Shoot, this makes reading fun...

5th March 1999 at 00:00
FILM AND LITERACY: Part 1. Study pack with video. Film Education. pound;16.50. Age range: 5-11

REEL LIVES. Video pack. The British Video Association. pound;3.50 (from DD Video). Age range: 5-14

Film clips can make learning enjoyable and take the drudge out of the Literacy Hour. Sue Palmer recommends two resource packs

Is the Literacy Hour getting you down? Do you believe there is more to life than chasing text, sentence and word level targets across acres of photocopiable worksheets? Do you crave colour, action, excitement?

Where the National Literacy Strategy formula is applied too rigidly - usually because of fear of the school inspectors or target mania in your school or local education authority - there's a danger of the daily hour turning to daily drudgery. This is in no one's interest, least of all the children's, as boredom is not a recommended route to educational success.

Exciting, innovative teaching is as important as ever, and if you are looking for suitable teaching materials to hang it on, these two video resource packs are a perfect starting point. Each offers a selection of clips from popular children's films and television programmes, which provide a wealth of discussion material (speaking and listening are still part of the national curriculum). Each also has notes, compiled with help from National Literacy Strategy consultants, showing how to link the clips to the literacy framework objectives.

Most of the clips come from adaptations of children's books: James and the Giant Peach and Wind in the Willows feature on both. Reel Lives also provides snippets frorm The Borrowers, The Secret Garden and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and Film and Literacy: Part 1 offers chunks from The Railway Children, Babe and Danny, Champion of the World. This is rich territory for developing children's critical reading through comparing aspects of the films with the texts from which they spring: how setting, character and plot are conveyed through the different media, how dialogue is affected, how the film-maker has played with the original.

However, there is much more to the two resources than straightforward comparisons. Film and Literacy: Part 1 explores a range of links between reading, writing and the media, including visual literacy, story-structure in books and on film, and the reading and writing that goes into film-making and promotion.

To illustrate storyboard writing, for instance, it provides footage from Disney's Mulan and The Making of Mulan, then invites children to create their own dramatisation of a storyboard called The Boy from Mercury before viewing the actual clip of the film.

Reel Lives makes links to personal and social education, using familiar screen footage - including plenty by Disney - to investigate topics such as bullying, betrayal and fear of the unknown. Two clips from Toy Story (about the arrival in the toybox of Buzz Lightyear, who supplants the previous favourite, Woody) provide discussion material on the theme of jealousy and friendship. Clips from Pocahontas about concepts of civilisation and savagery open up possibilities for discussing intercultural relationships, xenophobia and racism.

Both packs include photocopiable worksheets. Reel Lives also includes a pound;2 video voucher to spend at Woolworths. Considering this pack costs only pound;3.50, and in my opinion has the better clips - longer, more entertaining and adaptable to many teaching situations - and the more flexible worksheets, it is amazingly good value.

At the end of a century in which popular culture has been dominated by the visual media, these two packs are rare treasures. Their appeal to children is so immediate, their potential as teaching tools is so great and their commercial viability is so obvious ("see the clip, read the book, buy the video") that one wonders why schools are not inundated with such resources. Perhaps it is partly because film and video are still seen by the educational establishment as leisure-time activities, too enjoyable for school.

But learning should be fun and relevant. These resource packs illustrate how enjoyment of film and video can be used to enrich many aspects of the curriculum, with the corollary that the curriculum then enriches children's appreciation of film and video. They prove that worthwile learning is anything but dull.

* A follow-up pack 'Film and Literacy: Part 2' on Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends will be released in April.

* Film Education, Alhambra House, 27-31 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0AU. Tel: 0171 976 2291.

Stand PR70

* DD Video, 5 Churchill Court, 58 Station Road, North Harrow, Middx HA2 7SA. Tel: 0181 863 8819

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