Film in Language and Russian Studies Courses

IrinaWalter, St. Olaf College

The use of videos and original films in the language classroom is a common practice. However, the criteria for selecting visual materials and the pedagogical goals for incorporating them in classroom instruction vary significantly depending on the course, the instructor's preference, the quality of language production in the given film, and the film's cultural authenticity, to name but a few. Linguistically, I believe, the criteria that work well as a basis for film selection are those outlined in the ACTFL proficiency guidelines. With them in mind, I have used a variety of films for learners on the Novice Level, those on the Intermediate Mid. / Intermediate High level, and ultimately for those in the FLAC (Foreign Language Across Curriculum) courses, specifically for learners in the Russian language component to Russian History courses and Soviet and Post-Soviet Political Science courses. (These FLAC courses meet with both the language instructor and the History (Political Science) instructor once a week and the discussion is led in Russian. Such language components to content courses in English have become a permanent feature in the offerings of the St. Olaf Russian Department; they are geared mostly to Russian language major seniors.)

I feel that for cultural purposes the combination of authenticity and artistic quality of films and videos should be at the heart of the selection criteria. It is not at all easy to employ such criteria if we are to be simultaneously anchored in our need to use linguistically appropriate material.

At this point I have been using a select number of films that I find to be highly effective. Among them are films from the SUNY TV Projects Let's Get Acquainted and Contact, cartoons, the Glasnost Film Festival as well as Burnt By The Sun, Age Seven In The USSR, Born in the USSR, and some others.

The conference presentation will focus on analyzing the suitability of a variety of teaching and art films, the criteria for selecting the films, the student activities designed to accompany films, and the pedagogical goals in using visual material relative to the courses taught: Beginning Russian, Intermediate Russian, The Russian Press, and FLAC courses.

Handouts demonstrating student activities in various courses will accompany the talk. Excerpts from films used for a variety of activities will be demonstrated and discussed, along with some excerpts from films produced by St. Olaf students.