In 2001, The Film Foundation brought together a group of film scholars, filmmakers, and academics from across the country for an intensive two-day conference to brainstorm on the best way to introduce film study into middle school classrooms. They met in Los Angeles on the campus of UCLA. The discussion was not whether film and moving image technology should be taught, but rather how.
The Story of Movies was not to be just another curriculum on how to make a movie or how to compare a movie to a book. Rather, the focus was to guide students in learning how to read moving images. Although teachers frequently use films in the classroom, film as language and as historical and cultural documents is not widely taught. The program was to be designed using a single film for in-depth study, in much the same way as a novel, a play, or a period of history is taught in schools. Additionally, the curriculum’s lessons had to dovetail with existing state and national standards.
From the beginning, classroom teachers as well as national educational organizations participated in shaping this curriculum. These organizations include:
The National Council of Teachers of English
The National Council of Social Studies
The National Middle School Association
The International Reading Association
The Instructional Design
The instructional design is interdisciplinary rather than multi-disciplinary. The difference is this: in a multi-disciplinary approach, film is a springboard or a motivational tool by which to learn other subjects like literature, history or music. This approach, however, does not teach students how to read a film or analyze moving-image technology. The interdisciplinary approach, however, challenges students to apply their knowledge of other subjects in learning about a new discipline — film.
But which films should The Story of Movies feature? That was a difficult choice! Our wish list included more than 100 titles produced during the 20th century. Ultimately, the committee selected three films for in-depth study based on four criteria: Film Quality, Educational Value, Student Interest, and Age Appropriateness.
The films selected for study include:
To Kill a Mockingbird, a film that is an adaptation of a previously published work
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a film with strong links to history and civics
The Day the Earth Stood Still, a film representing the science fiction genre
It is not by accident that these three films were produced during three significantly different periods of American history. Nor is it a coincidence that children play powerful roles in the films. Each film also dovetails neatly with content material being taught in middle school, including thematic units that address civil rights and racism, American history, and government.
Lessons for each teaching unit were created according to four key strands:
- Film Language, focusing on composition, light, camera angles and distances, as well as sound, to communicate to an audience
- Production and Creative Expression, identifying the various creative and technical roles required in the filmmaking process
- Historical and Cultural Contexts, focusing on the cultural values and social issues during the period in which a film is made and which are reflected in the film
- Aesthetic Valuing and Viewers' Response, developing criteria for evaluating film and deriving personal meaning from film
The Pilot Sites
During the 2003-2004 school years, The Film Foundation tested the first teaching unit, To Kill a Mockingbird, in three locations and three different teaching situations:
Bloomfield Middle School, Bloomfield, New Jersey, used a team teaching approach.
Canter Middle School, Chicago, Illinois, used the materials in their social studies department.
Independence Middle School, Cleveland, Ohio, used the materials in their language arts/English department.
Fulmore Middle School, Austin, Texas, served as a control group.
Each school had the opportunity of taking their students to a theater to view the film in its entirety prior to beginning in-depth instruction. Typically, teachers spent six to eight weeks covering lessons. Pre- and post-testing was conducted by an independent evaluator.
As a result of pilot site testing and very specific feedback from both teachers and students, the curriculum underwent revisions. The Story of Movies teaching units on this website, therefore, are the result of years of research and testing.
Click here for a copy of the Evaluation Report.
During the 2003-2004 school year, The Film Foundation conducted pilot site testing of The Story of Movies curriculum in three schools. The quotes below from educators were compiled for the pilot site final report, prepared by Edumetrics.
Motivation and Self-Regulatory Behavior
More kids are participating in The Story of Movies than they usually do in other activities. They really relate to the subject matter. They’re more focused and motivated. Since they’ve been so engaged in this curriculum, we can move into harder work and the development of critical thinking skills. It’s hard to get these students motivated in anything and this is really drawing them in and holding their interest. (Social Studies educator, Canter Middle School, Chicago, IL)
The kids who don’t raise their hands have been raising their hands. This has been exciting for me, to see the students who are not as comfortable connecting and relating with classroom activities become active participants in this project. . . . The Story of Movies activities are riveting even for students whose thoughts easily wander off task. The activities are helping them to learn self-monitoring skills.(Team teachers, Bloomfield Middle School, Bloomfield, NJ)
The Story of Movies does a great job of accommodating the wide variety of students’ learning styles. The visual learner was really engrossed in it. So was the tactile learner because a lot of the activities were hands-on. It got students’ creative flare going in language arts. They were really brought into it by looking at the different roles and aspects of making a film. (Language Arts educator, Independence Middle School, Independence, OH)
The program was successful for many reasons, especially because it dispelled misconceptions about how films are made and the messages that they convey. They’ve become much more aware of issues associated with racism, discrimination, and other historical issues raised by the film. The Story of Movies has been a great cross-curricular teaching and learning tool. (Language Arts educator, Independence Middle School, Independence, OH)
The movie as a cultural expression is what I’m going to be focusing on in social studies. I’m also the drama teacher here and The Story of Movies easily fits the state curriculum standards for drama. (Social Studies educator, Canter Middle School, Chicago, IL)
This is very good for the development of critical-thinking skills. I think the kids are amazing themselves sometimes with these activities. They’ve come up with a lot of ideas that I didn’t think they’d come up with. They’re really learning a lot about film study. (Team teacher, Bloomfield Middle School, Bloomfield, NJ)
I’ve noticed changes in my teaching since I started using The Story of Movies. I show a number of films in my history class, but since we began using The Story of Movies units, the kids ask more questions now during the screening. Even though these films are documentaries, there’s still a better depth of questions than I’ve had in previous years with other groups of kids who hadn’t performed The Story of Movies activities. I’m very impressed with what they’ve learned from this material. (Educator, Independence Middle School, Independence, OH)