11 October 2013

Part I: An American Educator's Thoughts on Girl Rising

This post is the first of three in which I share my thoughts and reflections related to the film, Girl Rising, and the ongoing campaign to educate girls and change the world.

My quest to explore girls' education in developing countries began several months ago when the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Cake & Whiskey sent me the trailer for the film Girl Rising and asked if I would consider writing an article for the do-gooding column of her magazine's fall issue.  Well, one look at the trailer, and who could resist?

In honor of International Day of the Girl, I used a chapter from the film, Girl Rising, with my students who are pre-service teachers.  In this university class we are always discussing standards and how to teach them.  Not only do we discuss how to teach the standards, we practice teaching the standards.  I model lessons, and the students also create their own lessons which they teach to their classmates.  While I think it's important  these pre-service teachers leave the class with a thorough understanding of standards based instruction and curriculum design, I also think it's important for them to leave inspired and motivated to engage learners in the world.

Suma inspires us.  Wearing a bright orange and yellow sari and a serious look on her face, Suma rides her bicycle along tree lined roads as she takes us on a journey to the various homes where she lived and worked as a bonded servant or Kamlari for much of her young life.  At six years of age, her parents sold her into bonded servitude to ensure she would always have shelter and food.  She lived with different masters and was treated unfairly and even beaten, until a school teacher entered her life at age 11.

Before watching the film chapter, Suma from Nepal, we analyze the vendor-created lesson plans and film viewing guide available on the Girl Rising website. Of course, the vendor says the materials are Common Core aligned, but what we learn is that the materials are loosely correlated to the standards, but they are not aligned to the standards.  In fact all the questions focus on how students feel about what they watch.

For example, consider this question:  How do you feel about Suma’s situation when she was a young girl? Would you define serving as a kamlari to be slavery? do you feel her parents had a choice about whether to sell her as a kamlari? Why or why not?

Now, I certainly believe film and literature can and, perhaps, even should have an impact on how we feel, respond, and take action in our lives, I also believe as educators we are charged with ensuring students have mastered the requisite skills needed to be successful in life (i.e., how to read and cite evidence from text and how to craft logical arguments).  In fact, in the film Girl Rising the girls' stories articulate the importance of learning to read and write to better their lives.

We set the purpose for viewing the film chapter, just as one would in a classroom full of adolescents.  Our purpose is to watch for the impact education had on Suma's life.  Following our viewing of the film chapter, we write for two minutes about our feelings after seeing the intense twelve minute clip.  After expressing our feelings through writing, we respond to our purpose setting question--What impact did education have on Suma's life?  Cite evidence from the text to support your point.

As a class we discuss how to modify the vendor-created viewing guide to make sure it really would be aligned to the standards, but we proceed with caution.  We want to maintain the humanity of the situation and the important issues and at the same time ensure comprehension of the text.

A sample of our class revisions:

Instead of--How do you feel about the social worker's determination?  

Let's use this--How did the social worker's determination impact Suma's life and the life of the girls around Suma?

I was really proud of the students for the modifications they made to the viewing guide. They left the class with smiles on their faces and determination in their steps because they know they will have an impact on adolescents in their classrooms both in America and abroad.  Many of them also recorded the date for our Lexington, KY Girl Rising Screening in their phones because they intend to attend and look for ways they will take action as well.

If you live in the area, please consider joining us on November 6th for the viewing at The Kentucky Theatre.

Part 2 of my thoughts & reflections on Girl Rising will post on October 16th, Blog Action Day.  Part 3 will post after our viewing on November 6th.