I left my notes on our Skype session at school, so though it may seem poor blogging practice, I am going to share impressions about our meeting, and then I’ll come back later and fix the post as necessary. It was exciting to be able to talk with the creator of a method!
Maybe experts will correct facts I am sure to get wrong here.
MovieTalk is part of the Focal Skills program that teaches in modules. Students stay in a given module until they test out. They do not have in-class assessments as such. MovieTalk is aimed at increasing listening skills, and is taught in 20-hour/week segments. Some students test out after four weeks, but many take ten weeks to test out. They have reached an intermediate low-mid level at that time, and are ready for the Reading module. After the Reading Module, they go to Writing, and from there to Advanced. Having completed the Advanced Module, students are ready to participate in university classes.
Two of those hours of the Listening Module are straight MovieTalk. Another hour is (something like) active conversation, in which two teachers carry on a dialogue about something they are doing in front of the class: carving a pumpkin, making a dessert, doing an art project, showing pictures. A fourth hour is an elective class, on anything from grammar (!) to photography. So even with university students, MovieTalk is not full-on for the entire four-hour daily class time. Still, over the course of one week, an instructor can show an entire movie. That could equate to two weeks in a high school program where the teacher did nothing else but MovieTalk, or four weeks, if the teacher mixed up the class in a similar way. This discussion gave me some ideas for working with native-speaker aides.
As we’ve heard before, MovieTalk movies should be rich in action, rather than being propelled by the dialogue. It is realistic to choose advertisements or silent films. Our teacher group was mixed on the idea of using only target-culture films; I think that since this method has been used to teach English, it has been natural to use English-language video. The question hadn’t been raised about using target-language video. And we’ve all used Alma, a silent movie by Spanish speakers. Still, I am pretty solid in believing that if I am going to use this method, I need to find engaging films from the target culture, because there’s so much that students gain from them outside the language.
Now I’ll step off the soapbox and get back to the impressions!!
On the face of it, MovieTalk seems pretty simple. The instructor prepares for teaching the movie, and then narrates it for the students. There is no time that the instructor shows the movie all the way through without narration, because screening then would be for entertainment purposes, not educational ones, and would be breaking copyright laws! In any case, showing it without the narration would be of far less purpose for the students. It is through narration that the students gain the language.
Dr. Hastings has very complete instructions posted on the Focal Skills MovieTalk site. Even with those, we who had tried out the method had missed some points. One was to use segments of about three minutes or less. Another was to show that segment before narrating, to give students context. Interestingly, when we discussed this pre-screening, teachers thought that it spoils things for the students. It would be interesting to try it both ways in our classes. I have personally been stopping the flow regularly and talking about the picture at length, without pre-screening or post-screening. Part of the reason for that pre-screening is to set up context for the students, and another part is to save the teacher’s voice.
Some of us have been showing movies with subtitles in the target language. Dr. Hastings says that having text and sound (narration) is probably not as effective, since the subtitles may have little to do with what the teacher is narrating and diverts attention by making students try to absorb text and sound. Only when dialogue is pivotal to the plot should a teacher paraphrase it.
This idea that the narration is the thing should have been obvious to me earlier, but I’m still wrapping my mind around it. The movie is there to provide the visual and a context, or plot. It keeps us from having to figure out what to talk about or to create stories on our own. The students find out what is happening in the movie, and it provides our visual generation with motivation, but the sound in the movie is not what we care about. Our narration can be much richer and give our students much more than the dialogue alone.
I think I have that now!
We talked a little bit about level of language for our narration. When we are narrating a movie for beginners, we keep the sentences simple. With time, the complexity will increase, based on our comprehension checks. Typically, we ask yes/no, either/or questions of students as the narration proceeds, or we ask who questions, since the students know the names of the characters. “Who is his mother?” Wow. That hadn’t occurred to me. Some teachers wanted to know whether we needed to pre-teach vocabulary, or pronouns. The answer is “No.” We don’t really pre-teach anything, except if the characters are going to be confusing, or if we want to show where the movie is set, to give greater context. It’s all about meaning, not vocabulary or grammar structures. (Where have we heard that before?!) On the other hand, there is not the same focus on maximum repetitions in MovieTalk as there is in TPRS. Dr. Hastings said that, over the course of a movie, many structures will be repeated in our narration, thus giving students access to the vocabulary over time.
It is striking to me that when we discover “true” (defined by me!) methods of comprehensible input (TPRS, Scaffolding Literacy and MovieTalk as examples), we find that those who teach the methods have the same passion for assuring student success and similar ways of checking student connection: they teach to the eyes! Ashley Hastings said that ESL students quickly figure out how to pretend that they understand, but that we teachers can look at their eyes and know for sure.
Another striking impression was how respectful Dr. Hastings was of our different situation. He said that he would never want to tell us how to do things, since he hasn’t taught world languages, and since he hasn’t taught below university level. We felt empowered! We are breaking new ground!
Well, that’s enough for now. I promise to go look at my notes and see what I’ve left out. Hope that anyone else who was there will consider adding to this piece.