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Future Teachers, Counselors Gain Insights On Handling Real-Life Problems Through Fictional Situations Portrayed In Films

November 14, 2000 -- The diverse experiences future teachers and counselors will encounter are often sharply brought to life through popular films that accurately portray complex situations.

The University of Virginia's Curry School of Education combines a strong curriculum with professional training to prepare future teachers and counselors. In many classes faculty use films to give students an understanding of the wide range of experiences and emotions they may encounter in their future positions. A few examples of how faculty teach through the use of films follow.


Kathleen May, an associate professor in counselor education, uses characters from selected films as clients for her students to study and consider what kinds of counseling techniques should be employed. She and a graduate student presented "Fictional Clients in the Classroom: Using Film and Fiction to Enhance Counselor Education" at a national conference of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.

"Films enhance students’ understanding of classic and contemporary themes, foster insight and promote compassion and empathy," May said. She notes that characters in films allow her students to hypothesize, develop treatment plans, conceptualize cases and apply theories.

She also uses film in her family counseling course. By showing such films as "Ordinary People," she can bring the family "into treatment" by describing cultural concerns, the role of the therapist and possible treatment plans.

For more information, May can be reached at (804) 982-2324 or


A course that explores such questions as "what does it mean to be ethical?" and "how do we make good ethical decisions?" uses numerous films. Dorothy Vasquez-Levy, an assistant professor of education, who teaches a University Seminar, "Moral Sense in Teaching," uses film to help students analyze virtues and vice.

Vasquez-Levy shows such films as "And the Band Played On," "The Color Purple," "The Last of the Dog Soldiers" and "Return to Paradise." "In the class students learn a method for analyzing ‘moral sense’–virtues and vice–and develop an original case," she said.

For more information, Dorothy Vasquez-Levy can be reached at (804) 924-0869 or


Margo Figgins, director of the nationally recognized Young Writers Workshop, uses film in her "Language, Literacy, and Culture" class to give students innovative ways to communicate.

Among the examples she cites: "I show a clip from ‘Dead Poets' Society’ to suggest how Keating's approach to learning is a metaphor for the role of Paulo Freire's text, and I screen ‘Pump Up the Volume’ to show coded language that students use. As in the film, my students speak through pseudonyms [in an on-line discussion] so that they don't have to fear reprisal; then I bring in transcripts of the talk generated on-line, and we study them as language texts, applying a variety of language concepts from course texts," said Figgins, an associate professor of education.

For more information, contact Figgins at (804) 924-0766 or


In an "Exploring Teaching" course, James Cooper uses films to accomplish several different objectives. For example, he uses them to portray ethnic or cultural sub-

groups that exist in schools. "The films allow students to analyze characteristics of the

cultures and describe appropriate teaching strategies," said Cooper, the Commonwealth Professor of Education.

He also uses films to illustrate the struggle children and adults with handicaps often face. In addition, he shows videos of outstanding teachers in action to help students understand the characteristics and skills of effective teachers.

For more information, Cooper can be reached at (804) 924-0860 or


Dan Hallahan, nationally recognized for his expertise in special education, uses film in his classes to help students develop an understanding of people with disabilities. In his "Introduction to Special Education" course, students choose to watch such films as "Children of a Lesser God," "Forrest Gump" or "Sling Blade" and write critiques of what issues the person with disabilities faced.

For more information, contact Hallahan, education professor and chair, Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education Department, at (804) 924-0756 or

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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