Unlocking Learning through Narrative

20 March 2015

Our first Schools Forum explored ways in which tablets and films can be brought into the classroom using the human desire to tell and understand stories as a way of underpinning the use of the technology. 

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“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” Willa Cather

Almost 70% of primary and secondary schools in the UK now use tablet computers and in 9% of schools an individual device is available for each student. In a study commissioned by educational charity Tablets for Schools, between 2014 and 2016, the number of tablet computers in schools is expected to rise from about 430,000 to almost 900,000. The use of tablets in schools is here to stay. The wider use of tablets allows young people to be creators as well as consumers and it empowers school children to interact with culture in new and exciting ways. The proliferation of social media means that we are becoming a more and more visual society and we are using images for communicating mood and emotion more and more readily. Children intuitively interpret visual and moving images expertly and harnessing these is a great way to begin an exploration of the cultural landscape that our young people are growing up in.

Our Schools Forum event, Unlocking learning through narrative, explored ways in which tablets and films can be brought into the classroom using the human desire to tell and understand stories as a way of underpinning the use of the technology. The session was designed to be interactive and gave participants ways in which to interpret film using films as an entry point and using the mechanism of filmmaking as a tool for understanding stories, literature and history.

Using film clips as a conversation starter

During the schools forum three short clips were used as a way of introducing the topic. Teachers were asked to consider which subjects / topics and key skills the clips could be used for. The aim of the exercise was to develop confidence in introducing short film clips to students and to explore the efficacy of doing so.

Four key areas for exploration were put forward during the session and teachers were asked to think about how the selected clips could be used as starting points for learning and discussion:

  • Character (Who)
  • Place (Where)
  • Dialogue & Events (What)
  • Putting it all together (the story)

For a list of the clips used and the activities based on them that you can use in the classroom, download Resource 1 – Clips below.

Download Learning through narrative - resource 1 - clips

The supplementary resource ‘Using Film as a Creative Entry Point’ can be downloaded below.

Download Learning through narrative - resource 2 - film as a creative entry point

The second part of the forum focussed on the Hero’s Journey and using narrative arcs as a core teaching tool. The teachers were introduced to the Hero’s Journey by comparing the plot lines of Star Wars and Harry Potter. A short introduction to shots and composition reinforced the way in which the visual medium can assist with the storytelling. Teachers then used the hero’s journey to identify 8 key turning points in Romeo and Juliet, Little Red Riding Hoodor World War I creating short films and presentations using ipads.

The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development. It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization. For a resource outlining the detail of the Hero’s Journey, see below.

Download Learning through narrative - resource 3 - the hero's journey

Following the practical exercises, teachers had the opportunity to envision themselves in the role of the hero and think about how they could integrate technology into their teaching. Teachers considered their current situation and what obstacles lay in their way. Solutions were offered and discussed and finally teachers considered what success would look like for them, using a storyboard to outline their next step.

You can download a storyboard template for use in the classroom below.

Download Learning through narrative - resource 4 - hero storyboard

Useful apps

There are a large number of film apps available for tablets and smartphones. Here are the ones we used in the session:

imotion HD: students can create a time-lapse or stop-motion film using this video app by combining still photos. With the full (paid for) version of the app, users can add music and get access to extra export features like uploading their movie straight to YouTube.

iMovie makes it easy to browse and share the HD video you shoot on your iOS device.

Adobe Voice is a free app for iPad that produces short videos based on voice recordings, motion graphics and images. It’s based on the idea that speaking is key in storytelling or getting a message across.

Adobe Premiere Clip is a free app that makes it fast and easy to create amazing videos. Capture the moment by shooting video on the go, and then use Premiere Clip to bring clips together and add the finishing touches that make a video look and sound great.

You can also download a handout to support composition of shot below.

Download Learning through narrative - resource 5 - basic camera angles