Ending & Beginning

This past week was our final one working with our TMS Boston scholars in the Computer Clubhouse at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club. On Monday and Thursday, we held our final classes of the workshop, and on Friday we hosted our finale showcase, where our scholars had the opportunity to share their completed “Where I’m From” digital stories with their fellow Club member peers, with Club staff and administrators, and, most importantly, with their family members who were able to attend the showcase.


Our scholars spent the final two classes in post-production, working with Fellows and interns on taking their digital content and editing and organizing it all into a final product in iMovie. After reviewing each others’ draft versions of their digital stories, scholars provided each other with feedback on how they could improve their stories. All of the scholars’ agreed that their stories could benefit from more scholar-produced imagery, and so we worked together as a TMS team (scholars and Fellows and interns alike) to take photos and videos, with everyone rotating the responsibility of being the camera operator or the director or an actor. Once these last acts of production were finished, scholars focused the rest of their class time (as well as some of their free time outside of class) in post-production. Fellows and interns worked with scholars to help them learn the intricacies of iMovie, and slowly but surely each scholar’s digital story came together. By the end of class on Thursday, our scholars had completed their “Where I’m From” digital stories, and were ready to share them with the world.


The next day was the finale showcase, and each scholar arrived early for TMS class. It was evident to all of us that they were both excited and somewhat nervous to share their digital stories. We had each scholar cue up their digital story on separate iMacs on different tables in the middle of the Computer Clubhouse. We discussed how scholars should introduce their stories, and encouraged them to share with their audience about the process they went through in making their digital stories as well as what they learned in doing so.


At 3:00 pm, one scholar’s father and another scholar’s grandmother arrived right on time for the showcase. We explained to them that they could view their scholar’s and the other scholars’ stories at that time, but that we would wait for more audience members to arrive in order to share all of the stories at once. Thus, in the meantime, we would encourage visitors to view scholars’ stories in a “gallery walk” fashion at their leisure. The scholar whose grandmother had arrived first wanted to wait for his father to be present to show his story, and so his grandmother graciously respected his wish and waited. Over time, some Club members and staff filtered into the Computer Clubhouse and rotated to each scholar’s table and watched their digital story with them. Our scholars did a great job of explaining the genesis of their stories and the process they went through in making them. By around 3:45 pm, we reach a critical mass of audience members in the room, including South Boston Boys and Girls Club leadership and the father of the scholar who was anxiously awaiting his arrival. At that time, I asked for everyone’s attention and welcomed them to our TMS finale showcase. I explained what TMS does as an organization, as well as what our scholars did over the course of our workshop. Then, each scholar was presented with a certificate by a Fellow or intern who had worked closely with them on their digital story. And finally we held a mass viewing of each scholar’s digital story.


The last story to be shown was that of the scholar who had his grandmom and his father in attendance. I could tell that he was both excited and anxious to show his story. Even I was somewhat anxious, as I knew that the scholar shared some very personal things about his family, and his dad in particular, in his story. What made me slightly nervous was when the scholar speaks about his father’s occupation as an electrician, and how his father has always pushed his son to do something “more than” being an electrician. The scholar speaks eloquently and powerfully about how his father and mother want what is best for him, and want him to succeed, and don’t want him to struggle in the same manner that they have had to struggle at times to provide for themselves and their family. I was slightly nervous because you can never truly tell how someone who is not completely familiar with digital storytelling will react when part of their story is being told by a loved one. I watched the family as they and the rest of the audience watch the digital story. From the very beginning, the scholar was sitting in a seat in front of the computer, and his father stood behind him with his hands on his son’s shoulders, while the scholar’s grandmom stood to their side. All three of them watched and listened intently throughout the story. When it came to an end, amidst the applause of the audience, the scholar looks up at his dad who was looking down at him. He told his son that he was proud of him and that he loved him, and he gave him a kiss on his forehead.


After the applause died and the crowd dispersed, the scholar took his father and grandmom into the media room to show them how he mad made his digital story. As he did so, I watched from afar. I was proud of him for telling his truth, and happy for him that he got to share it with his family that cares about so much, and who obviously love him beyond my ability to comprehend. I was proud of my scholars, each of whom had opened themselves up and given their all to their digital stories and to each other. I was proud of Franklin, Nicole, and Sam, and all the hard work they had put into guiding and supporting our scholars. I was proud of TMS, as much a movement as it is an organization, and one that has amplified the voices of youth near and far.


But what I felt more viscerally than any other emotion was a simple but powerful awe. Awe at the stories of our scholars. Awe at the power of their stories. Awe at the power of storytelling – to create, to connect, to liberate.


And awe at the fact that while this moment was in many ways an ending, it was also a beginning.


And for that, I am beyond grateful.


Ever onward.


– Rich


Intern, Sam’s reflections on the experience of working with The Modern Story:

Since TMS was essentially my first job working with kids, it really taught me about the challenges and numerous benefits of this practice. It taught me that to work with kids you must put yourself out there and although that is difficult at points, you will see results and wonderful relationships form as a result. The Modern Story aims to get children to see themselves and their world through a different lens that they may not always have the opportunity to use. During my time with TMS I saw that this ability lies within all of the children we worked with and they simply needed someone to hand them the tools to express it. 



Where I’m From

A "Where I'm From" script draftThe first two weeks of our TMS Boston workshop have been an exciting and engaging experience for Fellows and scholars alike. Our first class focused on introducing ourselves to each other, as well as introducing our scholars to digital storytelling. After an initial icebreaker and a brief discussion about Community Code – how we would treat each other and, ultimately, create a safe space for us to share out stories with each other during our TMS classes – I shared my “Where I’m From” digital story. In planning the workshop, the other Fellows and I decided to encourage the scholars to create their own “Where I’m From” digital stories as a result of the high level of interest expressed by the Boys and Girls Club members when we showed them “Where I’m From” digital stories created by TMS Newark (NJ) Scholars during our recruiting efforts for the TMS Boston workshop. The members became noticeably energized and inquisitive when we followed the “Where I’m From” digital stories with a selection of those made by TMS Hyderabad scholars and informed them that the digital stories they would make in our TMS Boston workshop would provide them with the opportunity to share about themselves, their community, and their culture with TMS scholars in India and beyond. Based on their enthusiasm and interest, we decided to model our own digital stories in this manner.


I was admittedly nervous about sharing my digital story, as it is the first one I’ve ever made, and it addresses some very personal experiences and issues that mean a great deal to me. Most importantly, I hoped that my digital story would serve as a good example and even an inspiration to the Scholars in their envisioning of their own stories that they would be telling. To my relief and delight, as soon as my story finished, everyone in the classroom started clapping immediately, and I knew from that moment onward that we would be able to accomplish great things within such a supportive community of digital storytellers.


One of our Fellow interns, Sam, showed her digital story after mine, and she too received a rousing ovation from the scholars.

After viewing both digital stories, we discussed the common themes between both of them, as well as the different images and Sam and I had used to tell our story. The scholars then brainstormed a list of images they would potentially use in their own “Where I’m From” digital stories and shared them with each other. Since it was their first time sharing with each other, some of the scholars were a bit timid, but once the “sharing juices” got flowing, those who were quiet began to participate, and we got to see how many great ideas were percolating amongst our eager scholars.


The rest of the first class was devoted to discussing general storytelling principles and practices, what digital storytelling is and what are the elements that go into making a digital story, and what type of digital stories the scholars would be making as new members of TMS. We ultimately ran out of time by the end of the first class due to th fact that the discussions we were engaging in had every scholar participating and contributing their ideas and opinions. The energy level was high, every scholar was engaged with each topic, and the scholars would build off of each others’ ideas while showing an impressive respect for each other and our collective space. My fellow TMS Fellow, Franklin, as well as the Fellow interns, Sam and Nicole, came away from the first class very impressed by ur scholars and energized for the classes to come.


The second, third, and fourth classes served to ease the scholars into the digital storytelling process, with the goal of having them draft their scripts during the second class, complete their scripts and storyboards in the third class, and actively producing audio and visual content in classes 3 and 4 during the second week. After Nicole shared her “Where I’m From” story at the beginning of class 2, scholars shared about a personal object that reminded them of where they’re from that we asked them to speak about with their peers.

This served as a good segue to sharing the TMS Newark scholars’ digital stories as an example of what our scholars could do with their own “Where I’m From” stories. After viewing these videos, scholars spent the remaining time brainstorming ideas for their stories and turning their ideas into scripts. Class 3 had scholars finishing their scripts and turning them into storyboards. Fellows and interns worked with scholars to adapt their ideas into scripts and storyboards that worked best for each individual scholar’s style. For example, one scholar expressed himself best verbally, and so Nicole decided that it would be best to ask him the brainstorming questions we had prepared for the scholars and to record his responses. In doing so, the scholar produced an impressive amount of audio narration content that they then worked together to cut down into more manageable pieces that could be edited into the final digital story. Two other scholars preferred to write short poems in the mold of the TMS Newark scholars, and so Sam and Franklin helped them complete their scripts and storyboards in a manner that supported their vision and complemented their skills. Class 4 had Fellows teaching scholars about audio (voiceovers and sounds) and visual (photos and videos) production using our digital cameras. After putting the finishing touches on their scripts and storyboards (their “text” content), scholars began creating their audio and visual content. They recorded their voiceovers, took photos, and researched images online that matched their text content. Scholars also began working on iMovie on the Boys and Girls Club’s iMacs in their Computer Clubhouse media room with support from Fellows and interns alike.

At the end of two weeks of TMS classes, and with only one more week to go, I find myself beyond inspired by our scholars and my peers. We are all working together to bring our stories to life, and in doing so, we are learning about each other and ourselves. It strikes me that this is the point. This is the reason we are doing what we are doing. This is why TMS does what it does. This is why I wanted to serve as a fellow. Because I believe we all have a great to deal share with and to learn from others, and that such elemental acts of reciprocity and respect are the primary means by which we may change our lives, our communities, and our world for the better. I am grateful for this experience, for my colleagues, and for my scholars. And I look forward to our final classes together.

Meet Rich

We are all scholars. This is what I tell the students, families, and educators whom I’ve served as a scholar myself. We all have knowledge of value to share with one another, and we all have the capacity both to learn and to teach. It is only by engaging each other as scholars – to learn as we teach, and to teach as we learn – that we can begin to access the innumerable learning networks that surround us. I believe that there is never a time nor a place that we are not learning, and as such I’ve always been in “school,” and I’ve always been a scholar.

My first teacher was my mother. Not because her profession deemed her so – as she has always been a teacher, and a great one at that – but rather because of her approach to how she raised me. The places she brought me and the experiences to which she exposed me were all focused on my development as a learner. Whether it was reading to me every day, or her encouragement of my love for Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, or our frequent trips to parks and the local library, I learned from an early age that learning was not a compartmentalized practice within this act called “living,” but rather the essential element of life itself.

For as long as I can remember, stories have been my favorite form of learning. As a child, some of my most cherished memories are of my mother and father and teachers reading stories to me, and the best gifts I received were the books that transported me to far-away lands and introduced me to amazing characters and cultures. As an adult, I regularly immerse myself in all manner of storytelling, from novels to short stories to to documentary films to op-eds to interviews to simple stories told by elders at the kitchen table or over an evening fire.

I first joined TMS not as a Teaching Fellow, but as an ally who shared a vision for developing transformative models for community-based education. Having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Zambia and as a community school director in West Philadelphia, I was immediately drawn to the work of The Modern Story and the stories of its students when I first met Remy and Piya in 2013. As I got to know TMS’ founders and as I gradually educated myself about digital storytelling, I couldn’t resist my growing desire to play a role in helping The Modern Story grow and evolve so that it can serve children like my scholars at Wilson Community School in West Philly, and my families in Katukutu village in Central Province, Zambia.

So, having spent the past year and a half working on various strategic planning projects, I now face my most challenging TMS role yet – to do the work that is most important and serve as a TMS Teaching Fellow. Over the course of the month of July, I have the great responsibility and incredible opportunity to work with TMS scholars in the Computer Clubhouse at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club. We will be learning about digital storytelling, watching and discussing the digital stories of TMS scholars from Hyderabad, India and other communities around the world, and creating our own personal digital stories. With that in mind, I am proud to share the first digital story I’ve ever made. I’d like to dedicate it to my family, my friends, my teachers, and my scholars. In so many ways, there are all but one in the same. Because we are all scholars, and I am because we are.

Anilady: Our Town

Heading to Anilady was like driving into a dream: while sounds of soothing Tamil pop played over the car stereo, we drove past acres of palm trees, rice paddies, peanut farms, and quietly grazing cows. 40 minutes into this drive into rural Tamil Nadu we arrived at Sacred Heart School– a massive yellow cathedral in the midst of one story houses and palm frond-roof stables.

Drive to Anilady

Drive to Anilady

We were in Anilady in early October through a partnership with Communities Rising, an organization that brings after school programs to rural villages in Tamil Nadu and one TMS has worked with for several years. We didn’t know exactly what to expect aside from that the students spoke Tamil and were coming in over their school break to learn about movie making. Videos in the past have ranged from music videos to features on cleanliness. Regardless, the drive made one thing clear: we were not in Hyderabad anymore.

And these were certainly not Hyderabad students. Though they shared common traits of being very enthusiastic about getting their hands on the camera, making up stories, and showing off their dance, mehendi, and biking skills to us, their skill levels were different from students we have in the city. The students had previously been trained on computers through CR and had extra time after school to play around with programs like Photoshop, so the simpler tasks that have become a headache to teach at Hyderabad’s schools (like clicking and dragging, creating a folder, right clicking, saving) were something we could pass right over. It was clear that the extra help and individual attention they received at these schools was key to them getting to the next level of working with cameras and video editing. But their English skills were not as advanced as our Hyderabad students, likely because there were not as many opportunities to practice. But that being said, we had incredible support from the CR and Sacred Heart staff (and extended group of friends). Nelson, Agni, Siva, Mario, and Seenu were absolutely crucial to making this project work. They translated and joked around with the students to make them feel more comfortable with the new subject matter and teachers. I think this was a major contribution to our final project– you quickly see how willing the students were to be open about tough subjects and welcome us into their village home.

After a day of brainstorming we came up with four things that the students noticed about their village. First, they loved the food

Tearing banana leaves for plates

Tearing banana leaves for plates

and festivals. Dosas, peanuts, and (the festival) Pongal were all brought up right away. But they also knew there were things in the village they wanted to improve, like alcohol abuse which has affected families, and power cuts which have affected farming and other industries. With this nuanced look at their community, we decided to tackle all four issues over the next week.

The week was a whirlwind of filming around the entire village. Rachel’s group, which worked on food, ventured to peanut fields and showed how to make a homemade dosa. Dara’s group followed the effect of power cuts from the home to the farm to the local spice factory. Nandini’s group recreated the Pongal celebration (which included bringing a cow on school grounds). My group

Anilady portraits

Post-mehendi portraits

created a fiction film about a man who is an alcoholic, but changes and becomes a better father, husband, and worker. While in Hyderabad we are mainly confined to school grounds, here we could make the whole village our movie set, and due to that you can really get a feel of what life is like in Anilady.

Overall, we had so much fun with the Anilady students and were very pleased with the movie they filmed and edited. A huge thanks to the Communities Rising organization for making this happen. It was easily one of the most memorable weeks of our fellowship.

Stay tuned for the video from our other school, Vikravandi!


Anilady group picture

Anilady group picture

Meet Karis

When you’re young, you’re likely to have big dreams. Mine were pretty much as big as you can imagine. From year to year I decided I was destined to be a professional soccer player, a fashion designer, a CEO, and even a dolphin trainer. However, throughout all of these ambitious career choices, I kept doing one thing, just because I loved it: storytelling. I made newspapers for my friends, classes, and family starting at age seven, and started taking photos daily when I was 12. Finally one day I wised up and realized that I should probably think about doing what I did everyday anyway for a living. So I decided to become a professional storyteller, or as I usually call it, a journalist.

That dream has become a reality in some of the most incredible ways. I’ve reported for major newspapers and radio stations, and traveled to every corner of cities and around the world in the search for a story. To me, storytelling is the best way to make sense of your life, explore a new place, and interact with others. If you can put a human face on an issue or explain a complicated idea in a simple way, oftentimes you have made sense of it yourself and you can convince people to make a difference in the world. I’m motivated by action, and I’ve found a notebook and camera is the best way for me to spur action in the world. Storytelling was also the only way that I dealt with some tough issues in my life. Growing up, especially when you’re young, can be quite challenging. Asking questions, writing down thoughts, and expressing yourself in words and pictures is one of the best ways to explain your feelings and show the world the importance of your story. With that in mind, while I did journalism on my own, I also volunteered and worked with students to help them tell the stories of their communities and their lives in order to empower the next generation of storytellers.
So when a friend sent me information about The Modern Story, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me. I’m so excited to travel to a new place, meet new people, learn about Hyderabad (and India), and instill a love of storytelling in more young people. Though it will be quite a bit hotter than my current home, Minnesota, I’m ready and absolutely thrilled to brave the temperatures and travel to Hyderabad to work with The Modern Story and its partners.

Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes

Long ago, before the Railway school had their first batch of quarterly exams Ilana and I created a three-day lesson plan revolving around a short story we wrote and titled “Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes.” Our students’ photos have been up on Flickr for a while, but now I’m going to share the details of the lessons, which are ideal for a short-term storytelling workshop. Since we did this activity in early September, the girls had really only begun to deal with the idea of stories. Looking back at it now I can see how far they’ve come, with the exercises below serving as a fun and fundamental start.

Step 1–Creating a Story Sequence

Divide the students into small groups. Give each group a copy of the story, cut into 8 pieces. The students’ task: put the story in order.

How it worked out: In contrast to some verbal exercises Ilana and I had tried, the girls understood the expectations of this exercise immediately and worked together with great focus. It was from this activity that we learned how useful it is for us to type out instructions or definitions for our students–they can read at their own pace, without getting caught up/befuddled by our American English speech!

Step 2–Understanding Story Elements

Each group writes the story on poster paper in the order they chose. Hang around the room and ask groups to share why they chose the order they did. Use these examples as a catalyst for discussing story development and introducing story vocabulary (e.g. setting, characters, plot, beginning, conflict, resolution, theme, moral).

How it worked out: Each group’s story varied greatly. Because of time constraints, we were only able to have two groups share theirs with the class. Our students are used to classes where there is one correct answer only, so our compare/contrast technique with the two stories confused them at first. Fortunately, Neha and Asma, our TFTP (Technology for the People) teaching assistants cleared up the confusion by communicating with the girls in Hindi. Ilana used the metaphor of different floors in an apartment building to explain the way that certain pieces of information must lay the groundwork to understand the rest of the story. We drew on our communication lesson from the previous day by giving each girl a printed copy of the story vocabulary and definitions to paste into their notebooks.

Step 3–Telling a Story in Multiple Ways

Split students into 8 groups. Each group receives one section of the story. They must choreograph a 30-60 second dance that illustrates what happens in their part of the story. Perform these dances for the class.

Next, the groups choose one freeze frame from their dance that best represents what happens during the dance. A student photographer takes a photo of the freeze frames. (Upload now or in next session). Now we have three ways of understanding this story: in its written form, through dance, and in photos!

How it worked out: Even though we’d been doing drama exercises all week to make the girls comfortable being expressive in class, they took a bit to get comfortable planning their dances. The results were a delight, but we ran short on time for the photography portion, so we chose a photographer before each story segment was performed. At some point during each performance, I yelled, “Freeze!” The photographer snapped a shot and then the dancers continued. The girls were excited about dancing, but even moreso about taking pictures and Ilana and I promised more photo storytelling activities would come after our break for exams.

Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes

On Kavita's 12th birthday, she found a pair of old red dancing shoes under the mango tree in the maidan.

Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes

Kavita loved to dance. As soon as she finished her studies she always turned on the radio and practiced the latest Bollywood moves with her friends.

Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes

As soon as Kavita put on the old red dancing shoes, she realized that she could do any dance move she'd ever seen. Her family and friends were amazed. She realized they must be magical.

Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes

Kavita danced so well that she was invited to audition for a performance at a big festival in Hyderabad.

Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes

When Kavita arrived at the dance hall, she realized that she had left her red dancing shoes at home. She began to cry, and thought, "how will I ever be chosen without the magic shoes?"

Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes

When it was Kavita's turn to audition, one of the smaller girls told her that she was a beautiful dancer and that she couldn't wait to see Kavita dance. Kavita went onstage.

Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes

Kavita danced better than she had ever danced before. All of the judges applauded and told her that she would perform in the festival.

Kavita and the Magic Dance Shoes

Kavita was elated and proud, and she realized that she didn't need the magic dancing shoes to be a wonderful dancer.


Michael Jackson in the Classroom

Last week in order to learn more about our students and foreshadow an upcoming autobiography assignment, Ilana and I asked the girls at Railway to write “the story of me” for homework. In this family-oriented culture, it’s no surprise that most of my students began their compositions by listing the names, ages, and careers of their father, mother and siblings. To that they may have added a few of their own hobbies or favorite foods, but not much more. We’ll get there eventually. One of my students, Sandhya, did go further in describing her own outlook, passions, and dreams. For example, she wrote, “My aim is to become a great dancer for example we know: Mickel Jackson is one of the great dancer but he died and he is in heart of all dancers.


student photography: Sandhya

As I paged through the rest of Sanhya’s notebook I discovered that I hadn’t read her first composition because she’d been absent the day the other students turned it in. The assignment had been to write a story or write your favorite story in your own words. Many students wrote a moral tale, but again Sandhya had broken the mold. She wrote a delightfully imaginative piece about her life as a dancer, which I am posting here:

Once upon a time, one girl who’s name is A. Sandhya. She was very good at dance. She always thinks about her dance and she always be in her dance. One day she wrote exam in M.A. dance. After a few days later her exam results came. She passed in first class in the exam. The other day she was going to take a certificate from the great dancer Mickel Jackson. So everybody in her family felt very happy. Even her friends Preethi, Sara, Shafia and other friends heard this news and came to Sandhya to give her good wishes and it became morning. Now the time is 8:30 AM. At 10 AM she is going to take the certificate. She is going on her bike and suddenly she had an accident with a lorry and she died.

The day I stop loving the dance is the day I closing my eyes forever.

Your sweet A. Sandhya



The day after I read Sandhya’s story, Ilana and I arrived at Railway to discover one of our classrooms taken over by dance auditions for the upcoming Teachers’ Day celebration. We relocated to the main computer lab and held a joint class wherein we asked the girls to share their thoughts on the word “power.” Some of the responses included, “energy, strength, knowledge, tigers, and CM (chief minister).” When I asked the question, “Does anyone in this room have power?” most of the girls giggled. Some said “No” while a few, perhaps recognizing my question as a leading one, shouted, “Yes!” The next question came from Ilana: “What kind of things do you have the power to do?

Dance,” Divya, one of Ilana’s students, called out. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was—pleasantly so. The response allowed us to draw out ideas about power with much more relatable concepts for the girls than examples that come from our own cultural perspective. In recent classes at Railway we’ve been doing camera practice while encouraging creative composition and framing. Because the girls are so new to using cameras, at times these concepts have been difficult to explain. Next week when we delve further into how stories are constructed we will draw on the lesson we as teachers learned about the students’ connection to dance: One of the homework assignments we’ll give will be to create a short dance that tells a story involving elements such as a main character, conflict, and resolution. We’ll be sure to photograph or film some of the results, so check back soon to see how Sandhya and others live up to their Michael Jackson dreams!

Our first day teaching The Modern Story at the Railway Girls School

In the Head Mistress’s office, a painting of scenic India is accompanied by the caption: “To know the world one must construct it.” Mr. Pravakar, a teacher and assistant at the Railway Girls School, said,

“It took me three days to select this quote. I believe it captures the spirit of our school.”

The quote also resonated in me the spirit of The Modern Story (TMS). My goal as a TMS fellow is to both ‘bridge the digital divide’ and instill a sense of individual expression that ‘constructs,’ as the quote says, a student’s world view through images, sound and moving images to help themselves and others better understand their lives.

During a brief orientation discussion, Mr. Pravakar also noted,

“In the U.S. there is talk about first generation college students. Here, these girls are first generation learners. Their parents never had any schooling of any kind.”

He went on to describe a story of a former student,

“One girl, a student of ours, has been very successful. Neither of her parents went to school. She attended classes here at the Railway Girls school. She wanted to go to college. She told her father ‘No, now I want to study. I know how much you’ve spent on me my whole life. It is not much. Now, I want to go to college. I want this and you’ll give it to me.”

Her father was a carpenter on the railway. She went to college. She is a successful working woman. Mr. Pravakar says that 1/2 his classes are spent teaching and the majority of the rest of the time is devoted to motivational speaking and exercises.

With regard to our curriculum, I feel that motivation is inherent in many of the exercises of telling stories that are of interest and inspiration to the girls. Our first day went amazingly well. The girls are bright. They internalize the material quickly and demonstrate above average discipline. We have started classes here three weeks behind schedule. We have a lot of work to do and I can’t wait to go full steam ahead.

For today’s class we talked about images, sounds, and moving images. TMS fellows used an elevated platform in the classroom to give an example of images and moving images by imitating a fashion runway. One of the girls said she wanted to be a fashion designer and I like to keep in-class examples related to student interests. To demonstrate ‘subject movement,’ one student walked down the ‘runway’ and posed for the camera modeling her ‘dress.’ To demonstrate ‘camera movement’ I then showed the students how a cameraman can move 360 degrees around the model to show off the dress, or how he can pan down the runway as the model walks etc. The students giggled but immediately understood the point: Moving images are developed by things moving in the frame and/or moving the camera itself. Still images can be taken when the model stops to model her dress. Having enough light is important for the dress to look inviting to the crowd. TMS Fellow Vidya Putcha then did an excellent presentation on different kinds of sounds that are involved in telling digital stories.

Vidya also showed her example of a digital story on powerpoint. She talked about her family and showed photos accompanied by text. The students then did the following exercise. They chose an issue in their community. They drew a frame. They drew something in the frame demonstrating their community issue. They then answered the following three questions. ‘What is in the frame. What is not in the frame. Why are these choices important.’ For an example, I chose a pressing issue in my community which is gun violence. I drew a frame. I drew in the frame two men and a gun. I responded to the questions;

“What is in the frame: Two men and a gun.”

“What is not in the frame: Policemen, ambulances, families, children playing, people smiling.”

Why are these choices important: The absence of police suggests that this is a problem related to gun violence. The absence of children playing suggests that kids are not safe to play in the streets where gun violence is a problem. The presence of a gun and two men suggests that gun violence is a problem people are concerned about where I live.”

The Modern Story, with support form The America India Foundation’s Digital Equalizer Program, now has two classes operating at the Railway Girls School. Today was our first day. I am looking forward to a successful semester.

-Danny Thiemann
2009/2010 Fellow

Challenges to creative writing curriculum in India: Individuality, Borges, and the crowds of the city

Above the boy’s beds made of steel is written “The greatest men have always stood alone.” The quote, for me, lends weight to the tension between individuality and the teeming 1billion plus Indians in the subcontinent’s often overcrowded cities.  ‘Individuality,’ in reference to our students and their education, is often at odds with the overpopulated city and the lack of funds to provide enough teachers for individual learning. This week taught me the challenges of implementing a curriculum teaching individual expression, creativity, and a sense of individual value in our students in Nalgonda. A.P.R.S. boys school is a Muslim boarding school. Although they are not necessarily minorities in all parts of Hyderabad, there is a rich record of complementary and antagonistic histories between the many religions living side by side in the country’s urban centers. Whether or not they would express it themselves, it seems to me that religion plays into a sense of pride in both their identity and interests. They are fascinated by the pyramids and mosques of Cairo, tigers, Arabic and Urdu calligraphy, riddles and religious songs from childhood. So far they have been doing great individual and creative stories while in class. For homework, however, almost all the students copied poems out of their English readers claiming that they had written the poems themselves. For example, one boy claimed he was the original author of ‘The Road Not Taken.’

Plagiarism is not always an un-creative act. Some philosophers, such as those Jorge Luis Borges would often quote, believed that anyone who writes a line of Shakespeare is Shakespeare. One of Borges’ most famous stories is that of a man who tried writing the next great Don Quixote. Realizing his pride, the man decided instead to live his every thought as though he were Miguel de Cervantes until, without glancing at the text, his life would lead him to write Don Quixote word-for-word, exactly as the original. In most contexts, such a conjecture would seem ridiculous. However, in the teeming crowds of Hyderabad, the individuality of one person or one student can often get lost in the shuffle of government education. Plagiarism can also lead a teacher to suspend their belief in a student’s creativity. But this is not so much of an alarm for our classes. Yes, it was not easy for the students to internalize an emphasis on individual work, original ideas and creativity. But they have shown excellent promise while working in class. As supported by the America India Foundation’s Digital Equalizer Program, we as Fellows recognize the importance of bridging the digital divide but also recognize a more pressing issue  at the local level of our schools; the value ascribed to individual expression, and perhaps in proportion, individual worth.

There are daily news reports that emphasize a reduced value of human life in such a highly populated country; on-going fatalities on the highways, railroads, oppressive pollution hanging as thick as moss in front of pre-schools, the suicides after the Chief Minister died and the list goes on and is normalized. Granted, this is an outsiders perspective. Yet, on our daily rides home through the congested and chaotic streets of Hyderabad, I am reminded of the social context pressing in on the classroom once the bell rings and the day is over. For teachers, we return to our apartment in Abids. But the boys return to their metal beds and their walls where it is written: “The greatest men have always stood alone.” Success, it seems, comes when one has the privilege to live in a house with your own room, to ride in your own air conditioned car, to have the personal space to breath unpolluted air: indeed, it does seem the greatest men here strive to stand alone. There is a health related aspect to self-isolation. No wonder so many students perceive their solitude profiled in the city’s skyline; privacy is at a premium in India. Those who can’t afford it continue in the rush of the alley traffic beneath the high rises. Perhaps like our students they are fascinated by tigers, pyramids, and constructions of the mind that lead one man to believe, as Borges often dreamed, that he is any other man. For now, our challenge is to channel their energy into completing the assignments faithfully and honestly, doing their own work and showcasing their incredible capacity for wonder.

Danny Thiemann
2009/2010 Fellow