Published on December 13, 2013
“Now let’s watch source C”: Celluloid history, pedagogy and disciplinary understandings Dr Debra Donnelly, University of Newcastle.
Set in the past, may be based around an historical event Produced for the popular consumption with a commercial imperative Often not based on historical record - narrative can be heavily fictionalized and manipulated for entertainment value Cited by Australians as one of the main activities that connect them to the past (Hamilton and Ashton, 2003) An historical feature film
These big-budgetted feature films are designed to be emotional and memorial experiences (Metzger, 2007) and tend to become a community source of historical knowledge (Davis, 2000; Wineburg, 2001). They attract broad audiences in our globalized Australian “community. We should acknowledge film and television as the great history educators of our time” (Weinstein, 2001:27)
The historical understanding skills have been highlighted in the Australian Curriculum History, teachers are tasked with going beyond communication of a narrative to examine issues of: Continuity and change Cause and effect Perspective taking and empathetic understanding Significance Source analysis Interpretation and Contestability Disciplinary understandings
Feature film is a suitable vehicle for communicating historical narrative to an audience/class BUT can it be used to look deeper than the story and give insights into the nature of the discipline? Research impetus
Surveys of history teacher practice with feature film (n=203) Interviews with teachers to further explore practice and understandings (n=35) Case studies to examine the teaching practice – a range of opinions, styles and objectives. Interviews, classroom observations and analysis of written evidence such as teaching programs and units, assessment tasks and student work. (n=6) Researching filmic pedagogies
Are teachers using feature film to teach history? If so, how? Can feature film be used to explore the nature of historical knowledge and encourage historical understanding in a classroom setting? If so, could a set of guidelines be developed for this undertaking? Research questions
Feature films commonly used in the teaching of history in schools - motivation and empathy are the two most cited reasons Little guidance or support material for teachers on effective use of film For many there appears to be a lack of integration of the film into the learning Historical feature films were usually not examined as a source and not used to teach about the nature of history Baseline data observations
Case studies – demonstrations from teacher practice. Guidelines – implementation strategies
The most successful teachers understood the importance of developing a framework for exploring the film. These allowed the feature film to be integrated into the unit and so connected with and compared to the other historical sources. For example: Overall focus - Why is Ned Kelly famous in Australian history? Is his fame warranted? Use T charts to take notes on these two questions as you watch: 1.Ned Kelly hero or villain? 2.How does the film-maker make us like or dislike Ned Kelly? Now select an episode from the film that you have identified. What does other evidence indicate about it? Is it at odds with the film portrayal? In groups organise a presentation to answer – Is this film claiming to be history? Is it supported by evidence? Integration of film into themes of the unit - Conceptual frameworks
Of the observed teachers that used film as a source – most used the film as a secondary source Only a few worked through an analysis protocol – such as author/director, origin, motive, context, audience, reception. Addressed in different ways either by de-constructing film or focusing on and verifying individual issues from the film A need to consider emotional manipulation and distortion of historical record Vital to compare filmic representation with other primary and secondary sources Close analysis as source
A number of the teachers effectively used a cognitive apprenticeship learning design – although none of them knew this term Basically it is a staged learning model that moves from modelling and imitation, to coaching and collaboration then to fading support and independent exploration For example, the teacher models analysis of one scene from film as historical document, then has students continue in pairs with the aid of class discussion for the next few and then individuals are allocated scenes to evaluate and present to class. Collective notions of historical representation in the film are developed. Cognitive apprenticeship learning design
Several of the successful units included the use of graphic organizers, such as T charts, spider diagrams and mind maps. Communication and summary devices to show the organization and relationships of information, concepts and ideas and to capture observations while viewing the films. By arranging information spatially their students were able to select the essential ideas and these were often used as the basis for assessment tasks. Graphic organizers and learning scaffolds
Film is a useful tool for examining values Several teachers defined particular values, attitudes and beliefs, such as human rights and citizenship rights and responsibilities Examined the values as presented in the film and connected them to contemporary society Used film as a stimulus for values discussion For example: Freedom fighter or terrorist? V for Vendetta used to study the concept of terrorism in case study Began with work on Guy Fawkes and then analysis of V and then moved to contemporary examples. Values dimension
“The way in which our historian considers history is conducive to the creation of something new.” (Stengers 1999, p.17). Range from writing argumentative essays and constructing websites to building models or making historical “artefacts” to role plays, speeches and dramatic simulations Encourages further exploration and synthesis, relates the films to other historical material and can lead to what the Quality Teaching Model calls Deep Knowledge and Understanding. The performative
Feature films have great potential to teach not only the narrative but about the nature of historical interpretation and representation. The rapid proliferation of technology appears to have caught the profession out – the majority of teachers had little or no expertise in multi-modal semiotics or analysis methods. Conclusions
Very few (8%) of history teachers reported studying history and film in training or post-grad contexts and many were unsure of how to integrate and interrogate non-print sources. If we are to be relevant to students and connect with their lifeworld experiences, this needs immediate attention in pre-service teacher training and professional development agendas.
Hamilton, P. & Ashton, P. (2003). At home with the past: Initial findings from the survey. Australian Cultural History (23), 5-30. Marcus, A. S. (2003). Celluloid blackboard: Teacher practices with film and students' historical understanding. Unpublished dissertation, Stanford University. Metzger, S. A. (2007) Evaluating the educational potential of Hollywood history movies. In A. S. Marcus (Ed.), Celluloid blackboard: Teaching history with film (pp. 63-98). Charlotte, North Carolina, Information Age Publishing Inc. Weinstein, P. B. (2001). Movies as a gateway to history: The history and film project. The History Teacher, 35(1), 27-48. Wineburg, S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: Charting the future of teaching the past. Philadelphia, USA: Temple University Press. References
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