MLA: Teaching Lives, Pedagogy through Page and Screen

“Pedagogy Through Page and Screen”

Just as my research interests move across disciplinary boundaries, exploring intersections between literature, film and the social sciences, so too does my teaching. I work in a department of English that also houses minor programs in film studies and cultural studies and much of what I teach is either film courses or hybrid cultural studies courses that examine the intersections between literature and the other arts. As such, I frequently find myself working with students whose academic home is in another discipline. Therefore, my courses encourage students to build bridged between a variety of disciplines by looking at the intersections between literature, the arts, science, journalism, politics, and medicine, an approach that allows students to bring their own academic expertise to the table. By examining the wider cultural, historical and scientific contexts of such narratives, my courses encourage students to draw on their specific knowledge, whether they intend to continue studying film, or plan to major in education, nursing, medicine, or psychology. My course assignments and classroom activities stress the diversity of interpretive and learning processes. My pedagogy has also developed in response to the different types of students with whom I work: traditional and non-traditional students, first-generation college students, and practicing teachers who are returning to college to attain a Masters degree. With all of my students, regardless of background, I believe in offering them a diverse set of opportunities within a rigorous intellectual environment. Therefore, I tailor assignments to my students’ skill sets and explain concepts in ways that will challenge all students while respecting their individual interests and learning styles.

For some of my students, enrolling in a course in film studies begins as a lark, a break from their other academic work that allows them to tap into their own non-academic interest in watching movies. As such, I focus on helping students achieve a serious understanding of the medium, its history, and its complex formal qualities—while also honoring the sense of fun that first motivated so many of them to enroll in the class. In fact, whether going to the local cineplex, watching clips on, or viewing entire films on their iPods, the average college student spends considerable time engaging with the moving image. As a result, most students enter my classroom feeling quite comfortable with film, often bringing to the table a wide range of experience with and enthusiasm for the medium. While it is very rewarding to teach a discipline that students already enjoy, that long-standing familiarity with film belies a sizeable pedagogical obstacle: how does one tap into students’ interest and familiarity while also encouraging them to look at the films they enjoy in a more critical light? How might I impart a knowledge of film history that will lead to a greater appreciation of movies, particularly works that might fall outside of students’ comfort zones? How can I help students attain an understanding of film’s specific visual aesthetics that will increase, rather than stymie, their sense of enjoyment? How do I help them understand that watching movies is not synonymous with appreciating them? And, because a great many of my students are pursuing careers as public school teachers, how can I model a college-level teaching practice that might beneficially inform my students’ future pedagogical practices? Though I have yet to find definitive answers to even one of these questions, they continue to form the backbone of my teaching philosophy and pedagogical methods.

April Miller
Assistant Professor and Director of Film Studies
Department of English
University of Northern Colorado

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