Cary Bazalgette
Research on children and moving-image media


There is a dearth of solid evidence in the field of media education about learning and learning progression. What evidence there is tends not to take enough account of prior, informal learning; in particular there is a lack of attention to what children may have learned about the media before they start school. This has led me to my PhD thesis, Some Secret Language, which starts from the hypothesis that, from an early age, children must be acquiring some understanding of the distinctive codes and conventions employed in moving-image media (mostly without much adult mediation), and will be starting to develop their own strategies for making sense of all kinds of text. In addition to the papers and the research projects listed below, my work can be found on

The Role of Emotion in Early Movie-watching

This paper is based on parts of my doctoral research on two-year-olds’ encounters with movies (ie TV and film). Using embodied cognition theory to help account for their heightened attention to some movies, I use Panksepp’s theory of the “seeking” emotion as a way in to considering what motivated this. I analyse one child’s responses to the Russian short film The Tiny Fish and to the Pixar-Disney film Finding Nemo, to illustrate how emotions may dominate the process of “diakresis” and hence drive interpretations of narrative. The paper concludes by calling for a “biographical” approach to film study which would recognise some of the ways in which we all became part of our culture, with likely implications for audience studies. Available in Media Education Journal 60, Autumn-Winter 2016-17, and here

Embodied movie-watching: Two-year-olds and big warm silky screens

This paper draws upon my PhD thesis, which investigates how children learn to make sense of moving-image media, through a case study of dizygotic twins’ encounters with short films and television between the ages of 22 and 38 months. The children were observed in home settings by their grandmother (me), using video as the primary method of data collection. Referring to my analysis of focused attention in the children’s viewing behaviour, which draws on embodied cognition theory, I discuss possible interpretations of their interest in getting close to, and touching the screen, particularly in relation to modality judgments. Published in Media Education Research Journal 8.2, Summer 2019

Researching Prior Learning: How toddlers study movies

Taking issue with Bergala’s dismissal of students’ prior learning, disdain for popular culture and implicit preference for film education as a secondary school subject, this paper argues for the importance of studying children’s earliest encounters with both films and television (summarised as “movies”).  The research described here was based on the hypothesis that a learning process must be under way in these encounters, enabling children to follow much of the multimodal complexity of mainstream feature films by the time they are 3 years old. A longitudinal, ethnographic study of the researcher’s twin grandchildren between the ages of 22 and 31 months used video to capture phenomena such as focused attention, repeat viewing, emotional responses, utterances and gestures. Analysis, using embodied cognition as well as sociocultural approaches, revealed the extent to which two-year-olds are starting to follow, enjoy and reflect upon movies well before they can understand the words in their songs and picture-books.  The findings have implications not only for film education with older students, but also for early years research, and for the production of movies aimed at this age-group. Available in Film Education Journal 1.1, June 2018, and here

Persistence of Vision

I was project leader of this Media Education Association initiative, jointly funded by the UK Film Council’s education strategy “Film: 21st Century Literacy“, by Creativity Culture and Education, and by three local authorities: Devon, Norfolk and Worcestershire. From 2009-10, it explored the ways in which primary school children can learn about animation, by providing training and resources for their teachers, ensuring that the children involved had repeated experiences of critical viewing and creative activity, and by encouraging the schools involved to make links between animation and poetry.

Reframing Literacy

I was part of a team led by Professor Jackie Marsh, and funded by the (now closed) Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, in which the universities of Sheffield and Nottingham, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) and the British Film Institute (BFI) followed up the BFI’s film and literacy initiative to investigate what is involved in learning to acquire and understand key elements of film language, what the relationship is between this learning and other literacies, and how both teachers and pupils develop their subject knowledge in this area. This project is reported in the UKLA publication Beyond Words (Bazalgette and Bearne 2010).

Learning about Broadcast News

Ofcom funded this eight-month study to identify learning outcomes achieved through BBC News School Report, an initiative which began in 2006. The BBC aims to provide opportunities for Year 8 children (ages 12-13) in UK schools to learn about news production. The research team, which was completely independent from the BBC, selected as case studies three schools who were involved in School Report, and interviewed selected pupils before and after the project, as well as observing activities in the schools on 22nd March, the day on which participating schools all did news projects which were linked to a national website. The research report was completed in August 2007 and is published by Ofcom under the title Lifeblood of Democracy? Learning about Broadcast News. Click here to see the research report.

Special Effects

This year-long project by the BFI and the National Foundation for Educational Research was funded by Creative Partnerships and reported in April 2007. The project aimed to identify the distinctive learning outcomes associated with moving image eduation. Nine case studies were selected, representing a range of types of school in different Creative Partnership areas, and selected pupils in each school were interviewed before and after their school’s Creative Partnership project. The research team also observed activities during each project.