Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks:
Fostering Critical Thinking in Writing Classroom Using Film Composition
Composition has long been established as a core element to the writing objective. Much effort has been used to classify different themes, styles and conventions within written works. This investigation into this particular medium has made for a scholarly outlook on writing. What was once a medium for simple communication; is now able to express varying levels of consciousness and vibrancy. Upon entering the academic world written work was greeted by confused learners, new to the theories and conventions of a communicative genre. Theories developed on ideas expressed through printed text are difficult to digest for newcomers because of their foreignness. However, I believe that we are in an age where relatable conventions, styles, theories and concepts of a similar medium, namely film, can be utilized to help the student navigate the territory of the academic writing world. Humans are creative by nature. In the simple name of survival the early humans forged meal supplying tools from their surroundings. The tools invented advanced the drawing of images. Their craftsmanship then spread; not only did rudimentary cave drawings gain finesse, the new settle-gatherers started to account their property through written image. Beginning as a way to denote quantities, simple slash marks transformed into cuneiform. Author of the article From the Nonhuman to Human Mind, Brian Hare argues that this advancement arouse from a virtue unique to humans. A researcher of Hominid Psychology, Hare discusses how humans come equipped with the” theory of mind”- discernment of others mental state, along with “behavioral flexibility”- ability to assess, predict and react to others(Hare 60). These traits foster an incomparable need for communication amongst humans by allowing them to efficiently instruct, replicate and beguile one another. As their civilizations grew, so did the refinement of writing. The new medium of communication underwent a groundbreaking transformation. Standards of writing were investigated and soon formed the acceptance of rules. With this innovation, writing displayed its grounding in cognitive thinking. To this day, the investigation still evolves. Unfortunately, the current growth of technology and entertainment is obscuring the value of writing in society. In an attempt to restore the importance of writing, former President of the National Council of Teachers of English, Kathleen Blake Yancey, accounts for the present lack of interest in her article Writing for the 21st Century. Her argument ascribes social environments of robbing individuals of their interest in the labor of composition. Yancey interprets the unbalance as society’s desire to maintain control of citizens through select values transmitted through reading where the cultural perception of a properly educated citizen majorly relied on the biased reverence of reading. Coupled with its occurrence within familial settings, “reading—tended to produce feelings of intimacy and warmth, while writing, by way of contrast, was associated with unpleasantness- with unsatisfying work and episodes of despair.”(Yancey 2). Students also grew a strong negative connection to writing due to poorly planned curriculum that remained traditional and shockingly stagnant. Armed with this history, it would seem that the battle to student engagement is downhill. However the constant hum of social media provided by technology increases disinterest. Professor of English at University of Nebraska, Nancy Welch, adds insight to instructor-driven problems. In an effort to re-engage students, instructors have incorporate student designed workshops where they create their own assignments. Normally, Welch finds that this method leads to personal, sensitive student responses that leads instructors to evaluate on content rather than form to save the feelings of the exposed author. The activity tanked when it turned into the student’s personal reflection of private events. This is one example of various attempts at refreshing the composition process reached the similar negative results. Fighting what is now an apparent uphill battle, instructors grew cautious of adopting new approaches to propagating the written medium. However, many instructors still yearn for reformation of composition classes’ pedagogy. Associate Professor of English, Stuart Greene has paved the way in literary concepts and explains that the obstacles faced in these courses have the potential to be eradicated by reconstructing the concept of writing and its purpose. Simply put, if one approaches the academic writing community with inquiry, they will be lead to research which develops into written argument (Greene 14). Part of the renewal negates public and personal authority existing as a dichotomy. Bakhtin’s view of writing being the “dynamic meeting of reflection and production: a complex ongoing interplay among the personal and public voices” frames a resolution that many of Welch’s colleagues support. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, students must be given a clear understanding of the mechanics and behavior required to participate within the scholarly discourse community. The emphasis of entering a conversation that solely exists for the progression of new and innovative ideas within its community opens the newcomer to its specific conventions. An intermittent routine of identifying an issue, the situation it inhabits and the framework your question dominates equates to an effective composer and calls forth higher levels of critical thinking. Greene details the notion that written discourse is parallel to proper argument. Viewing the process as continual dialogue of ideas intended to advance communication, the student begins to grasp their role as a new citizen. Similarly trying to defog the mystery and confusion gained in the composition course, the image is making waves in the writing community. Through an innate ability mixed with an urge to craft, man has created many mediums to express himself. These mediums are meant to convey a concept. It is upon the labeling, categorizing and development of theories that raises one of these mediums from mere aesthetic craft to established literacy. Using pleasing aesthetics, cultural influences and economic advancement to establish the mode as a whole, the visual is evolving a new cognitive understanding. Tackling this idea is Diane George, an English professor, who teaches composition to African students. In her article, George states that “writing itself is a form of visual communication” and asks her students to utilize images as an argument. By focusing on content and message, George asks her students to create proper effective arguments through images. When the student is able to portray ideas through images, they gain a broader range of literacy. The ease of persuasion within an image highlights its effectiveness in getting its audience to respond to its cues. Images illicit similar responses more often than not, which according to Feldman displays effective comprehension taking place. Furthering the argument, “language of images does exist, and it is employed much as verbal language was before dictionaries with rules of orthography and grammar” (Feldman ). Visual understanding has been brought into the classroom for the past half century. The emergence of the television within the home brought upon new influences to the library of literary resources (George ). These findings demonstrate the beneficial nature to investigate the arrangement, interpretation and relationship syntax to define it as an academic literacy within the mega-house of multi-literacy. Research:
The world of today is used to viewing and acting on symbols given through image, however they are not rehearsed on the rhetoric of visual literacy. By integrating visual literacy and its developed rhetoric, the student can learn to evaluate the image, learning its composition and the reasons certain elements are present. They begin to form an understanding of the images purpose through its composition. Abstract theories too difficult to understand are made relatable through parallel aspects. This demonstrates a couple of things: the student is able to make academic connections and the instructor is capable of teaching efficiently through integrating different modes of communication, relevant to the media driven student , to grasp literary concepts. When one becomes competent with visual literacy, they are able to discriminate and interpret visible actions allowing them to enter various conversations academically. With the understanding of the role of visual literacy within a writing classroom, the student is more equipped to take on the complexities of film’s composition and deconstruction. According to film Professor Frank Tomasulo, the elemental aspects of good film making are composition and theory. In his article “Theory to Practice: Integrating Cinema Theory and Film Production.” He states: Understanding theory increases intellectual rigor; however, it is difficult to incorporate all these into the classroom. Tomasulo believes the techniques used within the film composition can be led by the methods of writing composition. Cinema studies are the background to the process, the way basic grammar skills are for writing.
The techniques used in film offer means of analysis. From my time as an undergraduate Cinema Studies student at the University of Central Florida, I attribute these techniques as fundamentals to deconstructing a moving image: Camera shot, Camera angle, Movement and Lighting. These building blocks of cinema allow the audience to interpret the purpose set forth by the director. These techniques allow the parallel between film and cinema composition by the use of set conventions. Since both mediums are communicating through agreed upon rules, they gain contextual depth. Through my academic research, I have found these film techniques to address these elements of fiction writing.
The production part of film is similar to the composing process of writing. Both offer advancement of critical analysis by thinking about material, the courage to take risks and ask questions. Film has the ability to illustrate literary theories that may be too hard to comprehend. They are also more enthusiastic to do so because the process has become relevant to their everyday life. Within the meeting of the two, the correlation arises of how a solid background in writing composition trickles into the film classroom. It is becoming inevitable that writing has visual elements within its composition and my solution now, is to research the links between the visual and print worlds to enhance cognitive thinking. When students can contextually bring past experience and knowledge to the classroom, they are able to better understand the material by having a wider background to pull upon. When implementing the students’ knowledge of film composition, they are able to make connections to new areas through the analysis method. By combining the two forms of communication in the writing curriculum, the student becomes a stronger intellectual through accurate critical analysis. The future of writing is on the verge of another great break through. With this research, hopefully my findings will enable instructors and students to advance their critical analysis skills to help better the conscious of the academic world.
Bluestone, Cheryl. Feature Films as a Teaching Tool. College Teaching. 2000. 141-146pp. Print Costanzo, William. Film as Composition. College Composition and Communication. 1986. 79-86pp. Print. Feldman, Edmund B. Visual Literacy. University of Illinois. 1976. 195-200. Print. Fillion, Bryant. Visual Literacy. The Clearing House. 1973. 308-311. Print. George, Diane. From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing. National Council of Teachers of English. Hare, Brian. From Nonhuman to the Human Mind: What Changed and Why? Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2007. 60-66pp. Print. Harris, Chester W., Buenger, Louise R. Relation Between Learning by Film and Learning by Lecture. Audio Visual Communication Review. 1955. 29-34pp. Print. Muller, Valerie. Film as Film: Using Films to Help Students Visualize Theory. The English Journal. 2006. 32-38. Print. Welch, Nancy. One Student’s Many Voices: Reading, Writing, and Responding with Batkin. Journal of Advanced Composition. 1993. 493-502pp. Print.
Yancey, Kathleen Blakely. Writing in the 21st Century. National Council of Teachers of English. 2009. 1-9pp. Print.