Difficult Topics Made Easier with Film in the English Language Classroom

By Margarita Kosior

Brighton, 9 April 2018

Last April, Margarita was invited to speak at the IATEFL GISIG/VAC PCE session. You can read all about her presentation in this post :

Inclusion and integration

Inclusion and integration of various social groups is a commonly discussed topic in contemporary society. Therefore, since this topic is of general concern, it should also be addressed by educators, even (or especially) those involved in English Language Teaching. Despite its urgency, the practice of incorporating social issues into ELT still has some opponents. Film in the English language classroom is one way to do this.

Film : a useful tool for tackling with ‘difficult’ topics in the English language classroom

One of the recurring arguments provided by those more sceptical is that tackling “difficult topics” in class can lead to disputes and unnecessary tension, especially that many English language instructors are not trained to deal with such situations. It can be argued, however, that film can become a useful tool in the hands of educators. Film is unique in a sense that it allows students to make connections between their personal lives and the people and events on the screen, and to develop high levels of empathy. Therefore, approaching global issues through feature film, documentaries, or short inspirational videos, is an effective strategy. Thanks to its audiovisual nature and authentic appeal, film brings real life into the English language classroom providing a context in which the language is learnt, the students are motivated and the difficult issues are discussed with more confidence and ease. Moreover, cinema, be it a feature film, a documentary, or a short inspirational video can satisfy the sense of curiosity and the need for knowledge. It also teaches to think critically and to evaluate facts, events, and opinions. In this way, by developing in the viewers the competences of cultural and social understanding, film brings people from various backgrounds together.

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Another advantage of using film to discuss “difficult topics” is that focus is shifted from the learners and their attitudes to the movie characters. There is no finger pointing; just reflecting. Thus film, which acts as a shield or a safety net, allows viewers to get into the shoes of the protagonists and reshape their ideas and beliefs.

The Power of Film

The power of film can be discussed on the example of Garth Davis’ Lion (2016) starring Sunny Pawar as a five-year-old Indian boy named Saroo, and Dev Patel in the role of adult Saroo Brierley. By an unexpected turn of events, the little boy finds himself on an empty train, falls asleep and gets carried 1600 km away from his family and from his home to the city of Kolkata (formerly called Calcutta). Lost, scared and hungry, Saroo wanders the streets of the city looking for shelter and food, and a way to get back home. His search continues for many years.

Stimulating Big Questions

The film tackles a number of issues which can be effectively transferred into an English language classroom. Without revealing much of the plot, it can be mentioned further that Lion stimulates viewers to consider many questions related to seeking one’s identity and going back to one’s roots: questions such as ‘Where is home?’, ‘Can we be happy away from home?’, ‘Who is family?’ or ‘Can we be happy without knowing our roots?’ reverberate throughout the duration of the narrative. What makes Lion so relevant is that an individual’s desire to know who s/he really is, the urge to be close to home and to the beloved ones are among the issues troubling many people nowadays forced by war and persecution to leave their homeland and seek safety elsewhere.

Social Issues in ELT

Except for feature film, documentaries are yet another way to introduce social issues into ELT. A prime example of a documentary appropriate for English language learners is He Named Me Malala (2015) directed by Davis Guggenheim. For its great part, the film presents the events leading up to the Taliban attack meant to take Malala’s life. In doing so, it paints an intimate portrait of a young girl who, influenced by her father’s beliefs, stands up against injustice and becomes a globally recognised advocate for girl’s education. Being just a 15-year-old girl on the day of the attack, Malala can become a role model for many teens all over the world. Hopefully, by the end of the session devoted to that Pakistani girl and her life, students realise that there are many similarities between each of them and Malala. This will empower them to follow in her steps and take action to support a cause they feel passionate about.

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Last but not least, short inspirational videos have the power to facilitate “difficult discussions” in the English language classroom. The Conditioned (2014) directed by Michael Marantz tells the story of how a homeless poet’s life gets forever changed when he meets a woman who does not walk by indifferent. The name of the poet is Raimundo Arruda Sobrinho and the name of the woman, Shalla Monteiro. After reading some of Raimundo’s poems, Shalla created a Facebook page through which the world could experience Sobrinho’s writing. A session based on this short film could involve students in a variety of tasks which aim at developing high levels of empathy in the students and at making them understand that being homeless is not a choice, and that all of us are more vulnerable than we might think.

Overall, regardless of its genre, film opens new possibilities not only inside the English language classroom, but also outside of it. It encourages prosocial behaviours in students and develops their sense of justice, and encourages them to create a more inclusive society.

Here you can find Margarita Kosior’s presentation slides margarita 2

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Emma L. Pratt at the IATEFL Conference Brighton 2018

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One of our VAC members, Emma L. Pratt, was invited to participate in a innovative way at IATEFL 2018.

Header Image: Detail from “The Ecosytem”, in response to the first plenary about the relationship between research and the classroom.

Being Invited to be the Artist in Residence at IATEFL in Brighton 2018

When I was invited to be the artist in residence at IATEFL in Brighton this year, I jumped at the chance. I had already been talking about artists’ residencies in learning at our Image Conference  http://theimageconference.org/emma-louise-pratt-talks-about-her-session-at-the-image-conference/ and especially language learning contexts, and I was keen to develop my own practice and build on my knowledge from having coordinated artists in schools in New Zealand.

The Pre-Conference Day for the GISIG

I had also been invited to participate in the Visual Arts Circle’s facilitation of the Global Issues SIG PCE day. This was an opportunity to explore workshop as performance; an artwork in itself. I had used video and storytelling to lead delegates into a space where they were invited to express their own personal thoughts and stories visually on the theme of social justice.

The Visual Arts in IATEFL 2018

Over the four days of the conference I made work that responded to the guest plenary speakers of IATEFL. I was daunted by the prospect of having to produce “something” under pressure on a topic that was not of my choosing. Added to that, having to do it in public. In short, a difficult brief that is almost counter-creative. Not everyone can do it, but I have a secret weapon. Children and a day job.

My arts practice has long fitted itself around the requirements of co-raising children, co-running a home and co-running a small company. When you are this busy, you become very efficient in the art of filtering noise, stealing moments and giving space to let ideas bubble and process. When I can’t physically make with my hands, I see it in my mind’s eye: images, shapes, colours, all coming and going.

I’ve heard it called “El rio bajo rio” the underground river. All practised creatives know that this river of creativity is flowing even when it’s apparently built over with the day to day needs asked of you. There it flows in the dark velvety deep.

The Teaching Artist

The concept of a teaching artist is perhaps a new idea in language teaching circles. However, in arts circles, it’s a term well used, especially in the United States. You may have heard the concept described sometimes as the participative artist, collaborative artist, the citizen artist and activist artist.

These are all ways to describe artists who move and shapeshift, finding their practice to be something that covers both the making of art works and interaction with a community.

These acts of art making take place away from the sometimes exclusive or problematic world of galleries and museums. They take place in the forms of residencies, performances and workshops in classrooms, public spaces and in my case this April 2018, at the IATEFL conference in Brighton.

Slow Digestion

My temporary art studio, with its work in progress provided chance for reflection. I only had one plenary to digest slowly for the day. Meanwhile, others dashed about in front of me, often asking me hurriedly if room 11 was anywhere near.

Conferences cause a sense of rush. We often need to “doggy bag” our thoughts and reactions, in order to sit down at the next meal. One workshop or presentation after another blurs into a degustation menu that is presented too fast, the plates taken away too suddenly.

I on the other hand, had the space to slow it all down. People could, and did, come and pull up a chair and chat with me as I worked or wandered about the visual work I was creating and peered over my shoulder.

Giving Silence a Place

During the GISIG preconference day, in the first playful stage of our workshop, I noticed that the room had fallen silent.  Everyone had been asked to pick up brushes and in and water and simply play with the material on watercolour paper. It was a stage designed to loosen everyone up and introduce them to the materials before we got on to more serious matters.

I had expected chatter, but what I found was silence. A silent room. One delegate described it as if the act of watching the ink absorb in the paper made our bodies and minds slow down too. Perhaps we could consider more space for that.”

Emma would like to thank the GISIG, VAC and IATEFL for the invitation as well as her small team at Frameworks Education Group who walked the dog, fed and entertained the children and held generally held the fort, enabling her to be there. 😉

Emma Louise Pratt IATEFL Artist in Residence Brighton, 2018.


 

Anna Whitcher & Kieran Donaghy: GISIG & Visual Arts Circle Joint PCE

Social Justice and ELT through the Visual Arts

Last March, Anna Whitcher and Kieran Donaghy presented at the GISIG and Visual Arts Circle Joint PCE.   In this session , they looked at a number of resources such as projects, resource websites, lesson plans and publications which promote social justice in English language teaching, created by members of the Visual Arts Circle, a community of practice of language teaching professionals with a shared interest in the value of using the visual arts in language education.

 

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These are the resources presented in the session:

 

 

 

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Judy BoyleThe NO Project

 

 

The No Project

 

http://www.thenoproject.org/

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The NO Project is an award-winning, global, educational anti-slavery campaign that specifically targets youth awareness of modern slavery and human trafficking through film, music, art, dance, theatre, journalism, creative writing, education and social media. The project was set up and run by Judy Boyle.

 

Naomi Epstein – Visualising Ideas

 

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https://visualisingideas.edublogs.org/

 

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Naomi Epstein is a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing children in a secondary school in Israel. She created her website Visualising Ideas to share her materials and ideas on how to use the visual arts with deaf and hard of hearing children in the language classroom.

 

 

Chrysa Papalazarou – Art Least

 

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https://chrysapapalazarou.wordpress.com/

 

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Art Least is a site created by Chrysa Papalazarou, an English teacher from Greece who works in a state primary school. Her site explores ways of using art in English language teaching and learning, promoting social justice, and a more thoughtful and creative flow in the English classroom

 

Linda Ruas – Easier English Wiki

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Linda Ruas – Easier English Wiki

 

https://eewiki.newint.org

 

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Linda Ruas is a trainer of ESOL teachers and an ESOL teacher at a London college. She is also Joint Coordinator of IATEFL Global Issues SIG.

The Easier English Wiki provides the same texts and photos that New Internationalist magazine offers, but with easier vocabulary and grammar. This content covers the issues many English language students are living with or experiencing, or issues that are vital to understand in today’s world. Learners can learn English, reading the simplified article and then the original, develop critical thinking and visual literacy skills, and break down barriers at the same time.

 

Kieran Donaghy – Film English

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http://film-english.com/

 

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Kieran Donaghy is a teacher, trainer and writer based in Barcelona. His website Film English has a large number of lesson plans designed around short films which promote social justice and universal values such as compassion, kinness and equality in the language classroom.

publications

 

 

 

The Image in English Language Teaching (ELT Council)

Edited by Kieran Donaghy and Daniel Xerri

The book can be downloaded for free:

https://visualartscircle.com/the-image-in-elt-book/

 

The Image in ELT

The Image in English Language Teaching is the first publication of the Visual Arts Circle in collaboration with the Maltese ELT Council. It’s a collection of 18 chapters inspired by talks at the first five editions of the Image Conference. Two chapters are on how art can be used to promote peace and social justice in the language classroom:

 

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Peace art: words and images interwoven

by Magdalena Brzezinska

 

 

Images on canvas: art, thinking and creativity in ELT

by Chrysa Papalazarou

 

 

For anyone interested, here is their powerpoint presentation and description.Social Justice and the Visual Arts in English Language Teaching Handout

PDF PCE VAC Social Justice and Visual Arts in ELT

Jade Blue: Workshop in the Visual Arts Circle and Global Issues SIG PCE, IATEFL 2018

We are delighted to present a write up of Jade Blue’s workshop in the Visual Arts Circle and Global Issues SIG pre-conference event at IATEFL 2018 last March in Brighton. This is the first of the workshops/talks from the joint even at IATEFL we are going to present here.

 

Drawing in the ELT Classroom to Explore Social Justice

 

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This was a practical workshop session applying practical teacher-drawing and learner-drawing tasks to explore issues of social justice and human rights.

 

Why Global Issues and the Visual Arts?  What’s the link?

 

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Those of us attending the PCE were doing so because we’re interested in, and recognise, either (or both) the power of visuals, and the importance of Global Issues in English language teaching.  The visual arts have the power to trigger deeper discussion and engagement with a topic.  We, and our students, are global citizens, of a world in which themes such as social justice and human rights are becoming increasingly important.

I believe that these things need to be talked about.  One of the many things we’re doing as language teachers is helping to ‘grow’ a shared language – a lingua franca – with which we can talk about such things.  The visual arts have the power to help us do that.

 

 

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But Why Drawing?

How does the act of drawing differ from just looking at someone else’s visual? In a nutshell, the act of drawing as a way of exploring language leads to a deeper and more personalised, memorable connection.  The workshop demonstrated and tried out learner-led and teacher-led drawing tasks.

The learner-led tasks are designed to act as a launchpad, or springboard, for discussion, with learners working in pairs or groups to share and generate ideas.  These tasks looked at what a child in today’s world needs to survive and thrive, and the relationship between society and the individual, although the activities can be adapted for a range of related topics.

The teacher-led task, a PICTOGLOSS, is designed to aid learner comprehension of stories and language.   In the PCE session, we looked at a story entitled ‘Teacup’ by Rebecca Young.  Whilst telling the story the teacher illustrates it on the whiteboard and the learners then use these visuals to verbally reconstruct and discuss the content of the story.  Again, the Pictogloss activity can be adapted to work with a wide variety of text types.

 

Jade Blue’s slides from her workshop can be viewed here JADE BLUE Drawing in the ELT Classroom to Explore Social Justice

Jade Blue 2018

 


Header Image: “Satellite View of The Road to Arlit, Niger” The Road to Arlit is a dangerous passage way for human traffic and economic migration. This is a detail of a carbon and pencil drawing. Artist Emma L Pratt drew every detail of the topography of this area as a reflection upon reading about the discovery of the bodies of 92 people who died of thirst after their vehicles broke down as they tried to cross the Sahara.

Call for Papers: 7th Edition of the Image Conference, Athens 2018

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We are delighted to announce that the Call for Papers for the seventh edition of the Image Conference, the annual conference of the Visual Arts Circle, which will be held on 6th and 7th October at New York College, in Athens, Greece, is now open.

 

Thank you for wanting to submit a speaker proposal for The Image Conference 2018, Athens, Greece.

We would appreciate it if you would take a moment to read through these speaker guidelines to help you, us and the delegates get the most out of the conference.
The deadline for proposals is Friday 8th June. Notification of acceptance of proposals will take place on Friday 6th July. Once you have been accepted to speak, you will receive a provisional acceptance email.

 

Prospective speakers for the conference are kindly asked to submit abstracts for talks or workshops – 50 words maximum. All proposals must be related to the use of images in language teaching and learning. Topics can include:

  • images
  • video
  • film
  • gaming
  • art
  • mental imagery
  • virtual reality and
  • augmented reality.

As Greece is at the epicentre of the refugee crisis in Europe, we encourage proposals related to using images when teaching English to refugees and/or when teaching about refugees through English.

 

Proposals should be chosen in line with the following presentation categories:
• Workshop (45 minutes, including questions): A workshop is a session in which there is active audience participation via the experiencing and discussing of tasks provided by the presenter.
• Talk (45 minutes, including questions): A talk tells the delegates something about teaching English through images.
Please also submit your bio-data ( maximum 50 words).

Are you speaking on behalf of a publisher or institution?
If so, please make this very clear. Delegates are likely to be disappointed if a session they attended based on the description in the abstract turns out to be an advertisement for a publication, product, or course. The submissions of speaker proposals for commercial presentations are welcomed but, if you are basing your presentation either in part or in full on a newly or recently published material, you should clearly say this in your abstract.

Is the information in your abstract clear?
Be explicit about whether you are offering a talk, a commercial presentation or a hands-on workshop. We want to be sure that when delegates register for sessions, they can do so on the basis of accurate information.

You can download these guidelines for submission of proposals guidelines-for-speakers-athens-2018

 

Please submit your proposal by completing this form by Friday 8th June.

 

Global Issues SIG and Visual Arts Circle Pre-Conference Event – Brighton 9th April 2018

Social Justice and ELT through the Visual Arts – GISIG and Visual Arts Circle Joint PCE

Visual images can be arresting and powerful. We have all at some point in our lives been stunned by a photograph or painting that has resonated with us – the Afghani girl on the cover of National Geographic or Picasso’s Guernica. These images can provoke strong emotions, engage us critically and sometimes inspire radical action so how might we capitalise on this in our professional lives and exploit visuals effectively in our teaching and training?

 

Come to the GISIG PCE at Brighton, run jointly with the Visual Arts Circle this year, to discover new and innovative ways of exploring themes of social justice through the visual medium.

 

IATEFL Conference early bird registration ends THIS THURSDAY (11th January) at 4 pm.

Booking info

More info on our PCE:

 

Do you want to know more about how to incorporate still and moving images into classroom materials to get students reflecting on social issues? Or capitalise on your own artistic skills to provoke discussion and debate in your classrooms?

Using Film as a Medium for Global Issues in the English Language Classroom

Our diverse and talented group of speakers will be presenting their ideas on how we can do this. Margarita Kosior, writer, teacher and storyteller will outline how film as a medium can introduce difficult topics into the classroom domain and encourage students to discuss them with confidence and ease. Gergo Fekete, dynamic teacher and GISIG Social Media Coordinator, will show us how to raise awareness of social justice issues for women from his MA thesis related to excerpts from the film ‘Girl Rising’.

Tools for Exploring the Arts, Collaborative Hands On Projects and a Drawing Class!

Emma-Louise Pratt is a practising artist and educator who will work at various times throughout the day with PCE participants to produce a collaborative artwork which will be displayed in public for the duration of the conference. Dimitris Tzouris brings his technical expertise to our PCE and explains how we can use Google Arts and Culture as a tool to explore and understand the world through art and stories. And for those of us who think we don’t possess any artistic skills Jade Blue, a teacher and teacher-trainer with a special interest in using imagery in ELT, will guide us through a session on teacher-drawing and learner-drawing tasks that seek to examine how these practical activities can be applied in our classrooms to explore global issues themes such as human rights.

Finally, rounding off the day’s events Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher, founders of the Visual Arts Circle, will explore how different resources created by VAC members can be used to promote social justice through the visual arts in the English language classroom.

 

PCE Schedule: Download (PDF)

 

REGISTER NOW

A first-timer’s reflections on the Image Conference in Lisbon

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By Nora Nagy

 

 

Connecting the Visual World with Language Education

Looking back at the Image Conference I can’t help thinking that something special and important started to happen in the world of English language teaching with the first conference six years ago. Being at this event felt like attending an empowering interdisciplinary conference with the overarching principle of connecting the visual world with language education.

As a teacher-researcher, I think a lot about the possibility of change and innovation through education, always searching for practical approaches and tasks which can contribute to a better learning experience for my students. The Image Conference, both allegorically and in action, managed to create bridges among various disciplines. Let me share the five most important things that I was reminded of and learnt about in a short but intensive two days in Lisbon on 13-14 October:

  1. People can make magic happen. Everyone at the Conference – Kieran Donaghy, Sylvia Karastathi, Anna Witcher, the members of the Visual Arts Circle, Alberto Gaspar and the organizers from APPI, the high school students who helped at the event, the participants and the speakers – worked towards the same goal of making these two days a rich and memorable experience. No matter what background we came from or what our main role at the event was, we all had the same sense of purpose and we shared our love of the visual arts and education through them.
  2. The written word (and world) is just one of the many meaning-making systems that teachers operate with. In the classroom, different semiotic systems are present at the same time, and we can draw on them when designing our lessons. Using images, sound, video, songs, our own body language – all multimodal resources – are ways of creating a better learning experience. The Image Conference opens the world of English language teaching by linking different areas such as museum studies, semiotics, social studies, applied imagination, information technology, discourse analysis, literary studies, film studies, music and psychology, just to mention the most apparent ones.
  3. If the great goal of education is implementing positive change in the lives of our students, the Image Conference managed to show examples of achieving this by offering excellent teaching techniques and at the same time addressing the themes of empathy, equality and social justice. These three issues were discussed in most talks and workshop, and empathy was probably the greatest philosophical and psychological framework which guided our thinking and action. We often find it difficult to discuss the controversial topics our students see on various media channels on a daily basis. Through powerful images we can introduce issues like homelessness, migration, poverty or learning difficulties and disabilities. Empowering our students with the right level of language to converse about these questions in their mother tongue as well as in a second or third language can probably contribute to the discussion of these topics across cultures and nations. This is how even a small task addressing a difficult topic can help our students develop their intercultural communication competence and share their ideas in an argumentative setting.
  4. One image can be a powerful resource for a wide range of levels and ages. At the conference, we saw several examples of what it means to grade the task and not the text. Imagine looking at a famous painting. How many levels of meaning can you create based on a single image? You can describe it, talk about the colours, the people, the objects, the setting. Then you can create a narrative based on what you and your students can see. With more experienced viewers you can discuss the historical context, talk about geography, political issues, and abstract concepts. By asking the right questions and designing the right task for each group, a single image can turn into a powerful starting point for your various classes.
  5. We cannot grow without connecting with each other. From the very beginning, with Kieran Donaghy’s opening plenary through the workshops and talks to Carmen Herrero’s closing plenary, I could not remember a talk which did not refer to the work of other presenters. The two days together formed a colourful mixture with different presentations built into the same beautiful bowl of ideas. The variety of themes and presenters reminded me how individual differences can become powerful resources in collaborative projects. I would like to remind all my colleagues that we need to team up with each other more regularly. When we are looking for inspiration, it might just be enough to talk with the Arts, Math or Geography teachers in the staff room and start a project together.

Implementing Meaningful Reflection

If we would like to make the most out of our collaboration, we need to ask for and give critical reflection to each other. This is the trickiest part of most conferences and most work experiences. How can I reflect on another teacher’s, researcher’s, author’s work when I have just met them in person? The key to this question seems to lie in the intentions of the people involved, and the conference provided the perfect examples for this. Not only did the feeling of empowerment and empathy permeate the presentations, it also guided our coffee breaks and evening chats. When a speaker asked for feedback, I get the impression that the compliments lead to serious discussions which can take a good talk to its next step: the implementation and development of the ideas of the speaker and inspiring each other to do more and share more with others.

This year, I went to this event with the excitement and the enthusiasm of a first-timer, and I can tell you that I am already more intrigued about the next event than I was before Lisbon because I know exactly what to look forward to in Athens in 2018. I would like to encourage all teachers to follow the work of the speakers of this conference and the work of the Visual Arts Circle to get constant inspiration for their daily teaching adventures.

Nora Nagy

PhD student in English Applied Linguistics and TESOL, University of Pécs

Instructor at the Department of English Applied Linguistics, ELTE Budapest

Helbling Readers Blog Co-Author