Letting the light in – Promoting Creativity Through Film

01 May 2018 BY Heather Watson

8 mins
Children using laptop image (Anson Primary)
Children using laptop image (Anson Primary)

Heather Watson is a Headteacher at Cookstown Primary School in Northern Ireland, who recently took part in our Full Steam Ahead filmmaking programme. Below, Heather talks about how the potential of film as an educational tool was opened up to her, and the incredible academic and social benefits it had on her pupils.

Ideally we would like to say, hand on heart, that schools are exciting, vibrant hubs of creativity where we teachers encourage and motivate young minds to reach their full potential. Unfortunately, the reality of this is very different. 

Whilst schools are most definitely vibrant learning environments the evolving face of education has resulted in a focus on academic achievement and a near forensic approach to analysing every aspect of performance to ensure we improve scores. There is talk of creative curriculums which give time and space for thinking but teachers are under increasing pressure to meet targets at every level of education and creative subjects are the first to suffer. 

Northern Ireland curriculum went through an overhaul in 2007 in response to a number of societal/economic issues and the fact that the area was emerging from conflict.

The primary curriculum is skills based with the Thinking Skills Framework and Personal Development at the heart of everything we do. Teaching content is important but must be balanced with an approach which makes explicit a focus on creative thinking, managing information, problem solving, self-management and working with others. Giving real life contexts to learning is key to success. 

As a school leader one of my priorities is to support teachers to make space to "let the light in" and make space in the curriculum for projects that create space for creative thinking, whether it's outdoor play, drama, music, gardening, technology, sports; the impact is visible almost immediately. Recently we had the opportunity to become involved in the Full Steam Ahead filmmaking project with Into Film. Prior to this film clips were being used to inspire pupils in class or at school assemblies and as a stimulus to engage and inspire writing. However, we hadn't realised the potential of filmmaking as a learning medium. It has proved to be an incredibly powerful tool to engage young people and capture their imaginations. The project placed filmmaking at the heart of the literacy curriculum and inspired pupils to bring texts to life. Teachers benefitted from training from industry experts who offered strategies for using film to develop learners' critical thinking and a range of transferrable skills. 

The project had a direct impact on literacy and numeracy. In literacy pupils were developing talking and listening. Not only did they benefit from the practical elements of how to set up different types of film shots, they learnt how to write scripts and then bring them to life. Group work gave opportunities for children to shine. Those who find difficulty with elements of learning were able to demonstrate their other talents including organisational skills, some showing perseverance beyond their age. The pupils developed skills that enabled them to decode film texts, considering purpose of shots and story lines. Their ability to deduce and infer meaning from film was evident in class when they were working with other texts. 

In numeracy children were creating film clips for a range of different audiences. For example to explain probability to other classes children were deconstructing the learning process and showed their understanding along the way.

Pupils really enjoyed the project and feedback was extremely positive. They took control of the learning and were independently setting their own targets and achieving more than we had originally planned. Their levels of enthusiasm and excitement were unprecedented.

We are now planning to disseminate these new film-based strategies through the school and ensure they are embedded. It has reinforced to us the need to find that space for pupils to develop creatively and fight to keep it at the heart of what we do in school.

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