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Grade 8 Film Festival: Bringing it all together to transition to High School

Paul Brogden, Middle School Vice Principal (Curriculum), Dover Campus
27 October 2017

“I learnt that you really need to manage your time well and that high quality work doesn’t just appear, you need to work extremely hard.”

Grade 8 Film Festival project at UWCSEA Dover

One of the things we know about young adolescents is that the Middle School age is a period of rapid physical, social and emotional development, perhaps the stage of most significant change since infancy and toddlerhood. The end of Grade 8 also marks an important transition into High School. It is a time when students are really beginning to ‘find themselves’ and seek ways to express this.

With this in mind, in 2012, the Middle School curriculum team on Dover Campus launched a Film Festival challenge project for all Grade 8 students at the end of the school year. The project is a chance to celebrate and showcase the skills and attributes that the students have developed during their time in Middle School.

Students are posed the challenge of working in small groups to produce high quality short films. That first year, the students were given the theme of ‘Change’ and the students initially worked with Tom Soper, a professional photographer who shared his expertise and insights into the craft and skills needed for filmmaking. Students learnt about how to storyboard, film and edit creatively and about how lighting, focus, camera angles and sound are all important elements of effective short films. 

With a very challenging two-week deadline, students work collaboratively, independently and displayed tremendous organisational and problem-solving skills to finish the films before the culminating Film Festival in the last week of the school year.

During the project, students film both around the campus and on location in Singapore. It is common to see students and even teachers in corridors and classrooms around the school with cameras and tripods (and sometimes in costume) with directors shouting out ‘Action!’

Each year, the completed films continue to demonstrate a tremendous range of styles and genre, from music videos to dramas and documentaries. It is interesting to see how the theme resonate amongst the students and how they effectively use the medium of film to explore their thoughts, ideas and emotions related to the elected topic. The films always give a real insight into what our Middle School students are interested in and care about.

In all, over 60 short films are created each year, and the very best examples are shown in a culminating Film Festival. The Film Festival provides a wonderful celebratory atmosphere as the entire grade enjoys seeing their peers’ creations. This is a positive way for the students to showcase their talents and be together one last time as Middle School students.

We believe that Middle School students thrive when their learning is holistic and encourages them to make links between different academic disciplines. As students move from class to class in their English, Geography, History and IT lessons, teachers and tutors collaborate to support them through the process. The project has expanded to include the Visual Arts, Music and Drama Department teachers. 

 “I also learnt more about being cooperative in a group, because everyone’s input is required for the movie to work out.”

Linking with the learning principles

As part of our curriculum articulation project, UWCSEA faculty have worked to develop our definition of learning. We believe that learning is a lifelong process in which learners engage with and reflect upon information and experiences to construct new or modify existing understanding as well as develop and apply skills and qualities.

The Film Festival project illustrates this well. Our learning principles state that we know learning is effective when:

Learners feel secure and supported.

Students were supported by teachers and an expert and encouraged to support and celebrate each other’s achievements and learn from their mistakes in making the films.

Learners understand the purpose of the learning.

Students were given a clear rationale and guidelines for the criteria their film needed to achieve.

Learners construct new understanding by building upon prior knowledge.

Students were encouraged to use their prior knowledge and experiences to explore the theme of ‘Change.’

Learners listen, talk and interact with others.

Students created their films in small groups and actively engaged with teachers, other students and the community to create their films.

Learners construct meaning by making connections between knowledge and concepts.

The films were based around the concept of ‘Change,’ and students were encouraged to apply their existing knowledge and interests.

Learners are appropriately challenged.

The Film Festival project was appropriately challenging for students at the end of Middle School; to be successful, students had to collaborate, plan effectively, solve problems creatively as they arose and reflect on their progress.

Learners use timely and goal-directed feedback.

Students supported each other and received ongoing feedback from a variety of teachers and a professional to help guide them in the process.

Learners have time for meaningful and deliberate practice.

Students were encouraged to develop and improve their skills and understanding in the creative process of making a meaningful short film.

Learners have ownership of their learning.

The student groups were given guidelines and were assisted by teachers, but for most of the process they worked independently and were self-directed in their learning during the filming process.

Learners think and act upon their learning.

The students were given opportunities during the filming process to develop strategies to plan, monitor, reflect and make adjustments to their learning as needed.