Academic journal article Reader

Does Sequencing Matter in Analyzing Film and Text?

Academic journal article Reader

Does Sequencing Matter in Analyzing Film and Text?

Article excerpt

A history or survey of literature course may have a logical or linear sequencing based on chronological ordering of events of publications (Bard, 1986). Other courses may sequence assignments that become increasingly complex over a term (Bard, 1986; Collins, Brown and Holum, 1991). Yet other courses may follow a conceptual map moving from meta or global level skills to micro or local skills that would determine the structure of the course (Collins, Brown, Holum, 1991).

In designing a course and then refining it the next time I taught it, my questions regarding course design didn't revolve around sequencing of topics or a series of increasingly complex assignments over the term, but rather the sequencing of activities within a topic. I wanted to examine questions such as: What were the intermediary processes of student learning that might be affected by the order in which materials were presented in the course? What was it about reading text and film that could possibly be affected by order?

The students enrolling in this course were bright students who I assumed had most likely been trained in (high school level) literary analysis and came equipped with a set of reading skills. I expected that the students would be able to locate the texts and themselves within a larger social context (McCormick, 1994), could move from concrete to abstract easily, and could decode text to produce meaning (Scholes 1989; Sturkin, 2001). This made me wonder, though, if the students would "read" film in the same manner that they read a text. (I use the term read a film rather than view a film to indicate a more active learning engagement, although Scholes [1989] posits that in ordinary parlance we do not say that we read films or television.)

On the other hand, if the students read films in a different way than they read texts, then order could have an effect. Would visual images from a film either enhance or detract from the reading of a text? For instance, would the scene in "el Norte" where Enrique and Rosa slither through a rat-infested sewage pipe in their attempt to reach the Promised Land produce a different or deeper reading of the novel Highwire Moon than if the students had not seen the film? Conversely would reading 'Tis: A Memoir prior to seeing a documentary on Irish immigration allow the students to put the visual images of the film into a more meaningful or deeper historical or sociological context? Or is some other element of film and text critical to student learning? Could watching a film with a group produce a different learning experience than reading a text in the privacy of one's dorm room?

I had the opportunity to explore these questions when I taught a freshman proseminar at Georgetown University. The School of Foreign Service (SFS) offers a small seminar (15 students) to all freshmen in their first semester. The goals of the proseminar are: 1) for the students to have an opportunity to hone critical writing and analytical skills in a small group; and 2) to develop a close community with a group of students and a professor. Professors have the freedom to choose the topic for the proseminar, either based on an aspect of their own research or on some timely topic. When I first taught a proseminar in the Fall of 2001 I decided to create a course on immigration based on my demographic interest in the subject. Also, immigration can be approached from so many angles that it appeals to the multidisciplinary approach of the School of Foreign Service. I decided to use popular film as the organizing concept to introduce the students to the social, economic, and political aspects of immigration to the United States. I thought that film would be an engaging medium that would help the students delve into complex issues surrounding immigration. I tided the course "Journeys Far From Home: Immigration Policy and Social Context," and organized it around six units, each with a substantive focus (family/work/assimilation, etc. …

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