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Book Review

Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom

Some teachers and parents fear that students’ increasing affinity for visual media comes at the expense of their reading and analytical abilities. But to believe that students are not using reading and analytical skills when they watch or “read” a movie is to miss the power and complexities of film—and students’ viewing processes. As a result, Golden encourages teachers to harness students’ interest in film in order to help them engage critically with a range of media, including visual and printed texts.

Golden provides a lively, practical guide enabling teachers to feel comfortable and confident about using film in new and different ways. The book makes direct links between film and literary study by addressing reading strategies (e.g., predicting, responding, questioning, and storyboarding) and key aspects of textual analysis (e.g., characterization, point of view, irony, and connections between directorial and authorial choices). More than 30 films are used as examples to explain key terminology and cinematic effects. Teachers are encouraged to harness students’ interest in film in order to help them engage critically with a range of media, including visual and printed texts. Appendixes include a glossary of film terms, blank activity charts, and an annotated resource list.

This is a very useful book with lesson plans designed for specific grades. For example, “You Know the Movie is Coming—Now What?” is a lesson plan (for grades 6-8) designed to occupy three 50-minute sessions. Here is the Overview: “In this lesson, students take on the role of the director of a movie. After exploring cinematic terms, students read a literary work with director's eyes, considering such issues as which scenes require a close-up of the main character and when the camera should zoom out to see the entire set. While reading the text, students record their scenes on a bookmark. All of these activities are completed in anticipation of viewing the movie version of a favorite book.

“This lesson uses Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl as an example; however, the activities can be completed with any matched movie and piece of literature (e.g., any of the Harry Potter books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, or The Polar Express).”

“Comparing a Literary Work to its Film Interpretations” is a grades 9-12 lesson plan designed to take five 60-minute sessions. Here is this lesson’s Overview: “In this lesson, high school students look critically at the literary work "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe and its 1961 film interpretation. They use prediction strategies to form and refine their opinions about the story line progression in each work. They read the short story, screen the film, discuss reactions to both works, and plan and write a persuasive essay analyzing the validity of the film interpretation. This lesson is ideally suited for students who have experience with persuasive writing, and it can be adapted to work with any literature-film pairing.”

Nor is the book limited to teaching film. “Analyzing Symbolism, Plot and Theme in Death and the Miser,” is a lesson plan for grades 9-12 that explores a painting. Once again, here is the Overview: In this lesson, students apply analytical skills to an exploration of the early Renaissance painting Death and the Miser by Hieronymous Bosch. Students sketch and label the painting, use an interactive tool to explore its elements, apply literary analysis tools to their interpretation, predict the painting’s plot, and conclude the unit by creating a project that identifies and explains their interpretation of the painting.”

This is an excellent and accessible “how to” book for English teachers: grades 6-12. It elevates the use of film from “filling up the hour by letting the film run” to a serious multimedia exploration.