|Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute||Home|
This unit will focus on the genre of science fiction and develop many strategies that promote learning. I teach children aged six to eight in a self-contained classroom at Bishop Woods School in New Haven. The learning and language disabilities of these students vary, but they participate in many mainstream activities during their day. These students struggle to learn skills in reading, writing and language. They are often quite aware of their deficiencies and withdraw from language situations that put them at risk. Some children are impulsive and meet rejection or criticism frequently. But all of these students enjoy a movie and watch with rapt attention. The elementary teachers that I have spoken to all agree that viewing a film is a very powerful class reward. Selecting an appropriate film that will maintain attention is a teacher’s first task. Ideally, the teacher has previewed the film or found a film with a unit connection. Sometimes teachers can take a story and find a film version to extend the learning and enjoyment. It is this connection to literature that makes films a worthwhile investment. But young students need very specific guidance to make this connection and I have organized several sections that offer preliminary concepts for developing young reviewers instead of passive young viewers .
This historical perspective is present in the unit. The three films I selected are older movies that span the decades of the 1930’s to the 1980’s. The first film, Frankenstein, is a black and white classic horror movie from 1931. As I first watched this movie, I thought there would be no interest in the over-done gothic setting and primitive science fiction-style special effects. But after viewing this film as a piece of literature, I discovered that it had classic themes that children could grasp and enjoy. Children need many opportunities to make a connection between literature and a film. Most public libraries have a large section of children’s books about these old horror and science fiction movies. Ian Thorne’s book entitled Frankenstein does an excellent job of describing the plot and it provides photos from the film. It describes other science fiction genre movies that were based on the Frankenstein story. It also has an author study of Mary Shelley, the author of the original story. It was written when she was eighteen years old and at first her name did not appear on the first editions of the book. (Thorne 1977).
The second film of this unit is The Wizard of Oz. Although usually labeled a musical, it contains the elements associated with the genre of science fiction. This 1939 release offers a dramatic comparison to Frankenstein. The Wizard of Oz has color, better sound, enormous sets and loads of special effects.
The movie E.T., The Extra Terrestrial may seem fairly new to many adults, but children are often unaware of this 1982 film. Like the monster from Frankenstein, this alien creature was terrified and could not speak. Students would be interested to learn that this was one of the first films to take full advantage of the toy business associated with a popular film. Most parents will gladly recall the many products that were out at that time. Public libraries often have a book version of E.T.
A video cassette can be used to show that there are sprockets (nine little white “teeth “) that pull the film or tape through a video machine. There is also an opening in the cassette that allows another piece of the machine to pick up the sound that is recorded on the strip of tape. Although one can’t pull the video tape apart, it is useful to compare a filmstrip to a video tape. Children enjoy hearing about the “old days “ twenty-five years ago when people didn’t have video cassette recorders in their homes or schools.
A real challenge is to show a video without sound and put on a mismatched recording of music. Ask the children if this music works and if it doesn’t work, ask for their musical suggestions.
One of the issues for parents and teachers are the toy marketing strategies that promote children to buy the toys even before the movie is released. The record-breaking success of E.T. in 1982 resulted in great demand for everything from underwear to jewelry. Now the stores are stocked with merchandise before the movie is even released or reviewed. Parents feel pressured to go because the business people have influenced their children’s desires. Teacher’s also feel a conflict because the story foundation of a film is often secondary to the status of having an item from the film. This conflict is reflected in a children’s vote on the following question. Would you rather have a toy from a movie or a copy of the book that it is based on?
It is the goal of this unit to make first and second grade viewers into more critical reviewers. Can the business power of the silver screen be harnessed to promote literature and learning? I believe that my focus on the genre of science fiction provides an unusual and interesting approach that is easily connected to a variety of literature selections.
Teachers can utilize familiar literature techniques to treat a film story more like a printed story. These tried and true methods include building background, setting a purpose, vocabulary words, predicting plot, and various viewer response activities. These methods are not easily put into practice because children have so much visual and auditory information to absorb. Indeed, the most critical strategies for the teacher to include are breaking the viewing time into smaller units and providing appropriate response activities. These response activities often require a repeated viewing of a certain clip.
- 1. To teach students how to review a film.
The basic idea that written words may form the basis for a film is a meta-cognitive concept that children can develop. The three films that I have chosen all have a screenplay-based books at a young level . It is an exciting discovery when children see words and pictures based on the movie. It also helps them to separate fantasy from reality when the teacher reads.
- 2. To introduce students to some highlights from the history of motion picture films through the genre of science fiction films.
- 3. To introduce students to the terms and main roles of the motion picture business.
- 4. To teach students about acting and role-playing.
- 5. To teach students to compare literature and film.
For each of the three films, I have selected a familiar literature selection from the HBJ Treasury of Literature (Farr and Strickland 1993) A character like Henny Penny has three friends who join Henny Penny on her trip to see the King. These young reviewers can easily compare this plot to that of Dorothy and her three friends in The Wizard of Oz.
- 6. To teach students comparison skills.
One theme in all three films is the theme of broken connections between generations. Dorothy is raised by her aunt and uncle, E.T. was abandoned by his space family, and the monster has no family at all.
- 7. To increase student’s emotional response to characters with a handicapping condition or difference.
- 8. To develop student awareness of a theme.
9. To help students understand the genre of science fiction.
Many beginning readers are fascinated with the idea of space travel and wild inventions. So children have a basis of appreciation for science fiction themes of time travel, space travel and inventions. The Greek writer Lucian wrote about going to the moon around 100 A.D. and children have always enjoyed describing their ideal trip in pictures, stories or discussions(Knight 1982). First graders enjoy reading the words in Papa Get the Moon for Me (Carle)
Parents can support this unit at home through discussions about film selections and literature connections. A newsletter can describe the benefits of this unit and request support from home in carrying out movie review discussions or projects.
- 10. To communicate to parents the value of film review strategies and literature connections.
Step 1. I tell students what I plan to do.
Step 2. I present questions in order to set a purpose.
Step 3. I tell students what I want them to understand.
Step 4. I discuss what parts of the movie will be difficult for them.
Step 5. I plan a way to discuss and compare theme, content, or characters.
Step 6. I state specific objectives for each movie.
Step 7. I state how I will assess student performance.
A comparable theme is found in a children’s book called How Joe The Bear And Sam The Mouse Got Together. It tells how two very different characters got together as friends even though there were many things they could not enjoy together.
The comparable literature book for this film is Jamaica’s Find (Havill 1988). Jamaica finds an old grey stuffed dog at the park. She takes it home but her mother reminds her that she has to return it to the lost and found counter at the park. This treasury selection has a happy ending and provides depth to the issues of wanting, belonging, and returning.
Butler, Stephen. Henny Penny. Tambourine Books, 1991. This story is set up as a play with a narrator role and a surprise ending.
Carle, Eric. Papa, Please Get the Moon For Me. Picture Books Studio Ltd., 1986. Beautiful colors and a playful story line make for strong appeal. This is a grade 1.6 selection for the HBJ Treasury of Literature Series.
Havill, Juanita. Jamaica’s Find. Houghton Mifflin, 1986. A wonderful lost and found theme that focuses on friendship.
Thorne, Ian. Frankenstein. Crestwood House, Inc. 1977. This is a screenplay-based book that has lots of pictures and it is written at an elementary level. It includes an author study of Mary Shelley.
Farr, Roger and Strickland, Dorothy S. HBJ Treasury of Literature. Harcourt, Brace and Jovanowich, Inc. 1993. A commercial whole-language approach to reading that the New Haven Public Schools are currently using in elementary schools.
Kipnis, Claude. The Mime Book. Meriwether Pub. Ltd., 1974. A handbook with lots of mime ideas for all ages.
Knight, Arthur. The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History of the Movies. Macmillan, 1978. A comprehensive review for the novice student of the movies.
Moats, Louisa Cook,”The Missing Foundation in Teacher Education,” American Educator, A.F.T. Professional Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2, Summer 1995.
McPike, Elizabeth. “Learning to Read: Schooling’s First Mission,” American Educator, A.F.T. Professional Journal, Vol. 19 No. 2, Summer 1995.
Monaco, James. How To Read A Movie. Oxford University Press, 1981. A complete textbook that covers the technology and the role of the reviewer in great depth.
Paley, Vivian Fussin, You Can’t Say You Can’t Play. Harvard University Press, 1992. This book teaches kids how to include everyone into play situations with just one rule; an essential component to successful role-playing and discussions.
Perrault, Nicolette. “Remember the Time: An Exploration of History Through Drama,” Yale New Haven Teachers Institute, Vol. III, 1993.
Robinson, W.R. Man and The Movies. Louisiana State University Press, 1967. An early collection of film critics who review the impact of film in modern life.
Contents of 1995 Volume II | Directory of Volumes | Index | Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute