CMYK: Using Film to Engage, to Explore, to Challenge and to Celebrate Learning.


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I think empathy is a beautiful thing. I think that’s the power of film though. We have one of the most powerful, one of the greatest communicative tools known to man. – Michelle Rodriguez

Each year the team at ResourceLink coordinates a film festival based around a particular theme.  This year’s it is CMYK: Celebrating Life’s Colours.  The festival is a celebration of film and its power as a vehicle to promote deep learning.  A part of this film festival is a student produced festival, where students from across the diocese of Brisbane create and submit films that explore the theme.

In 2013 the team from ResourceLink worked collaboratively with 4 core teachers in a model of professional learning that is focused on teaching both the students and the teachers the process of making film.  The outcome of this model has truly been inspiring and energizing.

This post will seek to explore how film and the process of film making can be used to engage students in learning, to explore rich content, to challenge students and to celebrate student learning in diverse ways.

“The moment we cry in a film is not when things are sad but when they turn out to be more beautiful than we expected them to be.”  Alain de Botton

Engage students in rich content:

Traditionally using film in the learning and teaching process was time consuming.  Teachers had to organise access to a particular VHS or DVD, checking for availability at the school library or local video store. In order  to screen the film, they either had to wheel the TV/DVD Combo (often bolted to a overly tall trolley) or book the A/V room, arrange students around the comparatively small screen and then try to engage students in some form of critical reflection of the content of the film.  In some instances this is still occurring in schools today.

However through contemporary technologies, teachers and students can access endless film content online – easily and quickly.

There are so many diverse ways film can be used in the learning and teaching process.  An engaging film will spark a student’s imagination; stimulate inquiry; and engage students in rich content.

One way of sparking creative and imaginative thought is to stop the film at a crucial point in the story and invite the students to complete the story or to imagine what might happen next. This is a terrific short to watch in its entirety – but even more powerful in the classroom if you stop it when the tornado ends about 2 minutes in:

Engaging students with film also requires educators to select and use a range of genres.  Why not immerse students in a new area of inquiry with a particular short film in science

or engage students in the process of imaginative narrative.

Film has traditionally been used as a way of delivering content, but creating film is a powerful and engaging way to facilitate and support student learning.

One major way film can facilitate learning is through feedback;

A teacher or parent can provide corrective information, a peer can provide an alternative strategy, a book can provide information to clarify ideas, a parent can provide encouragement, and a learner can look up the answer to evaluate the correctness of a response. Feedback thus is a “consequence” of performance – Hattie & Timperley (2007)

Filming student learning provides an immediate and accurate record from which students may gather feedback through self-reflection, from teachers or family and even from experts worldwide.

The following film shows how a student is using film to seek feedback and assistance from others.

The boy has made the film himself and Braille Skateboarding has added their voice over comments, provide guidance on how he might improve his skateboarding technique.  The combination of video and the internet has provided this boy access to experts in the field he may never had access to ordinarily.  The potential for film as a tool for feedback is endless.

When creating films for the CMYK film festival, students of diverse levels of ability engaged in robust critical discussion about film, its content and how the film was made.  They also modeled the ability to reflect on their own work in a critical way and took steps to modify their work as a result. These skills were developed in the context of film making, and the authenticity of the project made the learning far more meaningful.

There are so many ways film making supports learning in the classroom;  how might film support students with learning disabilities, or in particular specialist areas?

Oh how Shakespeare would have loved cinema! – Derek Jarman, Dancing Ledge

Explore complex ideas

While the power of film is undeniable, often finding quality content and managing this can be time consuming.  The team at ResourceLink often uses social media as a way of learning about and sourcing quality film for use in education.

One way to manage the films that are discovered is  through the use of Pinterest.  You can have either one board for all videos or different boards for different video genres, but the strength is that you can go directly to the video you wish, enlarge it within Pinterest and view fullscreen without ads, related videos and comments.  You can view all the films referred to in this post and more here.

When searching for quality content, teachers often go to YouTube; but it is not the only source.  Most teachers have heard of TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talks.  TED Talks  are a series of conferences that have been held for the past 25 years and are aimed to showcase the best of technology, entertainment and design. For the last five years they have been available for everyone to access for free, online.

TED Talks are often inspiring and engaging videos that aim to challenge and present new ways of thinking about contemporary idea.  Whilst these can be accessed via on the Ted Channel on YouTube the TED Talks site  has lot of features to make it easier to use in the classroom. These include interactive transcripts that you can use to navigate to different parts of the video, and download or embed options for sharing easily on a learning management system or other online platform.  Below is example of a quality TED Talk that might be used when exploring problem solving, developing nations and sustainability.

Another quality source is WatchKnowLearn. This site has approximately 50,000 indexed educational videos, placing them into a directory of over 5,000 categories. The videos are available without any registration or fees to teachers in the classroom, as well as parents and students at home and can be access 24/7.

TrueTube  is a site from the UK that focuses on RE, Health and PE and Citizenship videos, most aimed at students aged 11-16. The video quality is high and tackles some tricky topics in a balanced way. The site is administered by an independent production company CTVC.  who seeks to raise important ethical questions from “those of all faiths and none”.  As such teachers in a Catholic school should be aware that some of the key messages of these films may not be in keeping with Catholic theology; but there are many useful videos available at this source.

When making their films for the CMYK film festival,  students were immersed in film, reviewing as much film as possible, sharing their thoughts about film, film techniques and the importance of the message of the film for an audience. With such a range of content at teachers’ fingertips, sourcing this quality content is far easier than previously.

It is an example of what films can do, how they can slip past your defences and really break your heart – David Gilmour

Challenge creativity

The power of film to challenge us as individuals, how we see ourselves and each other is truly amazing.  We all can recall a scene from a film which moves us, we use  key sayings in our day-to-day lives from classic moments in cinema, we are transported to a galaxy far far away when we hear a particular tune.  Film speaks to us on an emotional level.

While we as educators can easily see ways to use film as a jumping off point to engage,  explore and challenge student learning, it is the challenge of using the process of making film to drive student learning which can be daunting.

The trick to making a film is to not think you need any professional equipment (although it would be awesome to have access to it). The only thing you need is an imagination and access to a camera and a device to edit the film on. You will be amazed at how great a film might be that has been made solely using a mobile device.  See how these film makers made a short film entirely on their iPhone4 using the iMovie app.


Whilst these film makers had access to addition cinematic equipment you and your students can create similar products with a little knowledge of the four phase approach to making a film, camera angles and shot types, which can be accessed here.

YouTube can also be used to edit your own film, using the video editor feature  and most PC and Apple products have basic video editing software.

The challenge that comes from taking on the challenge of film making is twofold, balancing the ‘right product’ for the ‘right context’ dilemma and ensuring that the films are developed in a way that promotes a practical understanding of copyright.

Not all student produced films need to be a finished ‘polished’ product.  There are many reasons why students make film during the learning process and the final product is not the assessable item in many cases.  The learning may have been derived through making the film; the film making process may have been a vehicle of gathering feedback or a vehicle to communicate student knowledge and understanding.  In these cases, the final product does not require a Hollywood level of production.  Using a mobile device and the  Videolicious app students can create great one minute films.

The process of making a highly polished film promotes valuable learning about content areas but also more broadly provides students with a way of fostering and extending their creativity, challenging their social and problem solving skills and promoting resilience in the face of many differing demands.  See what some of the 2013 ResourceLink student produced film festival participants thought about the process, their learning and how film might be used in their classrooms,  and watch some of the finished films below.

In both instances the students who produced these films not only engaged in the creative process of film making but also needed to ensure their work didn’t breach copyright.  The students learnt about accessing Creative Commons images and music to help build their final works – and you can learn more about how to access and use creative commons and other copyleft materials here on the Copyright Copyleft website, created by ResourceLink.

“Film is the greatest educational medium the world has ever known.” ― Preston Sturges, Sullivan’s Travels

Celebrate learning

By now if you haven’t been scared off using film in the learning and teaching process, you most probably are going to or have already done so.  Now you’ll be building a bank of great films, of various levels of production from quick grabs of students reading their imaginative narratives, collaborating during a group process, demonstrating a particular skill or screening a highly polished film.

Film is meant to be shared, so don’t keep them hidden away in a portfolio or on a DVD or USB gathering dust.  There are many ways to share these films so that students can revisit, reflect and celebrate their learning.  Why not see how YouTube is being used by the Brisbane Catholic Education Religious Education Services team here.

Set up your own YouTube channel, to store and share not only the films you and your learners have made but also to link to other films you are using to engage and explore learning in your classroom.  Often YouTube videos can be embedded in learning management systems or other digital platforms. Alternatively, you can share the link to these films using a QR code, so that the community can view your films on their mobile devices.  Learn more about QR Codes here.

Get adventurous and try using these films to augment reality, using a selection of readily available tools, which you can read more about here.

Films and film-making offer a huge number of opportunities to engage students,  to explore new ways of working and rich content, to challenge our ways of thinking  and to celebrate learning. With little required to begin using quality film and making films in your classroom, don’t put off this amazing avenue for student learning any longer – take the plunge and you and your students will have everything to gain.

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One thought on “CMYK: Using Film to Engage, to Explore, to Challenge and to Celebrate Learning.

  1. Pingback: CMYK: Using Film to Engage, to Explore, to Challenge and to Celebrate Learning. | ChristianBookBarn.com

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