Literacy, Film and the Scottish Survey

Moving image texts, in the form of cinema, and later, television, have been with us for a long time. So much so that it is difficult to imagine a world without them. And moving image texts have been used in education since the middle of the last century. I still vaguely remember trooping in to our school dining hall in the mid-1960s to watch Peter Brook’s wonderful black and white adaptation of Lord of the Flies (not to be confused with the awful 1990 remake which has the English public school boys replaced with American marine cadets). In those days, however, and to a great extent today still, the film or the television programme in class was used to enhance or supplement the ‘real’ text ie the book, or simply as an alternative means of communicating the lesson – a substitute teacher. The idea that moving image texts were valid in themselves, and were worthy of study, was reserved to a few enthusiasts and placed in the box marked ‘Media Studies’.

Not any more. In a bold move, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), working on behalf of the Scottish Government, has been engaged over the past eighteen months in developing reading tasks based on moving image texts, for inclusion in the new-look Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy. The SSLN replaces the old  Scottish Survey of Achievement and assumes a much more significant role in the post 5-14 landscape. A small, random sample of pupils from EVERY school in the country in P4, P7 and S2 will be assigned a series of short tasks, the results of which should provide a snapshot of literacy levels across the country. Crucially, however, the anonymous nature of the survey and the size of the sample (no more than twelve pupils per school in S2 and much fewer in primary) will make it impossible to compare schools or compile the much-vilified ‘league tables’ of old. The tasks will assess performance in literacy using a wide variety of texts, including moving image texts, as defined by Curriculum for Excellence:-

texts not only include those presented in traditional written or print form, but also orally, electronically or on film

The moving image tasks have been written by experienced and enthusiastic practitioners – thereby exposing another myth, that national assessments are written by SQA staff – and they have already been piloted  with great success. Feedback from pupils and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive. Having worked with the development team, the SQA granted me exclusive permission to publish a sample task which was developed for early trials but which will NOT be used in the actual survey. This Level 1 task (P4, age eight) is based on the short extract from the film ‘Babe’. As you will see from the task booklet, the ability to ‘read’ the extract depends on some awareness of the language and grammar of moving image, but does not require any kind of specialist vocabulary. Download the task booklet here.

Further Resources

For some excellent teaching materials and short films to use in the classroom check out the following websites:

Moving Image Education

Film Education

Scotland on Screen

Languages on Screen

Open Culture

Film Studies for Free

Movie Clips and Movie Scenes

Docscene – Scottish Documentary

BBC Film Network

BBC Learning Zone Scotland

National Film Board of Canada


Scottish Screen

British Film Institute


Lighting a Spark for Literacy

My friends over at LitWorld have been busy putting together a summer book and school supplies drive to help two major projects bring literacy and the power of storytelling to disadvantaged children in different parts of the world, and they need as much help as they can get.

KENYA:On July 8, 2011, members of the LitWorld team are headed to Kenya to visit our partners at the Children of Kibera Foundation. LitWorld works very closely with the Children of Kibera Foundation’s Red Rose School, where we run programs such as the Girls Clubs for Literacy Project. The Red Rose School is a beacon of hope for the children of Kibera, and is a positive learning environment providing education for children who are HIV/AIDS orphans.

HARLEM:Starting this summer, LitWorld will set up the Story Power Camp project, a summer reading enrichment program for the youth of the Children’s Village, Polo Grounds Community Center. The Story Power Camp aims to engage young people in reading and writing through fun, interactive activities, while encouraging each participant to boldly share their personal stories. The Children’s Village works in partnership with families to help society’s most vulnerable children so that they become educationally proficient, economically productive and socially responsible members of their communities.

To contribute, view their wishlist via Amazon here (donations are being accepted until 30/06/2011):


A National Treasure

Last week I paid a visit to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, and I was reminded, not only of the important role Scotland  played in the creation of the modern world, but how fortunate we are to have access to one of the most important research libraries in Europe. I wonder though how many teachers are aware of the free resources which the NLS provides, both in the building and online. In the Learning Zone, teachers and pupils can explore a huge range of topics from the worlds of Literature, Geography, History, Politics, Exploration, Science and Technology. Free, downloadable resources are available, all of them specially designed to help learners interact with the library’s unique collections. The Ideas Factory provides advice on ‘Thinking Like a Writer’, shows young writers how stories are put together, and takes them through the process of storytelling step by step.

In 2006, the Library acquired the archive of the publishing house John Murray, one of the world’s great collections of literary manuscripts. Charles Darwin, Lord Byron, Jane Austen and David Livingstone are just four of the famous historical figures whose stories are brought to life through a combination of original correspondence and modern technology. Visitors to the exhibition can see a recreation of the fireplace in Albemarle Street where John Murray II famously burned the memoirs of Lord Byron, as well as the letter in which Darwin pitched the idea for On the Origin of Species (see also the John Murray Archive app for the iPhone).

Just as important to generations of Scots, the NLS is home to the only complete collection of Oor Wullie annuals. The famous DC Thomson comic strip character, who is 75 this year, has hardly changed since he first appeared in the Sunday Post on 8th March 1936 on the streets of Auchenshoogle, a fictional hybrid of Glasgow and Dundee, where the publishing house was based; the collection was completed as recently as 2010 when the library secured the only two books published in the war years, in 1940 and 1940 respectively, for the modest price of £4000.

Just as entertaining, and of huge cultural significance, is the Scottish Screen Archive, a wonderful record of the nation’s past depicted on film, and looked after by the National Library in its specially-adapted storage facility in Hillington near Glasgow. The archive preserves over a hundred years of history on film and video. A recent partnership project between the National Library, Creative Scotland and Learning and Teaching Scotland has already made over 15 hours worth of short clips  available to teachers via the Scotland on Screen website. Here, as well as simply watching the films, teachers and pupils are able to download, create and upload new material to Glow as films or moving image essays. The material has been selected and tagged for its relevance to the Scottish curriculum. If you haven’t seen it before, I recommend you go there now. It may be some time before you re-emerge. Have fun.