Zooming in on poetry in motion

16th September 2005 at 01:00
With a bit of political support, MIE could be coming to a classroom near you soon, says Mitchell Miller

Scott Donaldson of Scottish Screen, the national agency for promoting film, television and new media in Scotland, makes a persuasive case for moving image education (MIE) in schools.

"Where's that sense in the school curriculum of 110 years of cinematic history - of a truly global culture of the moving image?" he asks. "We think students should be encouraged to explore what is a rich and complex visual and aural language in the classroom."

Mr Donaldson also thinks the subject is beset by misconceptions.

"It is not about getting people into the film industry," he says, "it's about understanding that moving image media literacy is essential to being literate in the 21st century and embedding that into the curriculum."

Nor does it supplant "traditional" literacy; but can enhance the teaching and learning process through improving core skills and developing critical thinking.

But students must also learn to create, analyse and appreciate - seeing what's positive as well as what's bad.

Slowly, schools are being won over to the benefits of MIE. The Angus MIE programme is a partnership between Scottish Screen, Angus Council and the British Film Institute, funded by the Scottish Executive's Future Learning and Teaching programme (FLaT).

The project began in 2004, to pilot MIE as part of the 5-14 curriculum.

Results are promising: MIE fits well into everyday teaching, and students can progress as they move up in school.

Such progress owes much to the expertise of Angus Digital Media Centre (ADMC), the Brechin media access centre which has led the project. Working with Scottish Screen, ADMC led a training programme for five primary schools and one secondary. The teachers tried out MIE techniques with their students while the FLaT researchers evaluated the results.

There was some initial scepticism among teachers. Would schools need to buy state-of-the-art video equipment? What would have to be dropped from teaching plans to accommodate MIE?

"There were a few raised eyebrows at first," says MIE project leader Andrew Gallagher, "but it was amazing for (teachers) to see how kids were being engaged."

Mr Gallagher's 13 years as a teacher proved invaluable in winning over colleagues. Classes produced short films or movie trailers, but analysing film clips, writing essays or simple thought exercises proved equally effective.

Mr Donaldson recalls an exercise from a training programme where teachers "storyboarded" Tam O'Shanter, breaking the poem down into shots, scenes, sounds and cut-aways.

"It was all in their heads," he says, "but they said they had never seen the story so fully before. MIE need not involve scary hardware."

The teacher-pioneers of Angus are now enthusiastic advocates of MIE in the classroom.

"One vital thing was that we put the teachers in charge of it," says Mr Gallagher. As they grew in confidence, they began to direct their own MIE teaching, incorporating it into classroom themes such as health and fitness.

But classroom enthusiasm needs political will to support it. The case has been put to both the curriculum review group and the Cultural Commission, and much depends on their response. Recognition would be a start, but Mr Donaldson thinks that in the long term - in 10 or 20 years, MIE provision will be on a par with English or mathematics as a foundation for learning.

The campaign is moving on a number of fronts to engage teachers. Consultant Roddy Stuart will appear with Scott Donaldson at SETT 2005 to report on how the wealth of material contained in the Scottish Screen archive might be used effectively within the curriculum.

So it looks as if the next few years will be busy ones, especially for Mr Gallagher. His enthusiasm for his job - part salesman, part pioneer, part cinephile - is unflagging.

"It is awesome ... I feel I've died and gone to heaven."

SETT Using Moving Image Education to Enhance the 5-14 Curriculum by Andrew Gallagher of Angus Digital Media Centre, Wednesday, 4.45pm Moving Image Education - Getting the Bigger Picture in the Classroom by Scott Donaldson of Scottish Screen, Thursday, 10.30am

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