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Window on Britain

MacAndrew, R.
Oxford University Press (1998)
Video (46min.), Activity Book (pp. 48), Video Guide (pp. 40)
(Also available as a CD-ROM)

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Opening the Window
Window on Britain is a refreshing look at elements of life in Britain. In this review, we consider how to use this "educational" video, as well as video in general. The book Video (Cooper, Lavery, and Rinvolucri) provides a broad spectrum of ideas.

Glimpses Within
While Window on Britain is described as "a British culture video aimed at learners in their first year of English" on the video materials, and within the publishers sales materials as "Beginner to Lower Intermediate" level for "Lower Secondary" students, the materials are well-suited for university courses in British Culture. At my university, even though taught within the English language program, the "British & American Culture" is officially recognized as a foreign language content-course - which means that language instruction takes a distant back seat to learning the "content" materials.

The (student) Activity Book is bright and cheery, with full color photos and glossy pages - it is perhaps a bit expensive for only 48 pages. Using the book and video as designed, it is indeed a high-beginner/elementary language course supplement. It contains lots of pre-listening and post-listening exercises, as well as assorted other tasks and rudimentary grammar activities. Perhaps it should be rated slightly more difficult for those students unfamiliar with a "British" accent - though I think of myself as a "linguistically globalized" American, I was confused once or twice by hostess Leone Dodd's pronunciations of words I thought I knew. Fortunately, I was rescued by the tapescripts provided in the Video Guide - an invaluable tool when working with an unfamiliar accent or dialect.

Rather than considering it as a language course supplement package, however, we will consider this as a video to be used for a culture class, or as isolated clips for language learning without the designed Activity Book.

Video is part of Oxford's Resource Books for Teachers series, and is really a collection of "teacher toolboxes", but what sets this volume apart is that it focuses on an aspect of a teaching area that is generally left untouched - student generated video. Sections that I particularly like include: "Job Interviews" (p.75), "Video Pronunciation Work (p. 80), "Video the Dialogue (1 & 2)" (p. 84), and Flexing the Dialogue (p. 91). The authors of Video indicate that putting the camera in the students' hands is an act of empowerment, which enables student adoption of language. One way this might work well in conjunction with Window on Britain is to ask students to create their own comparable video clips.

But in fact it is the Video section "Active Viewing" (pages 12-34) that is closer to my own comfort zone as a teacher. Here the authors address the "normal" classroom uses of video, such as we hear discussed so frequently at teacher conferences, such as utilizing commercials, short clips of news or dramas. But even here, these ideas go far beyond the mere "turn off the sound, have students create narrative" or "cover the monitor, have students guess the scenes from the audio" that are more commonplace - and that are included in the Window on Britain Video Guide! So, why not view the breakfast scene backwards first, and have students create a script? Or have half the class listen to the section on schools (no video) while the other half watch without sound - and then explain to each other what they missed? Deeper understanding of both content and language is sure to arise!

Topics of British Life
While OUP recommends paring this video with an EFL/ESL coursebook, Window on Britain might be well used with any of many "British Culture" textbooks, such as O'Driscoll's Britain. The video's eight sections are entitled "An Introduction to Britain", "Schools", "Food", "Homes", "Sport", "Festivals", "Pop" (music), and "London". Only the last two do not directly tie in with one of O'Driscoll's 23 chapters.

Most teachers would like to augment their classroom activities with meaningful videos, when the audio/visual equipment is available. It can often be the case that commercially prepared videos can be used for purposes other than what was intended, as well as clippings from movies or TV programs.

In the introduction to Video the authors admit their concepts are considerably different from what most teachers are doing. Even ten years later, Video is still a fresh and insightful look at the possibilities of the full range of video uses in a classroom. And Window on Britain is simply an outstanding classroom supplement on the subject of British lifestyle, for either a lower-level speaking or listening course, or a British culture course.

Cooper, R., Lavery, M. and Rinvolucri, M. (1991). Video (Oxford Resource Books for Teachers). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
O'Driscoll, J. (1995). Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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