Popular movies help children improve literacy

17 May 2013

Potentially at-risk children from the some of the lowest decile schools in NZ have benefitted from UC research that has had them watching popular movies with subtitles.

Potentially at-risk children from the some of the lowest decile schools in the country have benefitted from University of Canterbury research that has had them watching popular movies with English subtitles.

UC education researcher Faye Parkhill says New Zealand is at forefront for using same language subtitling in classrooms to improve literacy. 

"It keeps them at school rather than being truant. Students love it. They have told us. We launched this research in decile one North Island schools because of continued concerns about literacy levels for students in high poverty schools, particularly for Maori and Pasifika students.

"Their reading had declined as a preferred activity in leisure time according to national monitoring reports. From our research schools have reported intense engagement by students, and several teachers have noted increased attendance at school during the six weeks of our study," Parkhill says.

Students watched popular children’s movies using subtitles to increase reading mileage to foster comprehension and fluency in reading.

Students do not passively watch a film with subtitles. Instead the moving image is interwoven with activities that target specific literacy skills. Students "read-watch" movies and complete a range of games and activities designed to keep them on track when reading the subtitles.

"This method that students like is designed to enhance instruction rather than replace normal classroom literacy practices that have already been proven to be effective. The idea of same language subtitling to enhance literacy skills in mainstream classrooms is new.

"Similar research projects have been completed by UC researchers over the last five years in a range of schools, comprising different age groups and locations in New Zealand and Australia.

"In all cases the gains made by the students were statistically significant. In one study in Hawke’s Bay we investigated the effectiveness over eight weeks with year five and six students. The area is a low-income neighbourhood often featured negatively in the statistics in terms of health issues, crime statistics and general deprivation.

"The majority of the students (70 percent) were Maori and the results were staggering, particularly the sustainability of progress. The students continued to progress and build on the reading mileage.

"We do not advocate that using popular film with subtitles become the sole focus in literacy programmes for students who struggle with school literacy," Parkhill says.

However, based on the results to date, Parkhill and fellow UC researcher Dr Ronnie Davey suggest its potential as an enrichment or enhancement programme is worth further investigation.

It had substantial importance in a world where non-print media will likely continue to be the most used as students access texts in the literacy lives of millennial generation students.

"If we are to succeed as educators of low literacy children, we must continue to find ways that create an environment that helps them. The continual development and emergence of new media is having an impact of how children learn in schools," Parkhill says.


For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168


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