Graduate’s love of film helps school students become mini movie maestros…and boosts their learning

A movie mad graduate credits his teaching as coming into deep focus after a ‘cinematic’ lecture nearly a decade ago.

Ashley Williams is a former student of the University of Northampton’s Postgraduate General Certificate in Education – qualifying in 2014 – and is now a primary teacher at Newton Longville CofE School in Buckinghamshire.

But you could be forgiven for thinking it was a movie set, because Ashley brings his ‘Die-Hard’ passion for movie-making into the classroom, with school children acting as screenwriters, producers, camera operators and more, all part of their usual lessons.

And it’s all thanks to a ‘cinematic lecture’ from a UON academic. Ashley explains where the idea for his ‘pint-sized Pinewood’ came from: “I loved completing my PGCE at University of Northampton and thought the course and tutors were excellent.

“The ‘Eureka moment’ about film and teaching came during one lesson with lecturer Helen Caldwell. I went to a few of her sessions and saw her demonstrate how schoolteachers could smoothly integrate green screen and animation into lessons. It was a brilliant idea!

“I had a job around that time where I did some of this, but in an adult learning environment. I never thought you could – or would be allowed to – use film in an actual school lesson! Straightaway, I thought: ‘I can do this!’ The University even let me borrow some of their iPads and take them to my school placements to teach using filmmaking. It was a magical moment, to add a personal passion to my teaching toolbelt.”

Now a qualified teacher with nearly 10 years’ experience Ashley has made good on that initial inspiration by bringing filmmaking theory and practical skills for his year 5 and 6 students that includes regular planning, writing, rehearsal and filming.

School students from Newton Longville CofE are seen making their movie Frankenlime

Lights, camera, action! Shooting the film Frankenlime.

This addition to their teaching is paying dividends to his students’ overall learning. Ashley continues: “I use film across our curriculum, whether in English lessons, drama or PE. When the school held a football festival, we made a movie about it, with backstage conversations about the event and matches; everything leads toward making a film.

“I might have kick-started this, but the movie-making is very much a team effort – the students have just as much say as to what our unit produces as I do. Most importantly, this is their work, so they have ‘buy in’ to what we will work on, decide whether they want to be off or on camera, they use the film equipment – all generously donated! – to shoot the movies themselves and are fully involved with the editing process. They really come alive when they turn their ideas into something cinematic.

“Film allows our students to think about their audience and how to get clear information across. As a tool for team working and engagement, I can’t think of anything more useful than filmmaking and their parents agree. Many of them tell me how much their children love being in my class (because of the films) and even ask what film gear I can recommend for an upcoming birthday.”

As further recognition of the success of this ‘learning through a film lens’ approach, Ashley and his students are up for two national trophies.

At the Into Film Awards – to be held on Tuesday 28 June – Ashley has been nominated for Teacher of the Year for his scholastic film output that includes Frankenlime, a comic take on Mary Shelley’s immortal gothic horror. His students are in with a chance to win the Changes for a Better World award for their environmentally aware short film Paper Problem.

Ashley concludes: “The nominations are a bit of a surprise but very exciting. The awards ceremony falls the same time we go on a residential trip to the Peak District. It will be interesting getting the children up at 6am and ready to travel from Bakewell to London for the slightly bizarre experience of attending a ceremony for an award that might be yours.

“But if you can prepare, produce and deliver a movie, you should be able to handle most things in life. Our students are first-class, so I know they will deal with being on the red carpet like the professionals they are.”

Find out more about the PGCE course and other education and teacher training programmes at the University of Northampton.

Ashley concludes: “The nominations are a bit of a surprise but very exciting. The awards ceremony falls the same time we go on a residential trip to the Peak District. It will be interesting getting the children up at 6am and ready to travel from Bakewell to London for the slightly bizarre experience of attending a ceremony for an award that might be yours.

“But if you can prepare, produce and deliver a movie, you should be able to handle most things in life. Our students are first-class, so I know they will deal with being on the red carpet like the professionals they are.”

Find out more about the PGCE course and other education and teacher training programmes at the University of Northampton.

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