Film Shorts as Literacy Texts

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the re-definition of “texts” in the context of Curriculum for Excellence, and indeed in the context of the 21st Century! For anyone with responsibility for developing literacy skills in young people it is no longer appropriate to think of texts simply as books, important as books are, but to be employing a whole range of texts, some of which will be multi-modal, to reflect the reality of the world we live in. This is what I would describe as improving literacy through digital media, as opposed to digital media literacy, which is, in my view a different matter.

The short film is an ideal medium for developing the “traditional” literacies of reading, writing, talking and listening, a “short” film being a complete text lasting anything up to 30 minutes, but for our purposes ideally no more than ten or fifteen minutes, which means it can be shown two or three times in the course of a lesson if necessary. This is preferable to using an extract from a feature film as it doesn’t require an understanding of the whole work from which it has been taken, and there is a huge range of texts available, from animation to live action, fiction to documentary.

With a minimal understanding of the language of film, teachers can use short films to introduce and reinforce concepts related to reading and writing printed texts, such as narrative viewpoint, plot, characters and setting, as well as developing a greater understanding of the medium of film itself, the medium with which most of us engage most frequently. It is important to emphasise the similarities between printed and moving image texts, as well as the differences, since ultimately they are both about telling stories, and why we tell stories is arguably the reason for studying any kind of texts at all! This is a subject dear to my heart and one to which I will return in due course.

In the meantime, thanks to Mike Coulter for alerting me to this short animated film. Apart from being a delightful piece of work in its own right, it could provide the literacy teacher with any number of opportunities for developing aspects of literacy. To take one example, imagine leading a discussion around the creation of character in fiction. What kind of character is the central figure in this film and how do we know? Remember, there are no words spoken other than some faint song lyrics which appear briefly towards the end of the film.

If you want to hear the writer and illustrator James Jarvis talking about how he made the film and how he combines his two different worlds of drawing and running click here.

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