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Thinking HISTORY

Teacher guidance

This video is designed as a short online CPD module, offering an overview of the resource with suggestions for classroom use and links to curriculum and specifications.

The detailed Teachers’ Notes that accompany the resource can be downloaded below. In addition we have provided a brief guide on copyright and how this relates to the use of film in the classroom.

Download Teachers' Notes Download copyright information PDF


Welcome to Film Education's Thinking Film, Thinking History online training. This guide will introduce you to a range of approaches about how to include film in the History classroom, using the Holocaust as a case study. It should be watched in conjunction with the DVD of film clips and the CD-ROM resource Thinking Film, Thinking History: the Holocaust, produced in partnership with the Holocaust Educational Trust.

We'd recommend that before embarking on teaching the Holocaust you familiarise yourself with the pedagogical principles of Holocaust education outlined in the teacher's notes on the CD-ROM. You'll find Word versions of the activity sheets on the Thinking Film website so you can adapt tasks and differentiate for your students where required. You'll also find updates and other supporting resources available through the site.

This guide focuses on four main areas which develop skills which are transferable to the study of any period in history. One, Approaching film in History – Key Questions; two, Approaching film in History – Film Language; three, Representation and Interpretation; and finally, four, Historical Enquiry. As you'll know, a key aim of History teachers is to develop students' skills in interrogating, analysing and evaluating the usefulness of sources to inform their understanding of the past. With the increased availability of digital technology, moving image texts are now easy to access in the classroom and have become popular and engaging source material for teachers to use with students.

What are the key questions to ask when approaching a film text about the past? And how can students evaluate the authenticity of such a text in representing and interpreting the past? We recommend questions that focus on these concepts: purpose, representation, interpretation and significance. With your class organised into four groups, give each group one of these areas to focus on. Show your students one film clip from the DVD so they can familiarise themselves with its content. Then show the same clip again and use the Key Questions worksheet on the CD-ROM to stimulate discussion. The questions draw students to some of the following ideas: Firstly, purpose - what type of historical source is this film, primary or secondary? Who produced it and why? When was it produced and how might this impact on how we view the film? Secondly, representation - who are the central characters and how are they portrayed? How do music, camera work and lighting affect our perception? What themes are emphasised and how? What is not represented or not shown? Next, interpretation - how important is historical accuracy in this text? What aspects of the Holocaust are emphasised by this film? How have fictional elements, if any, been woven into the narrative? Why has the director chosen this approach? And finally, significance - what is the significance of this text for historical study of the Holocaust? And why have so many film directors revisited this historical narrative? The purpose of this activity, which should be highlighted in the plenary feedback at the end of the session, is to highlight the fact that moving image texts are constructs. It's crucial that students understand that these moving images do not simply provide a neutral vision of the past, and that the effect on audiences is the result of specific editorial and directorial choices.

For students to articulate their thoughts about moving image texts they require some of the vocabulary and grammar of film. The aim here is to build students' awareness of how film makers create meaning in moving image texts by exploring how sound, lighting, editing and camera work can impact on how an audience responds to what is represented in the film. The CD-ROM includes a downloadable worksheet outlining a range of key terms that will be helpful to students analysing moving image texts. These include explanations of shot types and their potential impact on the audience, such as, long shot: this shows the background and establishes where the scene takes place; mid shot: this shows torso and some background; close-up: this usually shows head and shoulders and can be used to show emotion. It draws our attention to the face or object in the frame; over the shoulder shot: this is used when two characters are interacting face to face; point of view shot: this helps us to see the action from a character's viewpoint and thus empathise with them; high angle shot: here the camera looks down on a person or object, making them look vulnerable; low angle shot: this is where the camera looks up at someone or something, making them appear powerful. Other key film language concepts that will inform students' ability to analyse moving image texts include: types of camera movements, such as panning shot, tilt shot, crane shot and so on; awareness of lighting, sound and editing; consideration of mise en scène, or in other words everything that's in the frame of the shot, including props, set design, characters, their posture, their costume and their positioning within the frame. Using the Approaches to film in History film language worksheet you're recommended to explore one or more clips from the DVD with your students to develop confidence in this approach. A suggested method to this sequence analysis would cover the following questions: what's the film about? How is meaning created in this sequence? Why would you watch this film?

Although films can provide a visual representation of the past that's arguably unrivalled by any other medium, they can sometimes oversimplify and romanticise events and characters. These simplifications can be useful to teach students about historical interpretations in an accessible way, but they can also be problematic when trying to understand the complexity of the past. This is especially sensitive with a topic such as the Holocaust. Some films include characters, or events that have no basis in historical fact or in some cases are contrary to evidence from the period. Students should already have been introduced to the concept of representation when exploring the key questions outlined earlier. The purpose of the detailed activities relating to representation and interpretation are for students to consider how the Holocaust is represented in different types of films, some of which are included on the DVD. These films have been categorised into sections: feature films, including imaginary tales, and those based on a true story; factual accounts, including documentaries, news reels and oral and visual testimony. Viewing the clips as a whole class, we recommend that you begin with the clips from feature films before moving on to the clips from factual accounts. Both types are clearly marked on the DVD. This section is designed to encourage students to interrogate the representations of the past presented in the film clips, and to begin to consider the reasons for these different representations. Questions focus on the following: what's the message of the film? Does it tell us something about the time it was made or the time it was set or both? What's the purpose of the film? Is it to reflect on the present? Is it political? How does this affect its usefulness as a historical source? Does the use of fictional characters reduce the usefulness of historical films when learning about the Holocaust? Why? Many historical films are based on or inspired by a true story. What are the differences between films based on a true story and those based on a fictional text? Is a film that's inspired by or based on a true story a better source to understand the past than one based on a novel or play? Why do you think film makers often introduce fictional characters into Holocaust narratives when so many people with true stories have existed? Script writers, directors and producers sometimes change the order of events or the outcome of them to fit the narrative of the film. Does this make a difference to how useful a film is to a historian striving to understand the past? Consider the importance of chronology to historians. Does it matter that film makers often reframe the chronology of events? What kind of research do you think the people involved in making films about the Holocaust might have conducted? How does this affect the usefulness of the film in learning about history? How accurate is the film's portrayal of the period in which it's set? And how can you test the accuracy? Is anything missed out? Does this matter?

The skills of historical enquiry, as you know, are central to developing an understanding of the past. Thinking Film, Thinking History provides students with a range of source material to undertake a historical enquiry into a number of different aspects of the Holocaust. The pack is designed to encourage students to reflect on the film clips as historical sources from which to begin to build a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of the topic in question through focused research. The enquiries are based around nine key themes that can be explored to enrich students' understanding of the history of the Holocaust. The themes are as follows: anti-Semitism - a historical perspective of anti-Jewish attitudes in Europe is crucial to comprehending Nazi ideology and the evolution of the Holocaust; ideology - Nazi beliefs about race and racial hygiene are central to the persecution of the Jews and other groups in the nineteen thirties and to students' understanding of how the Holocaust happened; Nazi propaganda - propaganda was one of the key tools used by the Nazis to control the people living in Nazi Germany and to influence their opinions, and films were a significant part of their propaganda armoury; the experience of children - this is an aspect of the Holocaust that has come under intense study in recent years and is an area of learning that may resonate with the students as many of them will be at a similar age; ghettos - many of the victims murdered during the Holocaust experienced the trauma of ghettoisation and this makes it important for students to have a solid understanding of what a Nazi ghetto was as well as what life was like in a ghetto; camps - the camp system played a central part in the Holocaust being the place where nearly three million of the victims were murdered and where many others were imprisoned and forced to work in horrendous conditions; rescue - while it's true that there are many who were bystanders during the Holocaust, it's important to explore the accounts of those who did take action to rescue Jews; resistance - much teaching of the Holocaust has omitted any reference to Jewish resistance during the nineteen thirties and nineteen forties. It's important for students to understand that some Jews did resist Nazi persecution and for them to explore what is meant by the term resistance; and finally, justice - the concept of justice is one that's vital to any study of the Holocaust but is one of the areas perhaps most overlooked when teaching. Student activity sheets are provided for each area of enquiry, including focus questions related to specific clips on the DVD, research ideas and suggested links. Teacher's notes provide background information and suggested approaches to these areas of historical enquiry. To conclude, Thinking Film, Thinking History offers you and your students a new way to approach the wide range of moving image source material available in the classroom. By developing the specific skills required to de-construct and analyse these sources, Thinking Film, Thinking History provides you and your students with a framework to evaluate the authenticity of filmic representations of the past. Through the medium of film, this resource will improve students' engagement and attainment in history whilst generating a deeper knowledge and understanding of the past. We hope that you and your students find the pack interesting and useful. Once you've had a chance to use the materials, please take a moment to give us your feedback on the content through this website.