Using film to engage the hard to reach

28 Mar 2016 BY Jacque McCarthy

5 mins
Group of children watching films in a club
Group of children watching films in a club

The children who are switched off, labelled as troubled, defiant or just out of touch are often the children that fall by the wayside in education; racking up a list of internal exclusions, which can eventually result in school becoming so exasperated by their behaviour, that they are eventually permanently excluded. Despite the common assumption that these children are full of bravado and swagger, they are often damaged individuals, who use their behaviour to communicate their hurt and attempt to mask it.

So how can film engage the hard to reach? Firstly they need someone to believe in them. Children and young people know when they are liked. Next you need to entice them with snippets of understanding. One of the strategies I used with three junior boys (all who had been permanently excluded from mainstream school for disruptive behaviour), was to work on short daily tasks. I was fortunate enough to be able to focus our literacy largely on the concept of producing a film. But we had to start at the beginning; with no technical film skills or language between us, we were complete novices. Engaging the boys through short, sharp tasks was our breakthrough and it was this approach that we used on a daily basis.

We began by watching short film clips to identify and understand genre. This disguised the fact that we were actually growing our film skills whilst unpicking and identifying features we enjoyed or disliked. Skilled at being guarded in their everyday conversations, the clips were a useful vehicle for discussion - using film was a safe way to express opinions. As there was often no right answer. Their confidence started to grow and their imaginations expanded. It wasn't highbrow but it was real, meaningful and fun!

We used the concept of a story mountain as the basis for our film. However, the clips we had watched earlier supported their understanding of settings, build up, dilemma, resolution and conclusion. This can be a difficult exercise for primary children, but the visual experience made it so much more accessible; our boys understood! Exploring interesting characters in clips encouraged dialogue and supported their understanding of how character development is significant to their storyline. At this point the boys began to feel successful their understanding began to grow and slowly they became more confident to use technical language correctly. Excluded children are often the individuals who do not value their own input and stop trying, they now had a voice and they knew it!

Their story line agreed, the boys used storyboards to map out the shots they wanted to capture. Although conscious that they could not sketch like Picasso, they enjoyed setting their film out in this format they were thinking like writers and accessing literacy successfully. We have since used this technique when creating stop motion animation, (a technique we have become more proficient in after Into Film CPD training).

Filming on location and developing physical skills and techniques was probably the part they most enjoyed. This was a collaboration were communication, team work and problem solving ran through every aspect of our work. Boys who had been hard to engage were literally calling the shots and taking pride in the direction their work was going. Confidence grew and their understanding increased further.

Editing film clips can be laborious but it was a process the boys had to go through if they were to see this project through to the end; three boys excluded from mainstream were on the brink of completing their own film! And they had participated fully in every aspect.

Being aspirational and driving this literacy project forward was made so much easier by using the See It Make It resource produced by Into Film. It guided us as novices and opened up a whole new world. As practitioners our repertoire is growing and we are more confident to use film as a vehicle to improve literacy. It is such a dynamic way to harness an interest and switch children and young people on.

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Jacque McCarthy, Primary Phase Inclusion Teacher, South Somerset Partnership School

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