to the face of a cliff, Indiana Jones watches as
devour his enemies in the river far below. Westley kisses Buttercup
rescuing her from the evil Prince Humperdinck. Kevin whoops in glee as
the Wet Bandits are hauled off to jail. And a dozen or so ESL students
gasp, sigh, laugh, and acquire English.
Teachers in IEPs using the FOCAL SKILLS
developed a specialized
movie technique for accelerating the growth of students' listening
This technique is a major element of FOCAL SKILLS pedagogy and appears
to be a key factor in the success of programs using this approach.
FOCAL SKILLS is built around the concept
of "functional skill
(Hastings 1995), which means simply that students' stronger language
are used as tools for building their weaker skills. We regard listening
comprehension as the most essential tool, since all classroom
are in English. For this reason, high-intermediate listening
is a prerequisite for most of our instructional modules. Students whose
listening comprehension is below this level are placed in the
Module," which is devoted entirely to improving their listening
The Listening Module meets for three
hours daily, with a fourth
reserved for elective classes. Students remain in Listening until they
have satisfied the prerequisite. Listening comprehension is reassessed
every few weeks, and students are moved on to other modules (for
Reading or Writing) as soon as they are ready.
In designing the instruction for the
Listening Module, we are
with several challenges. First, we must focus intensively on listening
comprehension, because students are placed in Listening for the sole
of bringing this skill up to criterion as rapidly as possible. Second,
we must find materials and methods that will be appropriate to the
of abilities (from beginners to intermediates) that may be found in the
same classroom. Third, we must somehow keep the students attentive and
motivated for three hours every day.
Movies help us meet all three of these
challenges. We use
films--whatever is available and acceptable to teachers and students.
cover the entire movie, relying on the story and characters to maintain
our students' interest and enthusiasm. The movie is shown in short
Each segment is played, then repeated with frequent pauses (perhaps
the sound turned down). During the repetition, the teacher narrates the
action in slow, clear, simple English, often pointing to relevant
on the screen. In this way, the students receive large amounts of
input (Krashen 1985). Those with low ability can listen for words
to salient elements of the picture; those with somewhat better
skills may be able to understand most of the teacher's narration; and
who are nearly ready to leave the Listening Module can probably
quite a bit of the sound track.
Frequent oral comprehension checks, in
the form of questions
very brief answers (e.g., yes or no), accompany the narration. This
helps the teacher monitor
understanding of the story. If some
plot element has not been grasped, the teacher can then present any
explanations or elaborations before continuing. This practice improves
the students' chances of understanding subsequent episodes, since the
provides a cognitive framework for the integration of new information.
Comprehension checks also serve to keep the members of the class alert
Dozens of movies have been used successfully in this way. We
good experiences with almost every genre: drama, mystery, western,
comedy, romance, animated fantasy, and so on. The best choices contain
a great deal of visible material to talk about: vivid actions, colorful
settings, and striking personalities. On the other hand, long,
conversations dealing with remote, off-screen matters are difficult to
deal with, because most of the students are unable to understand such
and there is little that the teacher can point to or narrate. One good
way to evaluate a movie for possible use is to watch it with the sound
off. If you can maintain a fairly constant flow of pertinent
the movie should be suitable.
In order to employ this technique
effectively, teachers must
detailed knowledge of the movies they use. The students' attentiveness
and comprehension depend at least in part on the accuracy,
clarity, confidence, continuity, and timing of the teacher's narration.
The teacher must always know what is taking place, anticipate what is
next, and understand how it all bears on the story. This requires a
grasp of the plot, a clear sense of the dominant themes, and a close
with the characters and their motives. Hours of preview and thought are
essential before a teacher is ready to use a movie for the first time.
Most Listening teachers use movies for
two hours every
types of listening activities filling the third hour. However, I have
used this movie technique for three hours straight. The average movie
takes five or six hours of class time to finish, so it is normal to
start a new
every two or three days. This is fairly exhausting work, and it
deal of preparation; but it can also be exhilarating and satisfying.
We have obtained excellent results using
this technique. My
(Hastings 1995) indicates that students in FOCAL SKILLS Listening
improve their listening comprehension several times faster than
in standard IEPs. This is probably not surprising, in view of the
amounts of time and energy devoted to this skill.
More surprising are
gains in the other major English language skills: reading, writing, and
speaking. It turns out that Listening Module students improve in these
skills at about the same rate as students in other programs, even
they do little if any work focused on these skills. Apparently, the
proficiency acquired through listening transfers to other skills as
once again the power of comprehensible input.