Let Teachers SHINE winner 2024: Matt Harte – Better on the Big Screen

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It is hoped a new project that combines the magic of movies with the convenience of AI will inspire students resitting their English language GCSE.

Better on the Big Screen is the brainchild of Matt Harte, from Leeds City College.

The project blends communal cinema trips and online clips of famous films with AI-generated prose to spark the imagination of students who may have otherwise struggled to engage with the subject.

Matt explained: “The students will see the films and film clips, which match the lesson content they receive afterwards, allowing them to build their analysis of the narrative they have watched.

“The use of AI enables us to curate a wide range of teacher-controlled pieces of prose that are linked directly to the plot, characters and visual richness of the films.”

Nationally, just a quarter of students resitting GCSE English post-16 pass the exam, and the percentage for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds is even lower.

Matt says many students working towards English Language resits have had a bad experience studying the subject at school and can struggle to engage with reading and writing.

“We know how hard it can be when students have had a poor experience of English before Key Stage 4, or additional barriers from having English as a second language,” he said.

However, Matt believes the experience of cinema can ignite interest in the written word.

“We all remember the transformative power of going to see blockbuster films with our friends in our childhood. The smell of popcorn, the shocks, and scares in the dark, walking out into the foyer together having seen courage, romance and betrayal on the big screen.

“This is something many low-income students in colleges have not experienced for themselves, and we wholly believe it can provide the ‘buzz’ these students sometimes need when approaching a text for the first time.”

Matt believes the project will reduce “the initial barriers to reading inference and comprehension” because of “the transformative experience of seeing the films and clips”.

He added: “The use of AI allows us to really stretch, challenge and differentiate students with high-quality prose extract lessons that directly reflect the wonder of the viewing experience.”

Although Better on the Big Screen utilises AI, Matt admits he is “very cynical” about the technology.

“I do not view it as a panacea where AI replaces the teacher. I am very much against that for philosophical and ethical reasons,” he said.

“But there are some specific things that it is good for. It is good for generating prose based on a recipe that you give it. It is good for generating ideas and suggesting a range of differentiating vocabulary that a busy English teacher doesn’t necessarily think of straightaway.

“So, it doesn’t replace the teacher. The teacher still has to ride the horse, if you like. This is just another addition to a teacher’s toolkit.”

Matt says he and his English teaching team are “over the moon” at being selected for the Let Teachers SHINE award.

“We’ve become really good at using AI as a tool for idea generation, and we know that the students love the film lessons from the prototype resources we have made,” he said.

While he hopes the project will result in more students passing their GCSE resits, Matt’s ultimate goal is broader than that.

He hopes the project will “open doors to students who’ve maybe not experienced the richness of films, theatre and literature. Because, for a lot of these students, the only time they read any literature is in the English language classes.

“I’d be delighted if it inspired more students to get into story writing and the creative industries,” he said. “I hope they come to view writing and storytelling as being a valuable life skill. It’s not just about passing an exam.”

By the end of the two-year project, which has won £10,000 in funding from Let Teachers SHINE, it is hoped to collate the teaching resources created and make them available to other educational settings.

“Ultimately, this will be developed into a suite of materials that any English departments can use to develop students’ English skills, and a training package to allow schools and colleges to develop their own examples with AI prompt generation.”

Fiona Spellman, CEO of SHINE, said: “Emerging technology offers so much potential for developing innovative ways of learning, reducing teacher workload, and engaging students.

“We are so excited to be supporting Matt’s innovative film project and are looking forward to seeing the transformative impact on literacy and love of learning.”

Click here to read about this year’s other winners