Narrative Update

Reflections from Deb Barone: Assessing Student Attitudes and Activities
A questionnaire was sent to Lawn Avenue school teacher Deb Barone to gather additional information about the project and the student's activities and attitudes. The Lawn Avenue School in Jamestown, RI is a 5-8 middle school with a dedicated parent population and smaller classes. Getting students interested in the program has not been hard. They are very willing to try new things. It is believed that increasing student interest will increase attendance. This is not practical to test at The Lawn Ave School because attendance is already high (near 95% daily).

Student attitude is an area I am studying and looking for changes. The students are described as “very excited” while having periods of lower excitement when demands from other classes are higher. Some group dynamics have gone through changes since the beginning of the project; most notably leadership among the groups has evolved, “Their groups have changed dynamics a few times...the people that started out as strong leaders have backed off a bit and others have stepped forward (as they have learned they do have things to offer).” Deb reports that the “original leaders” have learned that everyone in the group has a value and can contribute in a unique way. There have been struggles and changes in mood. On a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest level of interest, the students are described as being an 8 at the start of the project, a 5 when the work level increased (research, scripting, storyboarding) and is now at a 10. Deb additionally shares that consistently the students are “laughing, sharing, discussing and growing while having a good time.”

As the students have progressed, their group effort and listening has increased. A few of the quieter students have moved into leadership roles in their groups and seem to “be the solid rocks…the consistent ones which keep the group on task.” Deb continues to describe the variety of group dynamics with the spontaneous early group leaders given way to more steadfast students with better follow through. This could possible be a result of the realization that the project has many facets that demand attention and must be completed and built upon. The students are more accepting of one another and have increased their listening skills. As my experiences have shown, there is a great variety of skills that are necessary in a film project and this allows for a great variety of strengths to emerge among the student groups. Deb offers, “once they shifted leadership roles and ideas started to come they forgot to worry about being ‘cool’ which is fun to watch!”

Interest and initiative are also indicators of the program’s success and effectiveness. As their overall interest has ebbed and flowed, so to has their initiative. As the pieces of the project are starting to come together, the students are reportedly showing a greater level of initiative. Deb reports that the kids are often highly involved in projects and their work but the Student Provocateurs Program is “very different” because it is “unveiling” each child’s strong points. “While someone else may love to write vs. some one who wants to draw...and so on they are happy in their places and are thriving.”

The goal of the Student Provocateur Program is to increase student voice and bring attention to important issues. I have asked Deb to comment on actions the students were taking to prepare to provoke dialogue among adults. She reports that they have considered it in the structure of the script. The story the students have come up with builds on being adults are reflecting back to when they were “young” at Lawn Avenue School. They revisit many childhood memories and have worked a great deal of powerful information into the story line. It seems they have kept their focus on provoking dialogue and have chosen a story line that would have maximum impact.

Time constraints remain the largest concern about the feasibility of the program. I have been asked to consider the amount of time it would take a teacher to move from start to finish. This is clearly an important feature of the program that will be critical to its success with other schools. Overall, faculty members and administration are excited about the program even if they seem to not fully grasp the finer points. Deb also adds that in her 26 years of teaching, it is easier to stay with what you know and are comfortable with. “What a be given time and space to be kids, to be creative and to be proud of what they have done...out of the normal school curriculum.”