A throwback to one of my favorite episodes of last year (feel free to skip ahead to the movie, which speaks for itself, but should you find yourself curious as to the riveting backstory, read on):
Last November, the Middle School English classes were tasked with coming up with a short presentation for the rest of the school about our work so far in the year.
Class 8 expertly wove together a PowerPoint and drama relating poignant insights and pressing questions regarding their exploration of culture and education. Class 6 smoothly introduced their work about the meaning of home, explaining about the looming rising sea levels confronting the community on the Cartaret Islands.
Class 7, on the other hand, was a class infamously divided into gendered cliques, notorious for their struggle to collaborate productively. Class projects had consistently disintegrated into one group or the other dominating, while other students fiddled on the fringes or duplicated effort in parallel. We had had numerous conversations on the issue, focusing primarily on their self-evaluation of their group work process and secondarily on the product that resulted, which usually suffered for its lack of unity and responsive cooperation.
The first few days of this particular challenge proved no different. As I bit my tongue and wrestled to stay in the corner even as whole class periods spiraled into malfunction, hoping to allow them the opportunity to rise to the occasion of this just-out-of-their-reach puzzle, I watched different facets of the class respectively take over or disengage. We’d begin each next session with a familiar reflection: “How well do you think we met our group work goals yesterday? Was everybody involved? Did we respect each other? Did we create one cohesive product?”
Then one tired afternoon, the class gathered around the whiteboard on the far edge of the field, brainstorming around their latest idea: to make a movie (fascinated as they always are with the chance to manipulate new technology). They ripped the marker from each other’s hands, working out roles and characters. The marvelous part was that they began debating with each other: a little more roughly than I hoped they would learn to, but nonetheless, fabulously, pushing back against each other. This meant they were listening and responding to their classmates’ ideas. In this heated step of the process is where I think the project was really, finally born, where their best ideas took shape, the brainchildren of various and diverse voices.
As they got deeper into the project in the following days, the class absolutely bloomed. Direct attention to their group work process took a backseat to their excitement about the task itself. They borrowed my camera and (phenomenally resourcefully) the music-rich cell phone of another teacher during their lunch periods and met up of their own accord to film the opening scenes you’re about to enjoy. As I shadowed them hither and yon during English period proper, I watched Dorjee Wangchuk work the camera, and Sonam operate as sound technician, as they repeatedly counted down to engage “play” and “record” in tandem. Classmates on the sidelines shouted suggestions between takes, pointed but constructive, and I literally only sat and watched as this drama unfolded, totally organized, all on its own; I was the only obsolete observer out of the communicative loop, my expert guidance not only rendered extraneous but my very presence as good as forgotten in the excitement and fervor of their independent ingenuity (Tsering Lhadron A turned up at the driveway, artfully smeared by Lungta with charcoal she had manifested from who knows where, as her classmates similarly appeared, clad in their own respective costumes, laden with borrowed blankets and all their friends’ shoes). In short, it was a joy to witness.
So, I’ll end by introducing this film the same way I did before its premiere at the English Performance last November: I’m thrilled by this product, meticulously directed and crafted, resonant in its message of teamwork and care, but most of all I am proud of this group for the process behind this masterpiece—the engagement, listening, leadership and cooperation that they enacted in pulling this together, together—which I think resounds in every aspect their final result.
(The technical additions of iMovie, entirely selected and applied by the half of the class that huddled around my room, soon erupting in delighted giggles, the night they finished filming, also don’t detract from the narrative’s lively and creative spirit.)