Sunday, February 22, 2015

Adaptation Studies and Active Literacy

Despite having written and published extensively in the field of adaptation studies and pedagogy (including two co-edited volumes THE PEDAGOGY OF ADAPTATION and REDEFINING ADAPTATION STUDIES (2010), as well as ADAPTATION STUDIES AND LEARNING (2013)), I have hitherto found it difficult to address the question posed by Thomas Leitch in his FILM ADAPTATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS, about how to use adaptation studies to promote “active literacy.”

For Barton Palmer, writing in Film Quarterly, this model represents a form of “Deweyesque engagement in rewriting” – which I take to mean a form of education designed to promote individual talents, as well as an ability to use such talents for the greater good.  Adaptation enables learners to experience and interact with the curriculum, as well as experiment for themselves in writing and learning.

In general terms, this is a laudable aim; but I have always wondered how this “active literacy” could be assessed.  In ADAPTATION STUDIES AND LEARNING, Tony Gurr and myself suggested that this should be done collaboratively, with learners and teachers participating in a give-and-take process of evaluation, eventually arriving at some consensus of opinion.  This might sound laudable in theory, but might be difficult to achieve in practice, especially when educators are faced with large classes at the undergraduate level.

After having read Stephen Apkon’s inspiring book THE AGE OF THE IMAGE: REDEFINING LITERACY IN A WORLD OF SCREENS (Farrar, Strous & Giroux, 2013), perhaps I am now in a better position to understand how “active literacy” might be encouraged in the classroom.  Apkon argues persuasively that, in a world that is awash in visual storytelling, we have to redefine our pedagogical approaches to take into account how storytelling works in the human brain, and on the practical value of literacy in real-world situations.

Rather than confining ourselves to written assignments, we should encourage learners to research, write, revise, edit and produce videos, using archival material as well as their own ideas.  This form of assignment teaches learners “not only how to read and write, but also how to listen and speak, in all the media that really matter” (212).  We do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak (by rejecting written assignments altogether), but we need to redefine our educational methods through the prism of visual communication.

Modes of assessment should encompass familiar criteria – problem-solving and group participation – but also assess performative potential: visually-oriented projects can inspire a form of creative expression that some learners have never previously discovered.  Giving them the chance to show off their work in public, as well as perform in front of the camera, can inspire the kind of self-confidence that simply does not exist with exclusively written activities.

Perhaps more significantly, Apkon argues that visually-oriented activities help to establish relations between learners across social and cultural boundaries.  The realities of problem-solving, planning and communication (all part of the experience of filmmaking) provides a catalyst for the development of critical life-skills and “the kind of social and emotional learning our schools do not provide” (217).

Apkon offers a five-point plan for measuring visual literacy.  He believes that, when they graduate at the secondary and/or the tertiary levels, all learners should be able to:-

·        Write a script for a short video segment;
·        Shoot a coherent piece of film narrative with the correct literate elements of expression;
·        Edit video out of raw material into a persuasive argument;
·        Access channels of distribution, including the Internet;
·        Critically understand and deconstruct visual media.

Such objectives mesh in with the objectives of twenty-first century learning, as defined by the National Council of Teachers of English in 2008: learners need to a) develop proficiency with the tools of technology; b) Build relationships with others to solve problems cross-culturally and collaboratively; c) Analyze and evaluate multiple streams of information; d) Evaluate multimedia texts; and e) Design and share information for global communities for a variety of purposes.

In this educational model, “adaptation studies” not only requires learners to rewrite source-texts, but they have to learn how to adapt to one another.  Likewise educators have to redefine their roles; they are no longer sources of knowledge but participants in the collaborative process, guiding learners as well as offering encouragement in their own processes of self-discovery.

Active literacy” as defined by Leitch and filtered through Akpon’s suggestions, emphasizes the importance of activity; everyone has to be involved in the process of creation, in the belief that their work is not just designed to pass exams (or obtain good grades), but represents a positive contribution towards cross-cultural understanding.  The Internet and/or social media provide an invaluable means to facilitate this process.  Adaptation studies not only involve a process of personal development but should foster the desire to share one’s insights and/or cultural products with others.  As the old saying goes, two heads are better than one.

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