Reading Media – Audience Perspective (2/14/13)

February, for us, has been focused on the art of storytelling.  We focus on this as each of them grapples with their ideas and how to express them with details that one who listens can imagine and feel as if they are right there with them.  Layered with this is envisioning how to tell the story in a visual format.  In Chirijox, much of storytelling has been based in an oral tradition.  Their exposure to multimodal media is not quite the same as those of us growing up in a media rich culture.  In this small village, youth do not start their days with computers and iPhones.  When they wake at 5 AM, their mornings start with whatever needs to be done in the home (washing clothes, doing dishes, shopping in the market, preparing for meals, etc.).

corn laundry

After a morning of work, they might work on homework before they go off to school.  In this group, school begins at 1 PM and ends at 6 PM.  Some of them have jobs outside of school and others do more to help at home.  Media, movies, TV, etc., don’t find their way into a significant chunk of their day.

This is not to say of course that there is not exposure to media.  Of course there is.  Yet like many of us, we consume media without thinking about the meaning that the author is attempting to convey.  So today, our focus was on critical analysis of media – from the perspective of the audience.  We watched the introductions of “Beasts of the Southern Wild”.  I like this as an example for many reasons.  The film is beautifully shot and the introduction is a good way for us to revisit the shots that they have learned (close, medium, and long).  In addition, the storyboarding of this introduction acts as a great tool for discussing the purpose of each shot and how each shot slowly tells an unfolding story.



After we watch the intro, I ask them to write a reflection on it.  What do you know about the setting and the main character from this introduction   How is the director bringing you into the story?

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The kids vacillated between writing and thinking.  Sometimes they looked into the air as to catch their thoughts.  I thought that this would be a 10 minute exercise, but they asked for more time to write.  When we finished  I asked them to share what they wrote.  Instead of writing a reflection of the introduction, they wrote their ideas about what their introductions might look like.  Is this a case of language barrier? I’m not sure, but probably.  Their ideas were great, yet, I was also interested in what they drew from the movie to give them ideas for their own introductions.  I wanted to know what, if any, connections they were making.  But when asked about the introduction, they mostly would respond with, “It was good” or “I liked it.”  Some responses were a little more detailed, but I knew that we had to go deeper.


Julio joined us right as each of them shared what they wrote.  He arrived just in time to help me with my Spanish as I tried to break down the introduction scene by scene.  I was trying to model what I was asking them to think about as they watched the opening scenes.    IMG_3830

First scene:  What kind of shot is this? Plano General. Why would the director start with this?  Then we went further: What do you hear? What do you see?  What do we know right now about this place? What feeling do you have?


Scene 2: What kind of shot is this? Cerca.  Where has the director taken us now? Inside the house.  Who is he introducing? The main character.  What do we know about her so far?  What do you hear? What do you see?  What do we know right now about this place? What feeling does it evoke?  IMG_3836

Scene by scene, we deconstruct the introduction. As we go on, I talk less, and they interpret more.  My hope was to show another example of how telling a story comes in different forms.  Right now, each of them is holding sternly to starting their story with:  Hi, my name is… come with me to learn about…  While we are fine with this if it is the way they would like to proceed; we would also like to illustrate that there are multiple ways to tell a story.  We want to remind them also to draw on their storytelling practices that they know within their community.  We want to emphasize, that in this artistic process, remember their experiences and know… you are limited only to your imagination!


Another Thursday in Chirijox! (on 2/6/13)

We (Marisol – the Director of Education at Maya Traditions and I) arrived in Chirijox.  We go every week at 9 AM to work with this group before they go to school at 1 PM.


I arrived agenda in hand and ready to engage the kids in peer editing, documentary discussions, and generating more ideas.  As a professor, I have learned to plan for the time that I spend with my students, but I have also learned that those plans might go right out the window.  Be prepared to be flexible and be in the moment.  It sounds kind of like I’m in yoga, when I say this, but it really is true, especially when you are working with kids.

They were asked to expand their story ideas for this coming week. After having an opportunity to meet Julio last week and hear his personal experience related to the civil unrest; and after hearing Pamela Yates talk about how she found the story of her documentary once she met Rigoberta Menchú, I thought, great, the kids are getting great examples of storytelling!  I left them last week thinking they would be able to expand their story ideas.

I came back only to find that there was a lot of confusion around their direction.  Most did very little if any writing. They were feeling a little unsettled and once that happens, kids (and adults) often tend toward a desire for structure.  And ask for structure they did.  They said that every time that I talk to them there is a different direction. They insisted that they needed a schedule of what they were doing and when.  Of course this was hardly the point, since the objective is to have them direct this with me.  Yet this is not surprising in the least.  I fully empathize with their feeling in this moment.  While this conversation unfolded, their body language was anything but enthusiastic.


This, I told them with the help of Marisol, is one of the challenges of language barriers.

Marisol .

We discussed that they interpreted that I wanted them to talk about the problems in their community because of the example I showed them from the project in the Dominican Republic.  But that I was simply illustrating one possible direction to take.  The presentations by Pamela and Julio were other possible directions.  I reminded them that it is their role and responsibility to have a voice in what they want.  I will help guide, but the story needs to be a passion that comes from within.  Yes, we’ll investigate the historical groundings of these things, but the story is yours.  I reminded them that their story ideas are about their communities – problems and solutions.  Eyes widened and heads nodded.  Whew, disaster averted! Tensions turned to smiles and on we went to work.

A new direction for Catalina and Fabiola:  The more we shared ideas, the more Catalina and Fabiola realized that their stories were connected.  They decided that they will work together – blending their ideas of telling about weaving, the importance of sheep that provide the thread for their traditional clothes.  We worked to bring their ideas together talking….


and viewing an intro to “Beasts of the Southern Wild” to think about how to introduce an idea in a visual way.


Carmen, Marcos and Emilio will stay with their original ideas, with a new eye toward investigating the problems they care about and imaging possible solutions.


As we moved forward, Marisol worked hard reading, editing, and commenting on the writing.  I know that this would be incredibly difficult if not impossible without her!


And so we left this week, all feeling happy once again.  What stuggles will the youth will have between now and next week?  I’m sure that there will be some, but at this juncture, they have identified personal plans for their what they will accomplish between now and then. In this light, the conversation should be more on level rather than looking for “authority” to tell them their next steps!  Looking forward to next week.

Tentative Stories

At this moment, these are the plans of what they youth aim to write:

Marco will write about his parent’s daily walk to work. He uses this to set the stage for the sacrifices that his parents made to ensure that he and his siblings would go to school.

Lisa will write about her experience traversing to worlds. What is it like for her to be in a private English speaking school, and living in a small Guatemalan community.

Carmen, the future farmer, will discuss her connection with nature. She aims to illustrate the convince us why we need to caring for it and respecting it. In the process, we will see the more symbolic and historical connections to nature.

Emilio’s story opens with a powerful message about the danger of alcohol abuse. He shares an intimate and tragic story that affected him and his entire family. His story will also explore and investigate this issue as a deeper historically influenced problem not only in his own community but also in surrounding communities.

Manuel will interview his family about their experience moving to and living in Guatemala.  From the interviews, he will find the emerging story.

Fabiola radiates with energy when she talks about become a weaver. In her story, she will share the ancient practice of weaving, its symbolism for communities in Guatemala and how it represents the unrelenting resilience of many women in this country.

Elmy is interested in learning about a village near her hometown Santiago. She is generating questions to ask the impoverished local community to better understand the hardiness of this often forgotten lakeside village.

Edgar wants to talk about his mother. She raised him as a single parent. He will tell us about that history and why he holds her in such high esteem.

Sucely is interested in exploring the story of young motherhood.  This comes from watching her sister have a child at a young age.

Catalina’s will introduce the abundance of sheep in her village. These animals are genuine and symbolic resources because they provide the thread used to make their traditional clothes, which is a critical aspect of many indigenous identities here in Guatemala.


We all are enjoying having Emilio with us. You might remember that he was in the opening scene of one in the sample video we posted after our first workshop. Emilio is always smiling and as a result always keeps us smiling. He is a great writer so we look forward to seeing how his personal story unfolds.


Lisa is 15.  She has been at the Life School since she was in Kindergarten.  She can be found helping her mother on a daily basis at the school.  Lisa’s mother buys and cooks food and carries it to the school each day.  Lisa helps by collecting money and recording food orders.  Today, we introduce Lisa: