Teaching English: Is Film a Form of Text?

When I began to read English texts in fourth grade (I was in bilingual classes up to third grade), I struggled to understand correct interpretations of characters and sounds. I read English texts below grade level my entire K-12 career, so the sight of close-knit letters, intricately strung together using all forms of punctuation to create sentences made me sick. I hated reading, but I loved watching films. I could more easily process the spoken word, so I’d watch films, and learned how to pronounce English words by watching different types of films. Films played a huge role in the development of my English language acquisition.

Now that I am an English teacher who teaches a community of predominantly Spanish speakers, I made it a goal of mine to show as many films in class as possible in order to give my students an alternative form of English text; a text that could potentially help them develop their English speaking skills faster and more effectively. The state of California agrees, and has crystallized the importance of considering alternative forms of texts through Common Core Standards such as this:

“Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.”  

California understands that students (and teachers) need to expand their understanding of “texts” to include formats other than the written word. Intentionally, or unintentionally, this limited understanding of texts has fostered the belief that the written word is the only viable source of academic content. This is especially true in our social media era where “visual” media is usually associated with unreliability. We ignore the fact that the earliest languages consisted of hieroglyphics, characters chiseled into stone that communicated stories and traditions. Films do the same by taking pictures and making them “move” to tell a story, hence the name “movies.” However, we have learned to equate films with entertainment, to equate entertainment with passivity, and to equate passivity with idleness, so we have an aversion to seeing films embedded in an academic setting.

My students have watched three films, and they have used a vast array of shorter videos to foster academic discussions in a single semester. They have written several film analyses in which they grapple with existential issues brought up by the films. Most of my students are showing progression in their ability to express critical thought in the English language, both written and spoken. Although I agree that discussing and writing are valuable academic skills that should be developed in the classroom, I do not agree that showing a film in class is any less valuable than those two activities.Watching a film is similar to reading; we interpret characters on a screen, seek out themes, and engage with the text by questioning and commenting throughout the plot line. Most importantly, watching films can help students with language acquisition the same way it helped me, and that should be valuable to us all.

What do you think?

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Robel Espino

Robel Espino

Robel Espino is an education specialist assistant, worked as an after school instructor, and serves as a youth leader in his local church. A first-generation college graduate, Robel attended California State University, East Bay in Hayward, CA, and received a degree in English Literature. Robel is an Oakland native who received k-12 education in the cities of Oakland, San Pablo, and Richmond, CA. He is a husband, and a father of a four-year old.

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