Please Vote for Me Review
Grade Level: 3-5
Subject: Chinese World Language (Mandarin)
School: Linden Elementary K-5 (Pittsburgh Public Schools)
I am a Chinese Language (Mandarin) teacher at Linden Elementary where I teach students between the grades of kindergarten and 5th grade. I showed the film “Please Vote For Me” to 4 classes between grades 3-5 over 3 class periods. The film shows a number of 3rd grade students competing to become the class captain at their school in China. I found it to be a worthwhile film and students, by and large, enjoyed watching it.
The film “worked” in my class for several reasons. For one, it was in line with my curriculum and my classroom standards. I showed the film in Chinese with English subtitles, which is why I had the 3rd grade as my cut-off point; I wanted students to be comfortable reading the English subtitles. It enabled me to give my students another source of authentic Chinese language input in context. Because it was in line with my curriculum, they had already learned some key Chinese vocabulary that appeared in the film. I will discuss what changes I would make to my implementation of the film further along in this review. The content of the film was also relatable for my students—it shows students their age navigating the spaces and relationships of school and home. Students were drawn in and excited to make judgements about relationships between students and their families. For instance, my students were quick to note how “wrong” it was for the mom to write the speech for her daughter’s election. Students enjoyed contrasting the school and family relationships with the United States. The film, in general, engaged students while still presenting a huge quantity of authentic Chinese, so in my book, it was on a basic level a huge success.
The film of course has some shortcomings, some of which are more or less relevant to my context. A major concern of academics, for instance, is that the film is not actually a documentary, just scripted to look like one. This isn’t actually an issue with the students who I was working with. With elementary students, I was not engaging them in an analysis of democratic versus autocratic systems and power struggles. I was more interested in merely showing them authentic language in a setting they could relate to. So this concern doesn’t really hold. A more pressing issue was actually the amount of semi-nudity that occurs in several sections (I was not personally prepared for the amount of censoring I would have to do as a teacher, so this became more of an issue than was necessary in my classroom). One of the three main candidates, Chengcheng, has a tendency to go home and take off his clothes. Many of his home scenes feature him in his underwear. Censoring these sections, however, cuts out a significant amount of the storyline and his background, because it consists of almost all of his home scenes. Nonetheless, it is pretty unavoidable with elementary school students. Furthermore, there is one scene where politicking is occuring while two boys are going to the bathroom. My students were not at all mature enough to watch this scene, which is to be expected and which I should have prepared for better. A final issue would be the somewhat skewed image this school presents of Chinese schools. Academics are underemphasised though competition and parental involvement are either on point, or overemphasized. In general, I would say that inter-student conflict is depicted far more than actually occurs, leading my students to say things like “They’re really mean.” I would overcome this by exposing students to more images of China throughout the year to round out their understanding.
The film was overall, a success for my classroom, despite a few blunders that I would change the next time I implemented it. In addition to watching the film, every day I allowed for time at the end for students to unpack some of what they saw. I gave students a worksheet to note at least two Chinese vocabulary words that they recognized and at least two differences between Chinese and US schools, families, etc. I would change this worksheet into a graphic organiser, first, but I think that in general this forced the students to engage with the film more and was appropriate for their level. I would probably add additional supports for the students to engage more with the Chinese language. Other than that, however, the film doesn’t need too much structure. I would definitely recommend it to another foreign language teacher with similar age students.