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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 Music Class in Bethel

The class involves the same group of students as were in Miss Kinderbelle’s class, and the same room is used. The students are seen with a different teacher, Mr. Music. He was a tall Anglo in his first year of teaching in Alaska and had responsibility for the music program of the school from kindergarten through high school. His specialty was the high school band program and he came to the kindergarten class once a week (Collier, 1973: 88-89).

As in the beginning of Miss Kinderbelle’s class, the students are seated in two rows of chairs: boys in front and girls in back, but without the intervening desk. As the film starts, the teacher is seated in front of the group, but soon he stands and remains standing for most of the remainder of the class. Since he is tall, the boys in the front row have to tilt their heads far back in order to follow him. Off to one side and moving around a great deal is the eighth boy mentioned as playing only a peripheral role in Miss Kinderbelle’s class.

The teacher begins by asking what they would have on a farm if they had a farm, leading up to the song, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” This analysis is not concerned directly with content or the verbal portion of the classes, but it might be noted that he gets no verbal reply to these questions, a not surprising response considering the hundreds of miles of snowy tundra surrounding the school. The children are fidgety, twisting and turning in their seats. Occasionally, some stand up and look around the room. None of these movements are group-wide but rather represent individual behavior with no clear connection to the actions of their classmates except in general character and pace. There are brief occasions when they focus in on the teacher, who is quick and linear in his movements, though not as much as Mr. Principal in Kwethluk. The peripheral eighth boy starts acting up for the camera at this point, making faces and going through contortions. The rest of the class does not pay any attention to him, but Mr. Music comes over and firmly pushes him down in his seat and admonishes him verbally and with hand gestures. The class starts to sing “Old MacDonald” and for a period focuses up at the teacher as he stands with his hands in his pockets, singing and keeping time with nods of his head (Illus. 95-96).

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After a while, this unity begins to collapse as the students again begin to look around the room and fidget in their seats. At one point the song changes to one with a key line: “Little Peter Rabbit had a cold upon his chest, and he rubbed it with camphorated oil” sung to the tune of “John Brown’s Body.” The teacher can be seen rubbing his chest to emphasize this treatment.

Student attention continues to fluctuate, and there is no synchronization of pace even though they are singing. The boy who acted up for the camera has been moved off to one side following more contortions. The scene concludes shortly after he is moved.

While student attention toward the teacher was sporadic compared to the Head Start class already described, it was still more sustained than in the earlier session with Miss Kinderbelle. This may have been because there was a more clearly defined group activity, singing. The improvement was only relative, however, and Mr. Music was unable to sustain the periods of attention and involvement that he occasionally created.

The teacher followed “Little Peter Rabbit” with a session of singing the ABCs. The format changed somewhat as individual students were brought forward to point out the letters on a chart and sing them. The coverage starts with the teacher and one of the boys standing by the alphabet chart, the boy pointing and singing. Almost immediately the teacher grabs the boy’s wrist and moves it along the chart. There is no flow to this process, the teacher and student being out of sync both in pace and style. The teacher speeds up his progress down the row of letters and introduces hand movements with abrupt pauses at each letter which are so forceful that they bend the chart back at the point of impact. As in the earlier example of Miss Kinderbelle manipulating the boy in the dancing scene, the student goes passive and is dragged along by the teacher. The boy’s shoulders and hips become discordant in their relationship to his hand movements and his body is thrown out of balance. This lack of balance and coordination is not altogether clear in the still form of the film (Illus. 97-99).

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A girl follows, and the teacher starts her down the row and lets go of her arm to turn and encourage the rest of the class. Her movements become smoother and more balanced: note, for example, in the still photo that her arm and body are more closely linked than when the teacher was moving her (Illus. 100-106).

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When she reaches “T” the teacher suddenly grabs her wrist and brings her back one letter, the whole motion taking about one second, and lets her continue. In both this correcting movement and the earlier guidance the teacher’s movements speeded up the girl’s movements, stretched her out and threw her body off balance. Her movements and the teacher’s are completely out of sync and there is very little flow in the interaction. The teacher interrupts her flow of movement but is not able to get her to match his, or his to match hers.

Throughout this lesson the rest of the class sings along but with the same irregular behavior described earlier: fidgeting, attention wandering, rocking back and forth but with no shared pattern to their actions.

The final scene of the film shows the class first standing in front of their chairs while the teacher starts to get them dancing and then marching in a circle around the room to music from a record the teacher has started to play. The movement around the chairs is somewhat slower and there is a bit more unison than in the similar activity with Miss Kinderbelle. But the film record is too brief to see whether or not this pattern is maintained and what its characteristics are.

Both Mr. Music and Miss Kinderbelle consistently cut across the flow of student movements, breaking up their involvement with the activities they were engaged in. These interruptions cannot have served to enhance the messages that the two teachers were trying to convey when they attempted these interactions and most likely served to make all communications with the children more difficult. That the children were capable of developing flowing interactions with each other was demonstrated on two occasions by the girls, both times with the teacher absent. With rare and momentary exceptions, no such patterns of flow developed during activities directed by the teachers and the general pattern was one of chaotic, undirected non-verbal behavior which suggests that the general process of education was far from what it might have been. It is important that in neither case could the teachers be charged with being lazy or not trying, although they did not exhibit the intense effort put forth by Mr. Principal.

 

 

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Last modified November 12, 2008