Interview by Philip Kerr for the South Eastern Europe Teachers’ Association Magazine


Interview by Philip Kerr for the South Eastern Europe Teachers’ Association magazine

Philip Kerr interviews Kieran Donaghy on the role of film in language teaching.
Kieran, many thanks, first of all, for agreeing to be interviewed. You won a British
Council ELTon award for your website, Film English , which
gets over 80,000 visitors a month. The site offers a large selection of video links (I
really like your choice of short films!) and lesson plans. You say that you want to
promote innovative and creative use of film in English language teaching and learning,
along with cineliteracy, the ability to analyse moving images. Could you tell us a little
more about cineliteracy and why you think it is important?
The advent of the digital revolution and the Internet, the proliferation of mobile
devices which allow us to capture moving images more easily and profciently, the
introduction of inexpensive and user-friendly editing tools, and the emergence of
distribution sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, have changed the way that moving
images relate to society and education forever. We are living in the age of the image in
the world of the screen. The image, and especially the moving image, has taken over
whether we like it or not, for better or worse. We are saturated with and bombarded
by moving images. So much in our society is communicated visually even subliminally.
We have to realise that this visual way of communicating is a very powerful tool, and
that we need to understand how emotions, ideas and values are communicated
visually. Students need to be taught the language of images if they are to be
considered literate in our 21st century society. To participate fully in a democratic
society means to be as confident in the use and understanding of moving images as of
the printed text. One definition of literacy in the 21st century is “the ability to
participate fully in society”. Both film literacy or cineliteracy and text literacy are
essential aspects of literacy in the 21st Century, they are not mutually exclusive.
Cineliteracy or film education is helping people look more closely at film, watching a
wider range of film and, if they want to, to make films for themselves. We teach young
people to read and write so that they can participate fully in society and it should be
the same with film education. Cineliteracy is about actively watching films, possibly
making films, being involved in active learning and goes beyond passively watching
Critical thinking skills are a relatively recent addition to what language teachers are
expected to incorporate in the syllabus. Digital literacy and cineliteracy are aspects of
this broader area. For teachers looking for practical help in approaching digital literacy,
there is ‘Digital Literacies’ by Gavin Dudeney, Nicky Hockly and Mark Pegrum (Pearson,
2013), which I think is very good. There are also a series of videoed talks by Nicky
Hockly at the British Council / BBC’s ‘Teaching English’
For cineliteracy, there is your own website, but is there anywhere else that
teachers can turn? Your own site offers great materials, but, it seems to me, that most
are most suitable for students at university (which is your own work context) or of that
age. Is there anything out there for teachers working with primary or lower secondary
Most of my lessons at Film English are aimed at mature teenage and adult students,
but there are quite a few which can be used with younger learners. Amar is a short film
about the life of a 14 year old Indian boy. Students practise talking about their present
and past daily routines, and compare their routines with those of the boy featured in
the film. It works very well with younger learners and encourages them to think
Grateful 365 is a project in which students use their mobile phones to make a onesecond
video of something they’re grateful for in their life for a month. Teachers from
all over the world have told me it’s worked really well with their younger learners.
A lot of the lessons at Film English deal with topics such as racism, sexism, bullying,
consumerism and bullying which are not the types of topics normally covered in
traditional course books as the publishers consider them to risky. However, these
contemporary topics can really engage and motivate younger learners as they realte to
their lives.
The best guide that I know of for helping teachers understand the importance of film
in language teaching and giving advice on how to use film critically and creatively with
language learners of all ages is Using Film to Teach Languages by Carmen Herrero and
Deborah Chan of Manchester Metropolitan University.
For teachers interested in getting their young students making films, there are
excellent film-making guides at Film Club:
Film Club is a UK charity which promotes film education; there are over 7,000 film
clubs in schools throughout the UK which reach up to 200,000 children and young
children a week. Although there are only Film Clubs in the UK all of their film guides and other resources
are free to download from their website and can be used in the ELT classroom with
younger learners.
There are some excellent resources which help younger learners describe films and
write film reviews:
Film Education is another UK charity which promotes and supports the use of film
within the curriculum. There are excellent resources for both primary and secondary
school students. Unfortunately, Film Education as an organisation is now defunct but
the resources remain online although no new resources will be added. It’s been
replaced by The Film Space which seeks to encourage and build an understanding and
appreciation of the moving images amongst children and young people. A lot of the
resources from Film Education have been reincorporated onto the site, but new
resources are added regularly.
Thanks for such a full answer! If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you about something
rather different. You are also the founder of ‘The Image Conference’, the only
conference in the world focusing exclusively on the use of film, video, images and
gaming in English Language Teaching . Could you tell
us a little more about this, please?
Although we’re living in a visual society in which images are increasingly important in
the lives’ of our learners, I felt this wasn’t reflected in the content of ELT conferences
so I decided to set up The Image Conference to try to put media and images in all their
different forms at the centre of the language learning agenda. It’s an innovative and
collaborative project which seeks to explore the possibilities which film, video, images
and video games offer to both language teachers and language learners.
The rationale behind The Image Conference is that today we are saturated with visual
stimulation and that the visual image has taken over. In the twenty-first century, the
ability to interpret, analyse and create images is an integral part of literacy. The aim of
The Image Conference is to put images at the centre of the language learning agenda
and offer guidance on using images critically and creatively in language teaching in the
age of the Internet. The Image Conference brings together leading experts and
practitioners in the use of images in language learning such as Jamie Keddie, Ben
Goldstein, Lindsay Clandfield, Graham Stanley, Ceri Jones and Kyle Mawer who share
their experiences, insights and know-how and provides participants with an excellent
opportunity to enhance their competence in the innovative and creative use of images
The first edition of the conference was organised by UAB Idiomes, Universitat
Autònoma de Barcelona, the school where I work, in conjunction with the IATEFL
Learning Technologies SIG. The second edition was held in Brasilia, Brazil in
conjunction with BRAZ-TESOL. It is held in a different city every year.

The Role of Film in ELT (Downloadable PDF)

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