While it is important to have students know how to identify the
uses of different film techniques, it is also important for students
to be able to formulate their responses and critical analysis to
the content of films, as well as the quality of the acting, directing,
costume design, and casting. Focusing simply on analysis of techniques
may result in an academic exercise in which students are intimidated
by their lack of knowledge of technique and therefore do not share
their response to the viewing experience. It is also important that
you create a classroom context in which students are comfortable
formulating and sharing their responses.
Showing films in class. There is considerable debate
about ways of most effectively devoting limited class time to showing
films. On the one hand, it is useful that students be able to view
a film in its entirety. Moreover, to capture the nature of the film-viewing
experience, it may be better not to interrupt viewing of a film
to conduct analyses or to point out certain techniques, interruptions
that can undermine the experience of becoming caught up in the film
world, which Susanne Langer described as the equivalent of being
in a dream world in which you forget about your physical surroundings
and become totally adsorbed in the film.
On the other hand, you may not have the time to show an entire
film, so you may consider the option of simply showing clips that
highlight or illustrate certain uses of techniques or for discussion
of film content. You may also simply assign students to view films
on their own as homework. Showing clips also allows you to conduct
analyses in a manner that is not interrupting the overall film experience.
You can also show the same clip numerous times to focus on certain
aspects of the clip. With one viewing, you can turn off the sound,
which allows for more focus on the camera techniques. With another
viewing, you can blacken out the screen to focus just on the sound
effects and/or music.
Responding to specific images/sounds. It is also important
to have students learn to initially respond to particular or specific
aspects of their viewing, as opposed to global generalizations such
as, “There was a lot of action.” To help them focus on details,
you can employ what is called the “image-sound” skim. After viewing
a film or film clip, students can list specific images or sounds.
Then, next to these images and sounds, they could describe the types
of emotions or feelings evoked by these images or sounds. For example,
if they list, “close-up of raised knife in killer’s hand,”
they may then list “fear about what will happen.” Students could
then share their lists and discuss some of the reasons for the associations
between certain images/sounds and certain emotions, associations
that may be based on semiotic meanings (see Module 4).
Fostering discussion. You are also trying to foster
classroom or on-line chat discussion of films in which students
learn to not only voice their initial responses, but to also engage
in some critical analysis. This involves employing some basic facilitation
Recognizing students as first-time viewers. You often
forget that students are responding to a text for the first
time, while you may have viewed and interpreted a film many
times. You therefore need to suspend their well-formulated interpretations
and empathize with their students’ perspective as novice viewers
who are working through their initial reactions and attempts
to make sense of a film.
Sequencing questions and strategies. Students often
have difficulty quickly formulating an interpretation without
first defining their engagement reactions, perceptions, associations,
and connections with related experiences or other texts. An
essential principle is the notion of “first things first” —
that students need to explore their initial responses that serve
as a basis for formulating interpretations or generalizations
about a text.
Employing small-group discussions. Students may have
more opportunities to talk in small groups, assuming that you
have structured these groups in a manner that results in productive
exchanges. It is important that groups have a specific task
and that they report back to the large group so that they have
some sense of accountability to the larger group. See Harvey
Literature Circles, a book on setting up small-group
Students formulating their own questions. It is also
important that, as part of inquiry instruction, students formulate
their own questions about their experience with a text. Students
could list various questions about a text. They then dictate
those questions to you and you write them on the board or overhead,
possibly grouping them by type or category. The discussion could
then revolve around responding to these questions.
Reflecting during discussions. During a discussion,
you can create time-out sessions for students to write their
reflections on the discussion. At the end of the discussion,
students can then write about what they learned from the discussion
by synthesizing their perceptions of that discussion as well
as list unanswered questions which serve as the basis for future
Monitoring the degree of student interaction. To monitor
your own success in facilitating interaction, keep track of
the number of times students are talking to each other. Rather
than a “T (teacher) S (student), T S” pattern in which the floor
always returns to the teacher for the next question, try to
achieve stretches of “T S S S S S S” talk.
Being a participant in a discussion. In addition to
facilitating the discussion, you may also be a participant by
contributing your own responses. In doing so, you need to recognize
that while you may have read and thought about a text numerous
times, your students are reading the text for the first time.
In the discussion, in sharing your own responses and posing
questions, you’re modeling the uses of different critical approaches
and response strategies. For techniques on using response stances
in leading discussions, see Langer
& Close, 2001.
Following-up on student responses. In the context
of discussions, you need to recognize how students react to
questions so that you can then follow through and help students
explore or extend their “uptake” response — something teachers
rarely do because they may be more interested in moving on to
the next question. You may ask them to elaborate on or extend
their response, with prompts such as “tell me more about that”
or “what are some reasons that you think that.” In doing so,
you are modeling certain ways of extending thinking which students
will hopefully internalize and use to reflect on their own initial
Scaffolding/modeling responses. In scaffolding students’
responses, you are modeling ways of using various interpretive
strategies or critical approaches in a manner that provides
some sense of how and why to use these strategies or approaches.
For example, if students are having difficulty applying a poststructuralist
approach to analyzing the binary nature of essentialist categories
such as “male” versus “female” operating in a text, you may
model your analysis of how these opposing categories leave out
variations within and across gender practices associated with
cultural notions of masculinity and femininity.
Fostering diversity in discussions. In leading discussions,
you also need to recognize and foster cultural diversity as
well expression of diverse cultural perspectives. This includes
helping them appreciate the number of situations that can be
understood only by comparing several interpretations, and help
them appreciate how one’s premises, observations, and interpretations
are influenced by social identity and background. It also involves
allowing students to voice different, alternative, or non-conventional
opinions. This means that you need to discourage students from
attempt to suppress or ridicule students who do express alternative,
Recognizing individual differences. You also need
to recognize the range of individual differences in their classroom.
Given their passive roles in many classrooms, some students
may simply have not had a lot of experience in sharing their
responses in front of a group. Or, they may be reluctant to
disclose their own private responses. One strategy for bolstering
students’ confidence in the validity of their own responses
activities. In a “think-aloud,” one student makes explicit to
another student all of their thoughts as they are viewing a
film. Students don’t attempt to reflect on or interpret their
thoughts, they simply report on what they are thinking to their
partner, who simply provides verbal and nonverbal encouragement
to keep going.
Cultural and historical knowledge. Some students may
have extensive background knowledge about the historical or
cultural world of a film, while others may have little knowledge,
which may influence their understanding and incentive to complete
This means that you may Given this variation in background knowledge,
teachers may exploit those students with the background knowledge
to have them share that knowledge with their peers, a strategy
that bolsters these students sense of agency in the classroom.
Employing different types of questions. In leading
discussions, you need to be able to employ a wide range of different
types of questions. One basic type of question consists of “closed”
questions which are not “authentic” in that they presuppose
a correct answer. Bill Martin (2000) employs the following questions
to foster discussion in his film class:
Question 1. Whom do we like?
We start our discussion by pretending to be part of the narrative
audience. We talk about the film as if it is a reality which we
can participate in and judge.
Question 2. What don’t we understand?
We clarify and fill-in our personal plot gaps. Why did he go into
her room to close the window? Why did she leave the party?
Question 3. What does the title
mean? The beginning? The ending?
The beginning counts. Think about what that first
image was? Help each other remember. What was the final image? It’s
amazing how often we can’t remember the final image of a film. It
makes a difference.
And the title. It is not (usually) just a label; the title encompasses
the whole film. What is this title doing? What can it do?
Question 4. What things are repeated?
Repetitions happen in life and no one notices. But in a film repetitions
should be noticed. Repetitions of language, repetitions of actions,
repetitions of technique (here technique is more than just terminology
to memorize). Why are these things repeated? What effect do they
have? How would the film be different if the repetitions were eliminated?
Question 5. What things seem out of place?
Puzzles in the film. Again we don’t want to solve the puzzles. We
want to notice them.
Question 6. Can we complicate our formulation?
During the final exam discussion, students were not long in coming
to a fairly sound reading of the film: The artist needed the anguish
of a relationship to bring out his creativity.
Question 7. What values does the film endorse?
Is it endorsing using other people for art? Is it taking the side
of these girls as victims?
Question 8. What do we think of the endorsement
of these values?
It is important to separate our own values from the values of the
film, but it is also important to relate these two sets of values.
Question 9. What foregrounded details did
we notice? Can these be integrated into our way of understanding
This is a different question from what things seemed out of place.
This draws our attention to the close-ups of the brush strokes,
the quality of the paint, the vibrancy of the colors the artist
Question 10. What techniques were used?
The airport shots are in slow motion. There are overhead shots of
his studio. The final image is an extreme long shot.
Question 11. What difference do the choices
in the film make to our viewing?
The film is not life. Life happens and coincidences predominate.
But in a film everything is a choice. At least potentially.
Question 12. What do you think?
Ultimately we get here, to the question of personal taste. Did you
like it or not? Thumbs up or down? One or two? Enthusiastic thumbs
or just indifferent thumbs.
for leading discussions