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Open Access What do film teachers need to know about cognitivism? Revisiting the work of David Bordwell and other cognitivists

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In the pages of the inaugural issue of this journal, the work of film educator Alain Bergala was discussed as a means of exploring possible approaches to film education. While Bergala offers many reasons why young people should be taught about film, there is very little discussion in his work of how they learn. In the subject field of education more broadly, there is currently a great deal of attention given to this process, with classroom teachers in all disciplines being encouraged to consider the ways that cognitive science might inform both instructional design and teaching itself. The popularity of the work of psychologists such as John Sweller and Daniel Willingham can be seen as indicative of a wider, positivist trend in educational research. While, historically, film educators may have seen their pedagogical and curricular activities as being located in a more linguistic, and perhaps interpretivist, domain, it is important to note that there is a cognitive tradition within both film studies and film education, mainly arising from the work of David Bordwell. Bordwell's seminal essay, 'A case for cognitivism' (1989), sets out some initial reasons why both students of film and film educators should be interested in the way that the brain comprehends the moving image. Drawing on and augmenting the work of other cognitivists such as Paul Messaris (1994) and Gavriel Salomon (1979), Bordwell's work makes for important rereading in an educational environment in which there is both some agreement and some scepticism about the significance of the cognitive. This article seeks to outline and critique the most relevant of Bordwell's arguments, taking as its starting point some unanswered questions from my own PhD studies, which led me to the work of both Bordwell and Messaris, and subsequently to identifying some ideas that film teachers may wish to reflect upon in terms of their own classroom practice. At the same time, it locates Bordwell's work in the wider field of cognitive perspectives in education.
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Keywords: BORDWELL; COGNITIVISM; CONSTRUCTIVISM; FILM; FILM EDUCATION

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 November 2018

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  • The Film Education Journal is the world's only publication committed to exploring how teachers and other educators work with film, and to involving other participants - policymakers, academics, researchers, cultural agencies and film-makers themselves - in that conversation. It is a bi-annual, open-access, peer-reviewed journal sponsored by the UCL Institute of Education in partnership with the British Film Institute, the Centre for the Moving Image and Creative Scotland.
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