. Filmclub 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."

Ms 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 Ms 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."

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

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 voice-overs.

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. For more information, visit


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