As an emergency remote teacher, I have had a lot of opportunities to appreciate the difference that literature makes in my students’ learning, thinking and behaving. Whether incorporated in our traditional or remote lessons for cultural purposes, edutainment or mainly information-oriented, reading has the potential to expand our students’ experience and imagination, adding significance and colour to their lives.
Without question, it matters less if teachers use literature in the shape of written words or visual texts as long as the focus is on transforming the readers/viewers overwhelmingly in terms of reflectiveness, creativity and critical thinking. Naturally, in the modern classroom environment or during online classes, literature can and should take many shapes: original novels, photocopied worksheets, audiobooks or video files etc. if this diversity encourages active receivers and promotes the learning of English.
If asked, a lot of Romanian teachers of English will admit that novels are incredible sources of information, offering access to the great accumulation of knowledge of both past and present. They will probably continue by saying that novels introduce information and vocabulary, fostering independent reading and academic learning. It is all true about literature helping children to develop vital language skills to ensure not only survival in the educational systems, but also the development of important life skills in terms of education, self-improvement and personal development.
What is also obvious is that a special kind of reading – reading aloud – exposes children to spoken language skills and, by providing on-line reading, listening and visual resources, the Internet makes learning faster, more accesible and more attractive today than in the old days. Moreover, novels stimulate the development of predicting, critical thinking and conflict resolution skills while providing the readers with spelling, word-order and paragraph-writing models.
Sometimes, teachers have to choose between the novel and the novel-based film, and they choose films as they are less time consuming and, while reading is mainly an individual process, films can be watched as a group/ class. In fact, it is advisable to show the film before asking beginner or intermediate students to read the story; it will improve their understanding, setting the conditions for “compare and contrast”.
Furthermore, since we are living in a mainly visual society and, for many reasons, young people prefer watching the story-based movie to reading the novel, the teacher’s flexibility, adaptability and video library resources have to come in.
Films are art forms which deserve a place in contemporary educational curricula for their accessibility and richness of meanings from cultural and educational to lingvistic and personal. What could also make them really attractive choices with young people is the use of the visual imagery, their compressed format adding dynamism and magnetism to the story together with the genius contribution of the screenwriters, directors and actors/ actresses as far as the visual representation of a novel is concerned.
Both audiobooks and films are authentic teaching materials which expose the students to an interactive, more natural language context than traditional novels, providing excellent cultural insights. It is also a well-known fact that the combined visual and listening resources stimulate the learners’ interest, enabling their understanding and improving their creativity.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that while every film can develop skills of visual literacy, a limited number of motion pictures are recommended for genuinely educational purposes. As a result, the teacher’s role is to encourage consumerism of visual texts with discernment and part of our mission is to prepare the students not to fall pray to objectionable attitudes such as violence, vulgarity, intolerance, (cyber)bullying or even addictive, criminal behaviours. As we all know, the main purposes of the entertainment industry, social media and the media in general are not about providing educational services and their influence- including manipulation and disinformation (fake news)- continues to make numerous victims as the media, being a commercial, not an educational institution, is mainly preoccupied with growing (and shocking) their audience and making profit.
Unlike contemporary films and TV series, showing far too much violence, sexuality, substance abuse and slang, movies based on classic literature are great choices if we want to create an authentic, educational environment for the study of English. But, apart from being a beneficial learning experience, this initiative requires careful and intense preparation from the part of the teacher. Factors such as the learning goals, the language context, the atmosphere of the film, the age and level of the students should definitely be considered if we intend to make a good selection. If possible, it is also beneficial to take into account our students’ preferences as well.
Experience has shown me that English films subtitled in English represent the best choice as they do not only increase comprehension, they also engage reading and listening skills simultaneously. This is mainly recommended with beginner and intermediate students.
Although there are some teachers who prefer the traditional ways to access literature, they should understand that, nowadays, children are more attracted to technology which is more accessible, entertaining and relaxing. Films are more familiar options as students are already used to thinking “cinematically”, picturing narratives as movies every time they have the chance.
On the one hand, films are excellent alternatives being more approachable than the original novels as far as language comprehension is concerned but, on the other hand, having to deal with a real-life contextualisation of language and native speakers of English into the classroom requires a certain level of proficiency as well othewise a lack of interest and motivation will occur. However, it is important to inform our students from the very beginning that “understanding everything” is not a “must” and that they should try to understand as much as they can.
Taking all these into account, let us stress the importance of the learning activities which makes planning an essential condition. When choosing the activities, the teacher has to consider only the types of learning tasks which involve making choices, expressing points of views, engaging and challenging the students to think in different ways, to reflect, discuss and debate.
In order to introduce literature-based films to learners of English, the teacher has to create some expectations to motivate the students to watch the films at home, individually, or at school, in groups or as a class. It is true that after watching the films, most students will understand and appreciate the novels more. What is also vitally important is that movies provide viewers with the accent and inflection of native speakers and they improve critical viewing skills and media awareness in a society increasingly demanding these abilities.
Teachers have to make sure they will build enough pre-viewing activities to raise interest, create expectations and practise predicting skills. Possible choices are: brainstorming topic-related ideas/ knowledge, short discussions, a minimum teaching of vocabulary etc. We need to remember that, if we want to involve our students actively, they need to be properly introduced into the context. Films based on literature are alternative educational means easy to use when we want to promote verbal, social and emotional development. However, integrating technologies into the English curriculum involves a lot of planning, pre-teaching strategies and usage of teaching aids, as well as very clear directions and guidance from the part of the teacher.
In conclusion, to make sure that there are only gains and no losses, here are a few tips to keep in mind when using literature in the shape of audio and video materials: carefully prepare the lesson activities, “play” with the resources and either use the picture with/ without the sound, or, if you want to emphasize the students’ listening skills, use only the sound without the picture at first, set the subtitles on or off according to the students’ proficiency levels and learning needs and remember to design effective learning tasks for the students as listening/ viewing alone is not a skill.