Media Literacy Lessons from the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute

JBFC Sound Studio   Students as Filmmakers

This past week I had the privilege of attending the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute in Pleasantville, New York. The week long institute included a sneak preview of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and a viewing of the documentary Jordowosky’s Dune. In addition to viewing the two movies, I also attended workshops to address teaching media literacy in the digital age. JBFC is launching a new media literacy curriculum online this fall that is aligned with the Common Core and centers around image and story as it relates to analyzing and creating media (movies, animation, images, and print text).

Here are some key ideas that can be applied in any classroom relating to teaching media literacy and film studies.

1. Teach Film Terminology – The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) has set up a great Visual Glossary with terminology relating to film and media. The site not only offers a definition of a cinematic concept but also includes multiple examples from film clips to illustrate the film technique. Teachers need to teach and utilize these terms with students.  When analyzing film or creating a media text we want students to understand that a filmmaker makes deliberate choices to convey a message or emotion the way an author selects specific words to convey meaning. This element relates to craft and structure as identified in the Common Core.

2. Films are a Text and they way we teach them in our class should mirror the way we teach Close Reading – In the age of the Common Core, teachers are asking students to “mine the text for details, ideas, and deeper meanings” (Fisher and Frey, 2014). Just as print text is layered with words, images, inferences, and evidence, so is film. If students are to develop deep understanding of texts, teachers need to model close reading skills to film too. When watching a film, students should view for content analysis and understanding, but also to understand the filmmaker’s point of view and purpose.

3. Students are Creators & Filmmakers – In teaching 21st century skills, students are creators. Teachers should allow students to create their own images and interpretations to text and information. There are a host of film projects that you can have your students create as described in a blog post I wrote earlier this month. The creation process is just as important as the final product. Let students understand the undertaking involved in creating a film from the story, setting, lights, sound, editing, to the characters.

4. Storyboards are Essential to Creating. It all begins with one idea, a seed, a spark, an overheard conversation, and an idea is born. Yet, a writer or filmmaker cultivates the idea, outlines, drafts, sketches the paths where the idea is to expand and reveal a story. Students need to outline and sketch their ideas like real writers and artists. Storyboards are great scaffolding tools to help students put their ideas down on paper, and unravel the threads of ideas that encompass their story. Allow students to review, revise, and reflect on their work. As mentioned above, it is not so much about the final product, but the process is just as important.

5. Movie Clips as Teaching Tools – So many wonderful shorts and movie clips were shared throughout the week to utilize with my students and teach various concepts and ideas. I have compiled a playlist of ten movie clips that I will bring back to the classroom. Think about how you can use these clip to help teach point of view, structure, and or image.




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