My Take: Students Are the Experts on Their Own Lives

My Take: Students Are the Experts on Their Own Lives

By Maura Minsky | October 23, 2013

I'm the Co-founder and Executive Director of Scenarios USA, an educational nonprofit based in Brooklyn, New York. We use writing, the arts and film production to build confidence, leadership and advocacy skills among youth regarding sexual and reproductive health.


We believe that education is more powerful when studnts can actually see themselves in the content they're learning. Social context is the door we ask them to walk through, inviting them to look at race, class, gender, sexual orientation, access and ability, and examine how these things relate to their lives and their communities. These factors all play a role in decision making and the ways people use information.

Students Tell Their Stories

Scenarios holds a contest every year, in which students in grades 6–12 write stories about the real issues shaping their lives. A national review committee selects winners, who are then partnered with acclaimed Hollywood filmmakers. They work together to create short films that bring the students’ stories to life. Students work alongside pros on the crew, helping out with camera, sound, lighting and other production tasks. If you haven’t seen the Scenarios USA films, I hope you’ll take a look at them here.

We’re big fans of using media in the classroom. Some students won’t share openly about their own experiences in a classroom setting, but will talk about situations through a character in a film. This works best when the media reflects students’ own lives. In our case, the students see an authentic reflection of themselves because the Scenarios films are written by young people just like them.

Media is also an excellent way to work with a range of learning modalities—thinking, talking, kinesthetic learning, observation and social interactions. We ensure that multiple learning styles are represented in our pedagogy so that students are successful.

Asking Students to Become Critical Observers

We ask students to become critical observers and consumers of media. For example, in our REAL DEAL curriculum we’ll have students look at a film by examining it in pieces. We’ll show a segment and ask, “How is place and culture shaping the characters and their story?”

Then we’ll show another segment: “What community assets do the characters have access to, and why or why aren’t they using them?” Another segment: “How would this scene play differently if the power structure were reversed?”

We ask students to think through how decisions are negotiated and what the consequences of those decisions are. After seeing the film in pieces, students are much better prepared to view the entire film critically and relate it to their own lives in a meaningful way.

Student-Led Classrooms

We encourage teachers to create student-led classrooms. Teachers guide and facilitate the discussions, with students taking the lead since they are the experts at being teens and knowing what it means to come of age at this time. Instead of lecturing at students, teachers model active listening. They demonstrate strong discussion skills, such as how to add constructively to a conversation or share a different opinion respectfully. Students learn from this example, becoming more skillful in their own communications inside and outside the classroom.

This approach helps students become much more engaged in their learning and more confident in defining healthy habits related to relationships and decision making. Teachers also get to know their students more quickly, and more deeply, than they do with traditional teaching models.

These principles have worked well with all kinds of students, all across the country. I’d love to see more schools and community programs find ways to put these ideas into practice in their own settings.

See examples of Scenarios USA videos here. >>

Maura Minsky is Co-founder and Executive Director of Scenarios USA. Contact her at or find her on LinkedIn.


Post a Comment

Required Field

Sign up for the ETR Health Newsletter.

Social Media :

  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook