Where teachers meet and learn

Film in Action

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 33 No 1 Winter 2015

Kieran Donaghy

Delta Publishing (2015)

ISBN 978-1-90-978307-2

112 pages

Film in Action is a resource book which aims to demonstrate to teachers how film can become an essential part of their teaching. It achieves this in great detail, comprehensively covering all the different aspects that a teacher and/or institution will need to take into account before following the author's advice and challenging themselves “to reflect on the role of film in society, in our educational system and in language learning” (p. 7).

The book is divided into three sections, the first of which introduces the idea that film is not just a passive art form, but has the capacity to inspire students as well as helping them improve their linguistic skills. The history of using film in education is explained, concentrating on the key literacies which can be developed. Donaghy also tackles head on the commonly held misconception that the moving image is directly responsible for a decline in more traditionally conceived literacy. He then goes on to describe in some detail the benefits as he sees them for using film in education and exactly how the films should be used to ensure a pedagogically sound lesson.

In the second part of the book, he provides us with a wide variety of activities, ranging from helping the students to reflect on a film they have seen to producing their own. He skilfully gives the teacher a selection of motivating lesson activities so they can choose from anywhere in this process depending on what they want to achieve in their lessons. The book ends in the third part with a look at how film can be used as part of a wider syllabus, including detailed descriptions of how to run a film club or course, and how students can create their own short films.

There’s much to admire in Film in Action, but what most appeals to me, besides the excellent array of activities that I’m sure to use in my own lessons, is Donaghy’s emphasis on a critical engagement with the medium. In my own experience, I've observed over the years in very different cultures a serious lack of ability to engage with different types of texts in a critical way. Essentially, what often happens if I ask a student what they thought of a particular book, film, TV show, or article is that I normally receive a very shallow response, not much beyond ‘I liked it’ or ‘I didn't like it’.

The fact that this occurs is not a failing in language teaching, but in education in general. The media is a hugely important element in modern life, absolutely crucial in shaping our modern world, and as educators we are failing our students if we leave them unequipped to be able to interact with this reality critically. By emphasising this crucial aspect of using film in the classroom, Donaghy creates a compelling argument for including it in lesson design.

“To place moving image texts at the centre of the language learning agenda” (p. 27) is one of the goals of this book, and as the author admits, it’s an ambitious one. While I don’t necessarily agree that film should be at the centre, I certainly agree that its position should be greatly enhanced. In my view, the medium, short films in particular, offer great potential for enhancing language learning, and this book does an excellent job at providing a thorough and all-encompassing overview of exactly why.

James Taylor