Reasons to Use Films Adapted from the Literature Studied in the Classroom

It is widely accepted that one of the most popular and widely used multimedia materials is the film. This article is intended to emphasise the main benefits of using short films adapted from the literary text.

To begin with, Wright points to the difference between films and books by saying: “When we try to understand someone speaking we normally take into account not only their verbal language but their appearance, the sound of their voice, their behaviour, their relationship to others, the situation and the setting.[…] The non-verbal information helps us to predict what the text might be about, and this ability to predict helps us to recognise meaning more quickly than if we had to sort it out solely from what we hear or read. What we see affects how we interpret what we hear and vice versa. How someone is dressed, how they behave and what they say are inextricably linked in our minds.” (Andrew Wright, 2005:137) Actually, Wright underlines the positive aspects in teaching with both the novel and the film. He emphasises that the teacher should create a context in which students should be encouraged to communicate using both verbal and non-verbal means. Thus, students need exposure to present authentic language in a visually stimulating format.

Similarly, there are many teachers who are convinced of the real value that literature offers but who encounter a variety of problems when it comes to teaching it. One of the problems often mentioned is that it is too much to tackle on an entire novel in only two classes of English a week. Another problem which is also brought up into discussion is that only separate fragments from the novel do not manage to spark students’ interest.

Consequently, one solution would be to assign a particular novel for students to read at home and then discuss some important passages or key quotes from the novel. Furthermore, short stories or short prose, for instance, do not pose the problem of length and can be used in classes as well.

Another solution would be to add to the literary passages short segments from the film in order to stir their interest and produce more variety into the classroom. In this way films will offer a more realistic view on the literary text and such an approach will be more beneficial and popular because of the visual and sound effects.

Furthermore, one other argument in favour of adding films to the text would be that the reading of a novel is a personal experience for the reader whereas, watching the movie is a shared experience, which provides immediacy and therefore, the link between films and literature cannot be denied.

Bluestone identifies three main benefits to using film adaptations. One of these benefits is that with the help of a video camera more things can be captured and therefore it is more effective. Secondly, the mobility of the video camera can definitely improve the visual effects. Thirdly, as Bluestone suggests, a video camera: “can distort light to fit a desired mood – deepen shadows, highlight faces, amplify contrast, turn night into day.” (George Bluestone, 1961: 15)

Alternatively, there are many researchers who argue that films can be used as additional materials to the literary text in order to make the learning process more effective. One of these researchers is Champoux who considers that: “film is an excellent medium for giving meaning to theories and concepts. The visual and auditory effects of great films can convey a message better than printed or spoken words.” (Champoux, 1999: 211) In addition, Champoux (2007) supports the use of films since they permit to remove the routine of the traditional teaching and thus encourage unmotivated readers.

Additionally, according to Champoux (2007) movies are easily to be found and the quality of the films is high. He states that films offer both cognitive and affective experiences, while extending the variety of classroom resources. He underlines the fact that it is easier to introduce and teach abstract themes and concepts with the help of film mainly because of the visual element.

Another reason in favour of the use of films in literature study is that films can facilitate comprehending the content of texts. As I am going to show in one of the next chapters, students are mainly audio-visual learners and sometimes they are reluctant to read not only because of this but also due to the fact that they lack enough cultural knowledge, as Kuzma and Haney claim: “Films are useful in creating bridges to past events” (Lynn M. Kuzma and Patrick J. Haney, 2001: 35)

Thus, researchers have noticed that films can contribute to a better understanding of the literary text because films are comprehensible, motivating, interesting and relevant. Champoux, for instance, emphasises the fact that films are both audible and visual which facilitates message comprehension to a greater extent than only the written text: an excellent medium for giving meaning to theories and concepts. The visual and auditory effects of great films can convey a message better than printed or spoken words.” (Joseph E. Champoux, 1999: 211)

Researchers like Kuzma and Haney are also in favour of the use of films to enhance the learning process and to activate the learner’s background knowledge: “We teach and live in a culture dominated by film, television, and other visual media. Our students, namely the MTV generation, spend a major portion of their time in front of the television, at the computer, or in a movie theatre. Consequently, they are geared to audiovisual rather than written forms of expression and communication. […] In a typical classroom, books, blackboards, and teacher vs. students’ notes represent knowledge verbally. Yet, this may not be the optimal way to disseminate information. Studies on memory and recall demonstrate that information is stored in long-term memory in both visual and verbal forms.” (Lynn M. Kuzma and Patrick J. Haney, 2001: 34).

Kuzma and Haney also consider that films can be used to extend thinking strategies when asking students to deal with pre-, while- and post- viewing activities: “As more senses become activated during the learning process, the student’s ability to commit the information to long-term memory increases. When the lights go down and the movie starts, moving images, dialogue, and sounds bombard students. No other medium is more effective at engaging so many senses simultaneously” (Lynn M. Kuzma and Patrick J. Haney, 2001: 34).

Similarly, Martinez underlines the main benefits of using films in the study of literature: “the literary adaptation is an enrichment on contrasting two different visions from a literary work, it incites to read (to meet the model or to judge it?) and it offers to the cinema innumerable opportunities of use in teaching and formation.” (Maria Martinez, 2005: 59)

Regarding the other side of the coin, Hutcheon (2006) reveals the link between film adaptations and novels and she considers films as materials that lack “the symbolic richness of the books and missing their spirit” (2006: XII). However, she stresses that film adaptations: “do not leave it dying or dead, nor it is paler than the adapted work. It may, on the contrary, keep the prior work alive, giving it an afterlife it would never have had otherwise” (Linda Hutcheon, 2006:176). She goes further and even stresses the importance of studying adaptations because they are: “deliberate, announced, and extended revisitations of prior works. (Linda Hutcheon, 2006: XIV)

Similarly, Boyum (1985) regards film adaptations as an instrument which has a major contribution in making literary works more popular. She argues that many people develop an interest in the literary work as a result of viewing its adaptation.

All the arguments mentioned above are legitimate as long as we take into consideration the fact that we live in a technological era in which the exposure to multimedia cannot be denied. Moreover, many people proved to be more attracted to films rather than their written version. On the same note, Whelehan (1999) claims that film adaptations raise students’ interest in tackling the novel. She even makes reference to less accessible writers such as Virginia Woolf, whose novels Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours were adapted into films in 1997, respectively 2002. The result was that the readership circle increased after the novels were turned into films.

Michael Vetrie also perceives film adaptations as an effective tool to teach literature because they: “engage students in creating an environment to think” (Michael Vetrie, 2004: 41) and also “the primary purpose of teaching film as literature is to give the students a reason, need, or strong desire to communicate” (Michael Vetrie, 2004: 42). Moreover, Vertrie observes that: “choosing a film that strongly fits within the experience of the students and has relevancy for their lives creates a dynamic environment in which the students think about the film critically, express their opinions orally, and write profusely.” (Michael Vetrie, 2004: 42-43)

He also underlines that films should not be used for entertainment purposes only but strongly linked to the literary text: “Film can be used to increase literacy skills if it is taught as literature. By that I mean a serious continuation of that form of expression that began when the primitive hunters gathered around the fire to act out and express their struggle and adventures in killing and bringing home the game. At that time, it was an oral tradition, passed down and preserved in the memory of master storytellers. At another time, it was recorded in ink, pressed on parchment, and then printed on a printing press. Today, it is moving from being recorded on celluloid to being processed digitally in the computer language. […] We must use film as other literature is used: as a basis for anchoring most writing and critical-thinking activities.” (Michael Vetrie, 2004: 41)

The above example points to the educational and pedagogical purpose of literary adaptations. Films are no longer only a source of entertainment; they serve a pedagogical purpose by involving the students into the narration itself.

In the light of the above, films prove to possess more than one aspect that proves they have an educational function. Accordingly, making use of films in the educational process seems to be not only justifiable but also appropriate for the students’ needs and learning styles.


prof. Raluca Sârghie

Colegiul Național Dr. Ioan Meșotă, Brașov (Braşov) , România
Profil iTeach:

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