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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide
 

A Film Study of Classrooms

in Western Alaska

PART TWO
ANALYSIS OF THE FILM

A Kindergarten Class in Bethel

This class was taught by Miss Kinderbelle, an older woman who had a long career in Alaska schools (Collier, 1973: 87; Connelly, private communication). The film opens with the class, seated in two long rows, facing one side of the room where an Eskimo youth is playing an electric guitar. Seven boys are seated together in front of a long table, and eight girls are seated behind the table. There is an eighth boy in the class, but he is separated from the rest of the class and does not seem to participate. The class is all Eskimo except for one boy who was reported to be part Eskimo (Collier, private communication). The teacher sits to the right of the table. As the film coverage begins, a boy is “dancing” in front of the class while the teacher and (ideally) the children clap time. The teacher’s movements are aggressive as she claps, but the children are lackadaisical and totally out of sequence. The boy in front of the class has almost the exact position that the small boy in Mr. Principal’s ESL lesson had in front of that particular class. The boy extends his hands in front of himself, and his body is rigid. He lifts his feet perhaps half-an-inch and too slowly to carry out the dancer’s role (Illus. 74).

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After a time, he is replaced by another boy who is somewhat more active; but not, as it develops, in the style preferred by the teacher. She rises abruptly (it takes her one second to get from her seat to the boy eight feet away), grabs the boy by the upper arms, and moves him around into various positions which she thinks are correct for the dance motions. These involve turning one way, then another, and moving around the floor in the process. Both this boy and the previous one had remained in one spot. The whole process, from the time she rises from her seat until she is seated again, covers no more than eight seconds; her movements throughout are quick and forceful. The boy’s response to this sudden manipulation is passive; he is moved by her and does not move with her. At all points in the movements he is lagging behind her movements, and his body is subtly out of balance (Illus. 75-79).

 

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After the teacher returns to her seat, he continues his dance somewhat in the manner she demonstrated but in very awkward form. When he finishes he is rewarded by a piece of candy (as each dancer was) and quickly sits down. The sequence is a clear illustration of lack of flow between teacher and student.

Performances in front of the class continue, first by two girls and then by two boys. In both cases the behavior is the same; they stand in one place and move their feet up and down an inch or two while holding rigid body positions. As with the children in prefirst, they appear to be quite uncomfortable and embarrassed; they hold their hands close to their sides except for occasional covering of the face and some nervous movements to the mouth. Throughout this time the rest of the class dutifully claps in perfect dissynchrony while their attention wanders all over. They look at the camera a great deal. In my experience, this often indicates distraction and lack of interest in the classroom activity of the moment (Illus. 80-82).

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This session of the class ends with the group dancing around the table. The students, while more active and relaxed in their movements, are as discordant as a group as were the individuals. In preparation for recess the teacher lines the students up in two lines adjacent to the door and turns away to get her coat from the closet. Her back is turned less than five seconds, and in that interval two of the girls start a spontaneous dance. They hold hands and dance around in a circle, bouncing up and down, with fluidity and enthusiasm which contrasts totally from the attempted dancing at the direction of the teacher. There was no flow in the movements and interactions of the earlier dancing but now there is; movements are well synchronized and smooth (Illus. 83-88).

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The teacher turns back and stills this “disruption” with a smile and a firm gesture. However, the immobility of the regular class session has been broken and the girls bunny-hop out the door. It is clear that the children have the ability to dance; why were they so frozen and awkward earlier? Something in the teacher-student relationship was affecting their behavior. She made them feel awkward.

The next scene on the film shows students gathered in a semi-circle on the floor. Two boys are holding up a very large reader. The teacher is not with this group, but is seated off to one side with another student. Using a long stick as a marker, each student points out and reads a word. Pace is slow and unsynchronized. There are no sustained interactions among the students. They are lackadaisical, and occasionally smile; their attention wanders a great deal. There is no group-wide focus or network of movements.

Next, the students sit scattered around the room while they work on worksheets handed out by the teacher. As in the reading session, there is little interaction and no concentration. The students spend a great deal of time just looking around the room while slowly working with their papers. The major point of focus in the room seems to be the camera. Everyone looks at it once in a while. Because the students are widely scattered and rarely interact, there are few opportunities for interpersonal flow to develop. The few occasions when it does are too brief for any clear description of it to be made.

The next section of film shows the class washing up for a snack and then eating it. The snack is peanut butter on pilot biscuits and milk. Most of the class sit idly looking around the room or making brief unsustained conversation with their neighbors. But one group of six girls (all but two of the girls in the class) is more involved and animated. They are involved in a very fluid and flowing series of interactions which start with them all seated and in apparent conversation. Three of them stand and confront each other in an intense physical and verbal fashion; the purpose seems to be to find out who is taller. There is animation and laughter(Illus. 89-91).

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Unfortunately, the camera does not follow this episode to its conclusion but cuts to the rest of the class who are behaving much as before with no sustained interaction. The camera then swings back to the six girls who are now busy toasting each other with their milk. This process is carried out with great glee and is very smooth and flowing. After they finish their milk and make their last toast they get up and leave the table (Illus. 92-94)

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Again the film record has shown the children operating as a group, fluid and hooked together, with a great deal of zest and interest in their activities. This energy potential was not reflected in the organized sessions of the class. The teacher could not tap it, and indeed seemed to destroy these interrelationships by her very presence.

The film coverage ends with a short session of the children working with worksheets. For the most part, behavior is the same as earlier except that a number of the girls are now working together. The only new feature is that several students approach the teacher for assistance, and the brief interactions which follow show her to be more fluid and the students more relaxed than in the earlier portions of the film. The significant difference may be that these represent private one-on-one communications rather than individual interactions with the teacher in front of the whole class. Again, unfortunately, the camera does not record these interactions in detail and the sequence as a whole is too short for any patterns to be observed.

While the film record of this class is in many respects less complete than that of the mixed prefirst and second grade class in Kwethluk, it seems that here, too, the teacher cut across the interaction patterns of the children and was generally unable to achieve smooth communication with them. Certainly many factors are involved, but the differences in pace and movement, so clear in the dance sequence, were certainly part of the reason that she was unable to make the complete contact with the children.

 

 

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Last modified November 12, 2008