wanting to join in

A lot of the research I do is ethnographic and that means I generally get to participate in what’s going on – and I get to do a lot of interesting things. However, the TALE project isn’t an ethnography, and most of our data will come from interviews and observations, as well as a very large survey. This form of research can be a bit frustrating if you are used to being involved, as I found out recently.

When I observed art lessons at Rydens Enterprise School, I really wanted to join in. The year 7 class that I watched from a distance were beginning a new sequence of work around the theme of Remix. I watched Nicky Field, the teacher, introduce the topic with a definition and then show some slides of work by the artist Yee So Kyung – a contemporary Korean artist who works with shattered ceramics.

Nicky then handed each of the students a photocopy of a flower pot and a pair of scissors and invited them to remix the image into something else. This was a quick exercise to get the class to understand the potential in the idea of remixing. I understood that there would be more exercises like this in days to come: these would partially focus on skills development. But then students would all choose, design and execute their own remix project.

The flowerpot looked like a fun exercise and I found myself imagining what I would do with the image and the scissors if I had them in my hands. Fortunately, I didn’t dwell on this for long and got back to the task of listening and watching! But it was tempting.

Later that day I sat in on a Year 12 discussion. The group had begun to work around the topic Context. The week before the students had each been given a piece of paper with a description of a person – who they were, how old, where they came from, what their interest were. Each student then had to create a piece of work as if they were that imaginary person. Some of the students found this more difficult than others, particularly if their person was nothing like them. However, each of the students was in the process of producing something which sounded really interesting to me – and again I wanted to try this out for myself. It sounded like a productive challenge to think yourself not only into someone’s shoes but also their imagination and artistic practice.

I’m sure that I wouldn’t have been so interested in these topics if the visual art pedagogy used at Rydens wasn’t so open, and so inviting of ideas and imagination. The students I talked with certainly valued this as the way that art was taught in the school. Without exception they all talked of the importance of being able to have their own ideas, use their imaginations and the sense of achievement that comes from being responsible for your own thinking and making process.

a SLICE of creativity

 

When I first arrived at St Ambrose School in Salford, it was the day after attending a seminar at the Centre for Creativity, Arts and Literacy (CRACL) led by Paul Collard of Creativity, Culture and Education. When I mentioned this to Bernie Furey, the assistant head in charge of creativity across the curriculum and research and development at the school, we quickly realised that the animation Collard had shown and some of the stories he had shared were the results of the work of St Ambrose who have focused on creativity in teaching and learning across the school for many years. No coincidence! Indeed Bernie and previous head, Marie Garside, visited Boston Arts Academy  nine years ago and later became a Creative Partnerships school. so it was very interesting to begin to understand the relationship with  Tate Liverpool in this context.

Over the last two years the school have been in a partnership with the Tate Liverpool, with Bernie in role as a SLICE (specialist leader in cultural education). This scheme is managed by Curious Minds who are a bridge organisation for the Arts Council. This enabled a partnership through which Tate Liverpool and St Ambrose considered how young people are invited to engage with art in galleries. This resulted in impact for both partners as Bernie reflected:

Tate changed their practice that year and it also made us re-evaluate how we engage with an art gallery. Years ago, when we used to go to an art gallery, we would ask the children to sit down and do a drawing of a work that they liked in the gallery but I think now that is a total waste of time. We get them to gather resources and create collages; take photographs; tweet; use social media. Because that is their language and that is how they get to learn more. It made us think about when you go to a gallery you don’t have to look at everything and you might just look at one or two pieces and that’s fine.

The partnership, now in the second year, has also led to changing practices in relation to staff planning meetings, highlighting the need for teachers to be inspired and stimulated:

 So, through working with the Tate it’s changed our way of thinking and it’s also had an impact on how we’ve had staff meetings because we realised that it’s good to get out of the school and go to a creative organisation and have our meeting there because we are more inspired and we’ve found that we get better results and that came from our discussions with the Tate.

Despite this extensive experience, it is also very clear that St Ambrose do not only reflect on their previous successes. They are currently collaborating with Bill Lucas on developing creative habits of mind and  the school has also been working with their new head, to produce a three year creative plan which they have articulated in visual form. 

the ensemble approach

Honley Shakespeare Ensemble - Henry V - Poster Design -  March 2016

The final observation during my visit to Minsthorpe School was a rehearsal for ‘Henry V’ by the school Shakespeare ensemble.  The students describe themselves as the ‘Henry’ group and are an extra-curricular group of Years 7, 8  and 11 pupils, launched by English Teacher, Sally Thompson, following her RSC Learning Performance Network (LPN)training. The scene being LPN rehearsed was the Minsthorpe contribution to the Honley Shakespeare Festival in March. The festival developed as a result of Honley High school’s involvement in the 2009. Minsthorpe first became involved in 2015 in order to increase opportunities for their students to further develop their interpretation and performance of Shakespeare’s plays with students from other schools in the area. As I observed, it was clear that the students had collectively arrived at an interpretation of their scene which they were then representing through a combination of tableaux and movement as well as language and even choral recitation. The dialogue throughout this decision-making process reflected a deep involvement with the text but also a firm connection with each otherally commented that that the students grew in confidence and demonstrated exceptional team-work skills in the process:

Working as an ensemble empowered the students to take ownership of the language and artistic decisions, and this mixed age, gender and ability group devised a powerful interpretation of Henry’s famous ‘band of brothers’. Their resilience, resourcefulness and respect for each other are vital skills they can transfer across the whole curriculum.

Edie Ewing, Year 7, added:

I’ve never acted in this way before. I didn’t realise Shakespeare could be so much fun, in the rehearsals and on stage; we could make our own decisions for how to move and speak, and even sing, if we wanted (which we did!) Mrs Thompson supported us with how it would look and feel as an audience member. It was a really exciting project. 

The group are already looking forward to next year’s ensemble scene for ‘The Tempest’.

Minsthorpe has also been keen to disseminate the RSC LPN approaches in the wider region through professional development for trainee teachers. As part of their local SCITT (School Centred Initial Teacher Training) Sally worked with trainee teachers from across the curriculum areas to demonstrate the techniques used and to share ideas about how these sorts of pedagogic approaches might be useful to subjects such as maths or history.