New research by James Learmouth and Mollie Sayer has found that a lot of media education is below standard. But it also found excellent classroom practice. All 22 members of a Year 56 class are involved in making a video about transition to secondary school. It is a matter of current concern and excitement, as about half the class will move to secondary school at the end of term.
Pupils are clear about the audience for the video: it will be those moving next year, and the following year, and its purpose will be to reassure them about transition.
They have discussed the elements of the video as a class: some sequences feature locations or items that they have particularly enjoyed and treasured in the primary school (a sequence at the swimming pool, a startling charcoal drawing by one of them of the main character in a Gene Kemp book they've been reading as a class); others are sequences of improvised conversation about what they expect at secondary school.
Today they will shoot a sequence in the playground, involving four girls playing a clapping game with appropriate actions. They have also decided to shoot some sequences away from the primary school, to emphasise the need for safety on the journey to the secondary school and to reflect its welcoming nature.
In discussion, pupils recall their past experience of practical work: they have done some animation and some video narratives (still pictures in sequence from story books, with one pupil reading the narrative, or several pupils reading "parts" - this was then to be shown to an audience of younger pupils). They have also photographed and helped to edit to "rap" rhythm a series of images of animals. They recall a series of short sequences involving movement, improvised dialogue, interview and commentary, as well as their own musical composition as soundtrack.
They have done work with finger puppets, research in books about the local community, and interviews with parents and elderly local inhabitants. They feel much more confident now about practical work, much less "camera-struck" and happier about making choices, whether at the stage of deciding to include a particular sequence, at storyboarding, at decisions about camera position, at re-shooting or at editing.
They are clear that all boys and girls should have the opportunity to play each role in the video-making process.
In this 65-minute lesson, a group of 14 are asked to stay in the classroom, and to discuss and then write out six questions to be asked of a teacher, a parent and a governor at each of the primary and secondary schools involved. These will then be considered for later inclusion in the video.
The door of the classroom opposite is left open, and that class's teacher agrees to supervise and take responsibility for them.
Meanwhile, eight pupils take the video-camera and tripod into the playground: four of the girls are to be videoed performing a clapping game which they learnt and enjoyed at the primary school. Sound will be a problem: there's lots of traffic on the hill. They find a reasonably quiet corner. Four pupils set up the video tripod. They check focus, then shoot as the girls sing their song: All the girls in Spain Wash their knickers in champagne.
All the boys in France Do the hula-hula dance.
And the dance they do Is enough to tie a shoe.
And the shoe they tie Is enough to tell a lie.
And the lie they tell Is enough to ring a bell.
And the bell that rings Goes ting-a-ling-a-ling.
And the girls break formation to tickle each other. However, the camera crew point out to the teacher that a bus had gone noisily past during the shoot, and that not all the words will be heard clearly. The teacher agrees that they should re-shoot the entire sequence. The camera crew encourage the girls to speak out clearly.
When the lesson is set in the broader context of the school's curriculum priorities, there are three excellent features: * Both teacher and pupils sense progression in the work they have done - partly in the development of their skills (practical, dramatic, negotiating, critical), and partly in their increased ability to make more choices and to take responsibility; * The work is seen by pupils as reflecting their own current interests, and as having a specific audience other than themselves. This contributes to increased self-esteem, a top priority for the school; * The work encourages practice and improvement in language skills in a variety of contexts.
A Review of Good Practice in Media Education, Pounds 10 from The BFI, 21 Stephen St, London W1P 2LN