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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 Second Grade Class in Bethel

This class was taught by Mr. Scout, a young man of small stature who had taught several years in Alaska. In terms of this study he was an “Anglo” but perhaps only marginally, as he was the son of eastern European immigrants and had been raised in New York City (Collier, 1973: 93).

The class had some twenty-eight students, and the room was fairly small. As a result, there was not much open space, and seating was in rows of desks, although the students were not in them much of the time. This class had the highest proportion of non-Native students of any of the classes studied in detail.

The film coverage of the class opens with Mr. Scout in the back of the room, his hands cupped to his mouth, giving instructions to the class at large as they prepare for recess. While he is addressing the class, one of the boys approaches him and taps him on the chest in an attempt to get his attention. Mr. Scout, without breaking his focus of continuing instructions to the class, puts his hand on top of the boy’s hand. The boy moves back and gets something from a desk and returns. The teacher finishes talking and draws back with the boy toward the corner of the room where they can then be seen in communication. The process is a smooth flow of interaction from start to finish. Mr. Scout had continued his directions to the group, signaled the boy that the message was received, and had then followed up with the attention that the student had sought. Significantly, the coverage of the class starts with a student initiating communication with a teacher and getting an immediate and smooth response, an occurrence quite rare in most of the classes-but common to this one. In fact, this brief sequence almost defies the nature of teacher-to-student relations in this class (Illus. 107-110).

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While Mr. Scout and the boy talk, the rest of the class close up their desks and move to the front of the room where they get their coats and congregate around the door. The teacher then comes to the front of the room and puts on his coat. The whole class is now in the small space in the front of the room, milling around, but with no congestion or friction of movements. Their pace is shared, and they have a good sense of each other’s whereabouts, making it possible to move around without bumping into one another. Several of the students approach Mr. Scout to talk to him, apparently about something on the floor as all eyes turn down toward something off-camera. Then the class casually go out the door without lining up; and, in the midst of them, goes the teacher, leaving several students unsupervised in the classroom. According to John Collier, this was quite unusual, indeed unique, in the classes he observed (Collier, private communication). Others have noted that school and state regulations often forbid teachers to leave students unsupervised in classrooms (Connelly, private communication). Whether or not this was the case in Alaska is not known, but it is a significant reflection of Mr. Scout’s confidence in the children that he did leave them unsupervised.

The students that remain in the classroom are all busy. One boy is working at his desk with pencil and book, oblivious to three girls who busy themselves putting away a large roll of paper and then distributing cups and napkins to all the desks. One girl, moving down each row, pours milk into the cups. All of the students in the room appear to be very sure of themselves. There is no hesitation to their movements which are smooth and relaxed. This sense of purpose and direction, with and without the presence of the teacher, was characteristic of this class and sets it apart from all other classes filmed, with the exception of the Head Start class. It is particularly important to note that both here and later, the children had purpose and direction even when the teacher was absent.

The other students start to drift back in, followed by the teacher. They sit down and start to eat crackers and drink milk while Mr. Scout sits in front and reads a European folk tale. He is expressive in his reading style and makes many hand and arm gestures. The students sit listening intently while they eat. Some lean forward in their desks and, a great deal of the time, they focus their attention on the teacher. They are quite relaxed in this behavior, and some students alternate between books on their own desks and the story the teacher is reading. It is not clear whether they are following the reading in the book or are looking at books unconnected with the story.

The snack period and reading ends, and the class cleans up and gets prepared for other activities. There is a surface appearance of chaos, but it becomes clear that the activities all have a purpose. Desks are cleared, things are put away, and the students begin to form into several distinct groups and areas of activity. With no apparent direction or burst of energy the class has gotten down to academic business. There are three reading groups in the back of the room, one of which is in the middle of the room and engaged in individual activities and two groups who are involved in art projects in the open space at the front of the room.

Throughout this process of getting organized, there is a great deal of interaction among students and between students and the teacher. In one brief period he talks briefly to ten different students either individually or in small groups. Some of these interactions he initiates; but fully half are clearly started by the students. His movements in these encounters are at the same pace as the students’. The flow of movements are smooth; there are no signs of friction or missed signals. This smoothness is particularly remarkable as most of these interactions take place while the participants are walking around (Illus. 111-116).

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The frequency and number of teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions in this class was unmatched in the total film sample. This section of the class also shows another feature which makes his class unique: the ability of the class to get itself together without the constant presence and direction of the teacher.

Once the groups are set, there is a great deal of interaction within them. Mr. Scout moves around for a periods and students pursue him with papers and questions and then return to their groups. Eventually he seats himself at the rear of the room with a reading group; fully half the class is out of his sight.

The camera focuses in on one of the art groups. They have rolled out a long sheet of paper and walk back and forth looking down at it. They move together as a group (Illus. 117-119).

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Mr. Scout can be seen, briefly, gesturing in wide rounded gestures to the group he is with. The camera pans back to the front of the room where most of the art group is down on the floor at one end of the paper, partially obscured from view by the desks. Two views of them show the intensity of their focus and the degree to which it is shared (Illus. 120-121).

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Two other students in the front of the room are working on separate projects on the floor. Both groups are quite active, their focus and concentration clear. Their bodies, bent over the papers, move back and forth, and their hands are busy. There is a great deal of interaction; they look up at each other and then down again at their work. This sequence shows what interested and involved students look like; their orientation is toward the project, and their movements are shared and coordinated. This is a group project, and they function as a group.

The students at the desks are working individually, mostly with Science Research Associates (SRA) reading materials. They glance up occasionally, but there is little drifting of attention from the materials. For the duration of this period there are students moving around all the time but always with an air of purpose. They come and go around the teacher throughout the period; he always responds.

Following a break in the filming, the next footage of this class shows that the students are involved with a math lesson. Mr. Scout is at the board, explaining a process and pointing out each step. The students are sitting and watching intently, some leaning forward or half-standing to get a better view (Illus. 122).

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They respond to questions with animation. After a while the teacher hands out sheets of paper, and the students work at them at their desks. Concentration is high; everyone is busy with problems or with occasional consultation with neighbors.

The teacher can be seen working with a number of individual students. He crouches on the floor next to them and looks at them a great deal, watching their responses. All his other movements and actions are directed toward the problems at the desk, as is the attention of the students who rarely look at the teacher but focus rather on the worksheets and what the teacher is showing them (Illus. 123-124).

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Most of these interactions are filmed in too little detail to make clear statements, but one sequence follows an interaction from start to completion. Mr. Scout walks down one row looking at students’ work. Spotting a problem, he stops beside one boy and starts to show him something on the worksheet (Illus. 125-127).

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Then, to explain the process more clearly, he gets up and returns with a number rod (set of wooden beads on a rod) which he and the boy set up while two other boys watch. In one sequence of this process he moves his hand across the table setting up the base while the boy picks up the rod and moves it across the desk getting it ready to place on the base. The movements of the teacher’s hand and the boy’s hand with the rod are at the same speed and follow each other across the desk in a flow of motion. With the rod in place, the teacher makes more explanations, waits for student response, explains more, then waits again. Waiting after explanations was characteristic of his style; there seemed to be no pressure for immediate response (Illus. 128-133).

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Earlier, Mr. Scout and individual students were seen in brief encounters that were notable for their frequency and their flow. This last sequence gives a suggestion of the foundation on which those interactions were probably based; i.e., long, patient, one-on-one interactions with students in which he was able to learn to move together with the students.

During this math period, the class as a whole is continuing in its high level of concentration. Later, as the students come close to finishing the assignment there is a little more restlessness. Students stand, stretch, then continue to work. When the class ends, the students get their coats and leave the room in the same easy manner described earlier.

This class is important in the film sample because it shows an Anglo teacher who has been able to create a class situation in which student-to-student interactions and teacher-to-student interactions are frequent and fluid and take place in the context of intense involvement with the processes of education. It suggests that it is possible for a non-Native teacher to make adjustments which lead to the, involvement of the Native children. This raises the question of how it is done. Mr. Scout seemed to base his success on a pattern of leaving much of the operation of classroom processes to students while he spent large portions of time making contact with individual or small groups of students. Additionally, many of the activities of the class were group activities requiring group interaction, unlike the characteristic pattern of other classes in which the curriculum was based on activities which students performed alone and apart from other students. The effect of this structuring of the class was to leave the control of pace and process very much in the hands of the students so that they were able to proceed at a pace and in a manner comfortable to them. Equally important, the classroom environment created by Mr. Scout was one in which it was possible for him to learn the movement patterns of the children and they to learn his. This was so because his interactions with them were often on an unhurried, informal, one-to-one level which allowed for mutual adjustments. The circumstances were a direct result of the way in which Mr. Scout had structured the class.

 

 

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Last modified November 12, 2008