LEAP Camp 2017 - Aamby Valley, India

Back in 2016, I developed a Master's Thesis on using film to teach visual literacy and English skills to foreign language students. In February of 2017, I began implementing this curriculum as an English instructor at LEAP (Leadership and English Advancement Program), a three-week English language and leadership program for 50 high school students from Afghanistan. The goal of the program is to improve language and critical thinking skills, develop leadership, and promote solidarity among students from various regions of Afghanistan.

My trip began with a 16 (sixteen!) hour flight from Newark, NJ to Mumbai, India. I've done my fair share of jet-setting, but sixteen hours on a single flight definitely takes the cake. This particular route is currently the 29th longest flight in the world.

Bureaucratic difficulties (visas) prevented students & counselors from arriving on time, so us teachers & staff decided to busy ourselves by exploring Mumbai…

...visiting the Karla caves (on a holiday, no less!)...

…and by making teacher training videos. Here’s mine on using technology for games and warm-ups.

I even had a little free time to do some doodling.

Camp Begins

Once the kids arrived, I decided I would focus on the Color Vowel Chart and my Master’s thesis on Film Language. The Color Vowel Chart is great for teaching pronunciation, something Afghan students are always looking to improve.

After teaching the CVC, you can refer to it any time a new word appears. It's a great, tangible way to see pronunciation improvement over a relatively short period of time. Here are some students sorting different words based on their color.

My class consisted of 10 students - five boys and five girls - all between the ages of 16 and 18. I'd share a picture of them if I could, but the embassy has strict rules about that sort of thing. We met for 14 sessions. Here is my curriculum plan:

My topics included Mise En Scène (which actually became a popular catch phrase at camp - students would shout MISE EN SCENE! instead of HURRAY! during group activities), Color, Camera Shots and Angles, Editing, and Sound. By the end of the camp, students would be able to analyze a short movie clip for aspects of film style and produce a short film using the techniques discussed in class.

For the film style analysis, I played the introductory scene of the Disney-Pixar movie UP. If you haven't seen it, it's available here. The students were tasked with identifying examples of each area of film style discussed throughout the course.

They went into great detail with some highly technical terms. One student wrote:

"There is low saturation and low value (when the woman dies) because it shows...that the man doesn't have any happiness."

Above is another example. This student was analyzing the shots and angles used in the film clip. She identified an Extreme Long Shot to show the setting, and a Close Up Shot with a Bird's Eye View to show us the emotion of the characters and what are they are looking at in the sky.

Content-Based Instruction prioritizes creation as much as analysis. To facilitate this, I provided students with a two page screenplay adapted from Aesop's fable The Shepherd Who Cried Wolf. Students needed to create a short film using the shots, angles, editing and sound techniques discussed in class. First, they needed to storyboard their film. Here's an example of a student's storyboard versus the final, filmed version:

Students created their own props, costumes, and sets. Once they were finished filming, it was time to edit everything together. Students used Final Cut and iMovie to assemble their footage. Thankfully, many students had prior experience editing, and they were able to help assist other, less-experienced students.

What impressed me most was how the students independently adapted material to fit our camp. One group focused on thieves rather than wolves due to logistical constraints (not enough wolf/sheep in India!). Here is one of my favorite shots/edits in their short film.

Overall, the curriculum was a success. Feedback was tremendously positive, and students were able to share their final videos during a closing night media gala. During learner evaluations at the end of the course, students wrote such things as:

"I now can understand and examine the movies I watch."

"I know the decisions that are part of every shot and angle."

"I learned the editor can change everything."

I'd love to share their work, but as I mentioned, privacy concerns prevent from me from doing so. Hopefully some day the world will get to see just how creative and thoughtful the young students of Afghanistan truly are. Inshallah.