Filmmaking and photography — artfully, masterfully — capture the essence of emotional and social (un)becoming. Almost intrinsically, as well, these technologies can be used in the classroom. In fact, pictures in children’s books, novels, texts, and various other formats can be used as context clues for reading comprehension. In terms of a photographical viewpoint, Baker (2015) explains, "Comparing different photographs of the same image reinforces students’ recognition that an object can be shown in different ways, not unlike the way a concept can be expressed using different languages. Images enable students to perceive objects not only from varying spatial perspectives, but also to explore visual stimuli from different global perspectives" (p. 4). As such, photography, as a technology, serves as a global connector. Furthermore, filmmaking can be introduced in the classroom both as an observation and a hands-on application, reverberating several curriculum expectations at the same time. Here, Hutchison (March, 2012) contends, "Student-created videos are one possibility that affords an opportunity to integrate print, oral, and digital literacies into a compelling curriculum unit" (p. 1).
Accordingly, both of these technologies can be easily connected to the curriculum/a, including but not limited to the arts education and the language arts.. It can be connected to media literacy, as well, opening a discussion around equity and justice in “mainstream” media and elsewhere. Literacy through photography (LTP), for example, is a form of critical pedagogy that weaves writing with photography (Hyde, 2010), which can be integrated in other ways, as well. Drawing on this conception, FutureLearn provides online courses that are pertinent around this, particularly through Developing Literacy: A Journey from Still Image to Film and Filmmaking and Animation in the Classroom. Both of these online courses helped me understand how to integrate filmmaking and photography in the classroom while learning how to connect it to various content areas.
Literacy through Photography
Angelo (2014) suggests five photo-based strategies, which include building vocabulary and using evidence, focus, perspective talking, portraits, and telling a story, with examples that teachers can follow, although these can be adapted and changed. By focusing, for instance, Angelo (2015) explains how students can examine a photograph and describe what they see. Such lessons and projects can also be connected to the lived curriculum/a. For this, I have provided a project planaround photography around cultural landscapes, which can be easily tweaked to a different classroom context. Adding to this, the course on FutureLearn delves into concepts around photography. This includes how we analyze photos through the 3Cs and the 3Ss: camera, colour, character, story, setting, and sound. Coupled with a literacy focus, students can focus on a character, for example, in a photograph and use a speech bubble to convey what that character is saying or thinking. By focusing on these elements, students can start to "deconstruct" photographs. The elements can be applied to moving images, as well. As an example, I provide a photograph I took in 2012 when I was visiting my village in Navsari, Gujarat:
In this photograph, the character is a calf (i.e. the character), a baby cow, unfolding a story about eating grass on a quiet morning (i.e. the setting). In the background, one can hear the call of a roaster (e.g. sound). Using a photograph or a film, then, can evoke several elements — sometimes all of them — at once. To add, FutureLearn moves toward shot sizes and camera angles (e.g. long shot or close up to name a few). Here, I recommend not just “reading” photographs, but also having students take their own photographs, applying the different shot sizes and camera angles in their own work. Considering this, I share some photos sent to me by close friend, Neida from Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 2017:
Clearly, photography and short animations can be used to support student imagination and thinking in terms of literacy. To provide further support, I list a few ways this can be achieved through lessons, with the Triple E framework in mind:
Create an illustration and a short written piece that connects with a series of photographs (e.g. provide students with the beginning and end of a story, as they then come up with an illustration for the middle of the story).
Develop speech and thought bubbles to express what the character in the photograph is saying or thinking.
Engage students in a pen pal project, where they can send a photograph — one without people in it — to share an aspect of their lives (e.g. a city or place they want to visit). For this, the photographs can be made into postcards, as well.
Jot down ideas through a mind map or thought web about a specific photograph, as a hook to a lesson.
Watch a short animation and then write a prediction (what will happen next or even what happened before) to add to or extend it.
To continue exploring lesson ideas, Baker's (2015) article, How Many Words Is a Picture Worth? Integrating Visual Literacy in Language Learning with Photographs, is worth reading. Moreover, I have included some really straightforward and simple "picture perfect" project plans — all of which can be easily used — around photography that can be adapted for any classroom:
With this, it is highly beneficial to include lessons inside and outside of the classroom that allow students to use technologies (e.g. camera or phone) to capture their own photographs, experimenting with the different angles and shots. If possible, guardians and parents can be involved, as well, planning outings that provide meaningful and rich opportunities. To that end, I include here some of my own shots from the Butterflies Go Free exhibition at the Montréal Botanical Garden in 2017:
From Photo to Film
For filmmaking, the same reading/writing lessons and projects can be used. Here, however, I focus on different ways that students and teachers can practice filmmaking, as a way to encourage practical learning.
FutureLearn's suggestions around iMovie or Windows Movie Maker are excellent to start off. Both of these resources are free to use, granted that the classroom has a computer or laptop available. Claymation, paper cut outs, and light box animation can be useful when thinking of stop-motion animation. These ideas can be easily linked the language arts and other content areas. Using the Grade 4 Ontario science curriculum, students are tasked with learning about animal habitats through inquiry and research. Here, the use of claymation, paper cut outs, and light box animation can be wondrous.
Wonderfully, there are a ton of resources that provide further insight into these different forms of animation. This one on "STEAM"mation is an excellent resource, although it does require a sign-up and possibly a fee accompanying it. As such, stop-animation can be cost intensive at times (because of the materials required and the amount of time it takes to learn the skills. Aside from these suggestions on FutureLearn, Gonzalez (2020) lists a few helpful animation and production platforms such as mysimpleshow and Toontastic 3D. Here is an example of one of those that I have prepared:
As an alternative, students can film themselves and each other, even with minimal experience with film technologies. Depending on the grade level, there are several project plans that can be used to support students. Students can, for example, work in small groups to brainstorm, plan out, and then film their own talk show. Other ideas include filming an acting scene, a cooking segment, a documentary, a game show, and so on. Most of these are useful for a unit project; however, FutureLearn provides an overview of the five-shot film concept. Here, it can be something like the following with the theme of rainforests in mind: 5 shots, 4 key ideas, 3 facts, 2 minutes, and 1 curriculum expectation. I also think of this in the context of the language arts or math. If reading the children's book, Sparkle Boy, students can create a five-shot film with the following: 5 shots, 4 sentences, 3 questions, 2 minutes, and 1 curriculum expectation (e.g. summarizing the text). Here, students can re-create a representation of the main character, Casey and then film him speaking, using five separate shots (i.e. pictures that are taken) to animate the story. For examples by FutureLearn, I highly encouraging taking the free online course, Filmmaking and Animation in the Classroom.
In terms of inquiry, the five-shot film can start off as a form of structured inquiry, which Coiro, Dobler, & Pelekis (2019) mention involves student choices that are facilitated by the teacher. The unit projects, however, can lean towards guided and open inquiry, with the latter focusing on what Coiro, Dobler, & Pelekis mention as a focus on the goals, interests, and wonderings of students. As such, these ideas can also integrate the notion of Personal Digital Inquiry (PDI). As Coiro, Dobler, & Pelekis (2019) explain, “[O]ur vision of PDI is one that engages teachers and students in collaborative discussion, analysis, and reflection that leads to knowledge building, knowledge expression, and personal action” (p. 11). Taking this into consideration, filmmaking and photography, given the adaptations and changes to a specific classroom context, are instrumental in developing curriculum expectations while also honing students' interests, learning styles, and readiness.
As teachers grapple with bringing filmmaking into the classroom, I also recommend using film, as many of us already do, to create spaces of learning and teaching. Particularly, using short animations, for example, to engage in critical and engaged thinking is essential. As I think of this, the short animation based on the children's book, Hair Love comes to mind. Most exquisitely, Hair Love addresses the complexities of Black girls and hair, the positive portrayal of a Black father with his daughter, and the relationship between a darker Black woman with a lighter Black man as opposed to patriarchal and sexist thinking, whereby men of colour often apply standards of "beauty" that are rooted in colourism. Taking inspiration from this short animation, teachers can build theories and praxis around class, gender/sexuality, and race.
Tracing these different ways to bring both photography and filmmaking into the classroom, then, can be riveting. As I have commenced this journey that posits technologies as central to student learning, I welcome you to do the same.