an emphasis on performance

Chris Hall reports on her visit to Launceston College in Cornwall.

Bryan Maywood, the head at Launceston College, keeps his old year 10 English folder in his desk drawer. The folder reminds him about his own learning in English, a subject he’s passionately interested in now. He remembers the support and advice he got from a slightly older friend. He remembers a teacher who accurately identified precisely what he needed to know to do well in his literature exam, and then made sure he learned it. He is amused now by the examples in his folder of rather less detailed and constructive feedback from other teachers.

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The themes of this first-thing-on-a-Monday morning conversation with the head – the value of peer support, how you learn to perform well, the importance of attention to detail – cropped up throughout my visit. For example, Kate Prouse, second in the English department, told me how when she’d first started work at Launceston, she’d been immediately struck by the cohesiveness of the college community and how the students genuinely support and are interested in one another. Kate put this down in part to the emphasis in the college on performance.   She explained how performance is factored in to the annual cycle of the school year: through house and whole school assemblies, an ambitious school production, exhibitions, competitions, a summer term activities week, lively art, drama and music programmes…

Jack Jackson, the college’s executive head, told me about the current adventure learning programme and plans for a new award system that recognises achievement and supports progress across five areas (adventure, performance, curriculum learning, understanding others, skills). Dan Wendon, assistant principal with responsibility for teaching and learning, explained the college’s staff development programme, which challenges teachers to devise and conduct action research projects that they judge will have a positive impact on their own professional learning.

All of the Launceston students I met were hugely appreciative of this focus on performance. They really valued the encouragement their teachers gave them to share their work with their peers, whether this was in assemblies, in lessons or in wider public events. They said they trusted one another. They learned to be more confident, to speak up, to express themselves. They made new friends through working together to get the performance right and many of them said they learned more about themselves. They loved the applause they got at the end because they knew they had earned it. They said they learned a lot from seeing other students perform.

And then there were The Fairies – students from years 7 and 8 who, just before my visit, had performed in the RSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hall for Cornwall in Truro.

images-1.jpegBursting with pride and plans for a career on the stage, the fairies had a torrent of stories about what they’d learnt from being in the RSC cast and working alongside professionals. But they had even more to say about the impact of the show on their families. They loved the fact that many of their relatives had been so engaged with the details of rehearsals and the planning that led up to the final performances. They said their families were still talking and texting about what they’d been doing. And now they’d heard that some of the fairies were to be invited to an official reception at 10 Downing Street, and timages.jpeghey had a lot to say about why they thought this had happened and how they thought students should be selected to attend.

I’d already heard about the fairies – from Dan, of course, who fixed up the meetings for me, but also from the older students I’d been interviewing, some of whom had helped out with mentoring and organising. The performances had created ripples in and out of the school.

I could see what Kate meant about the way the emphasis on performance helped build community cohesion.

 

 

 

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.

research partnership

One of the purposes of the Arts Council grants is to explore what happens when arts organisations work together with researchers in higher education. In the case of TALE, we have all worked together before, but in different ways and on separate projects. We hadn’t anticipated any particular problems, but we have found a couple of interesting issues already. We think it is worth noting these as we go along.

The first issue was related to what would happen if any of us wanted to apply for further funding for this research, or for a follow up. Because all three partners regularly apply to a small number of funders, we had to work out a process that would ensure we negotiated with each other about to avoid any one partner cutting across another organisational plan. There is now wording in our contract which says that we must all consent to any further funding application related to the project.

The second issue is related to calls on teacher time. One of our organisations offers an intense period of training to schools at the beginning of the school year which requires teachers out of class for a few days. The research team wanted to offer a combined day to schools where we reported on the first year of research results. Because we rely on summer to complete our data analysis we wanted to do this at the same time. This potentially created an additional request for time out for teachers. Our current compromise is that we researchers will add reporting interim results to the organisation’s existing CPD days and we will run a separate small event for the other organisation. We all agree that one big event is a good idea, but have yet to find the most appropriate time and place to do it.

Neither of these issues is big or insurmountable, but did require us to think about each of the organisation’s needs and processes and how the project proceeds without  getting in the way of any of them. Interestingly, we discussed questions of confidentiality and anonymity at our last project governance meeting and we were all in agreement – so it’s the organisational questions that have proved to be our first points of careful thinking through.

 

arts council peer learning

Emily Pringle (Tate), Becky Parry and Pat Thomson (University of Nottingham) attended the first peer learning day for the eight research projects funded by the Arts Council. Every project gave a brief presentation of their work.

We were very pleased to meet with our colleague researchers and hear about some shared concerns, particularly around ethics and impact – things that we will no doubt be thinking about a lot in the next two and a half years.

Our researcher is appointed

image68  Dr Becky Parry has accepted our offer to join the TALE research team.

She comes to us from the University of Leeds where she worked as a lecturer in Childhood Studies. Previously, she worked as a researcher on the ESRC funded ‘Developing Media Literacy’ project with colleagues at the Institute of Education, University of London. Prior to working in academia, she worked as a teacher and an educator in a number of different contexts including: nurseries, schools, colleges, cinemas, festivals, youth media production projects and national creative initiatives.

We are all very excited to be working together on the TALE project.

research fellow position now advertised

Reference: SOC232215
Closing Date: Friday, 4th September 2015
Salary £25513 to £33242 per annum, depending on skills and experience. Salary progression beyond this scale is subject to performance.

Applications are invited for the above post based within the School of Education at the University’s Jubilee Campus. The successful candidate will support a ground-breaking longitudinal cohort study based in 30 secondary schools with diverse populations in city, regional and rural locations across England. Funded by Arts Council England, and working in close partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company Education and the Tate Learning teams, the project tracks the arts learning of secondary school teachers and their students over three years. In particular, the research focuses on the contribution that cultural organisations can make to teachers’ professional development and to students’ learning and engagement in the arts and cultural activities.

Candidates should hold a PhD, or be close to completion of a PhD, in a relevant subject area (i.e. education, performing or visual arts). Experience of researching learning in an educational or community settings is also essential.

This full-time post is available for an immediate start and will be offered on a fixed-term contract until 31 March 2018.

Interview date: 14 September 2015.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Professor Pat Thomson: Patricia.Thomson@nottingham.ac.uk. Please note that applications sent directly to this email address will not be accepted.

Further information is available on the university website.

setting up the project

We are currently getting ready to launch our research project. This requires us to sort out our partnership agreements, get ethical approval and advertise and select a researcher.

We have already had one meeting of what we are calling the project governance group – people from the RSC, Tate, Arts Council and The University of Nottingham. We met in Stratford in early July to agree on the steps we need to take to select schools and to begin the project.

The RSC and Tate Schools and Teachers team are working on a short list of potential teachers and schools.

And of course, we have set up our blog, in readiness for September.