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.
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.
Something which fascinated me, in my recent research visit to the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne, was the clear message the students articulated about developing their own practice. Students were using a vast array of resources to explore ambitious ideas and concepts and they valued the autonomy they were given to explore all the affordances of these materials.
Christine Egan-Fowler displays a work in progress.
As you can see this ranged from creating computer growth codes to embedding autumn leaves in the fabric of garments and many things in between. Christine Egan-Fowler (Artist Teacher) commented that both she and the students enjoyed talking about their experiences as part of a research process:
I felt proud talking about my project with the researcher, she made me feel that my ideas were exciting and she knew we were all interested in each other’s work. I was nervous about being asked to take part at first but I really enjoyed the conversation, it went very quickly! and I like the fact that our work is being tracked. I love talking about my ideas and I am glad I am taking part.
Year 10 student.
I didn’t really know what to expect from the school visit, we were being inspected in the same week! I found that talking about my own early Art experiences with the researcher yielded a pattern I had not thought of for a long time. I recalled being absorbed as a child in making things and in the magic of transforming materials into something different. It made me feel very protective towards early Art experiences and proud that I am able to offer my students an engaging studio environment where we can all enjoy learning and where we regard each other as artists.
Experiments with computer growth code.