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The Road Safety Rap and Language Learning

Spring 2009: these Year 6 boys were considered trouble-makers and lost causes in terms of academic ability in the East London primary school where I worked. I suggested to senior management that I work with the less able kids, rather than the ‘gifted and talented’, and this would be the test case. It was agreed that we’d work on a small film project based on a current topic – Road Safety in this instance. The boys, who were nothing but respectful to me, couldn’t believe their luck that form and content relevant to their lives, involving self-penned rap, film, phones, music videos and mp3 players, were suddenly acceptable in the school context.

The project generated what now seem to me to be familiar claims associated with media projects: measures of an enhanced sense of trust, independence, respect, confidence; co-ordination of hand, eye and mind; creative collaboration; sustained energy and focus on an activity; the feeling of competence and pride in producing something they could show to others. However the same claims can be made of drama, art, music, dance and numerous other arts activities. The most rewarding aspect of using moving image in education is the opportunity to actively manipulate a medium to which students are already accustomed and to which they have had sustained, largely passive exposure. In most cases tacit knowledge lathers up like undiluted bubble bath under a stream of water; the trick is to rouse an aspiration to quality.

I’m put in mind of years of – again, largely passive – foreign language learning at school and the shock of actually visiting the country. Immersed in a new and strange environment you start to recognise certain language formulae and with practice actively start to build a new form of communication with new meanings. The formerly abstract and decontextualised phenomenon by default comes to deliver nuance, depth and character. So it is with the film making process: with sustained and purposeful access you become a skilled communicator with a new persona.

Direct experience in foreign lands can be publicly messy and tainted with moments of paralysing self-consciousness. Whilst all the locals seem comfortable, competent and as one with their environment, you can feel sidelined and misunderstood like some under-confident but congenial gate-crasher. I contend that this characterises some students’ experience of traditional school curricula.

The beauty of working with digitally mediated resources is the amount of control you enjoy over your material along with the opportunity for self-expression in a different language and context without any of the cultural inconveniences and feelings of estrangement outlined above. On the contrary, it’s safe, satisfying and a perfect vehicle for the articulation of identity.

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