Case Study: Term 3
School: Spearwood Alternative School
Teacher: Josephine Murray
Year Group: Bungana 5/6
Creative Practitioner: Andrea Tenger
Creative Practice: Visual Art
Main Curriculum Focus: Civics and Citizenship, History, Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) and General Capabilities: Creative and Critical Thinking.
CIVICS AND CITIZENSHIP
Roles, Responsibilities and Participation
The Australian Colonies
Australia as a Nation
Questioning and Researching
Communicating and Reflecting
GENERAL CAPABILITIES: CREATIVE AND CRITICAL THINKING
Inquiring, Identifying, Exploring and Organising Information and Ideas
Generating Ideas, Possibilities and Actions
Reflecting on Thinking and Processes
Analysing, Synthesising and Evaluating Reasoning and Procedures
Spearwood Alternative School is a small, independent public primary school with just under 100 students enrolled. It uses active parent-staff-student collaboration to support and sustain a holistic, wholehearted, learner-centred learning community. Student autonomy is supported, and students are encouraged to make their thinking visible in order to become successful and confident life-long learners. The school has four classes, each with two year groups learning together. The Year 5/6 class is named Bungana, which means eldest.
Bungana teacher Josie Murray, wanted to create opportunities for her students to manage their learning, reflect on their process and continue to make their thinking and learning visible. During our planning meeting we talked about what a different year it had been and how everyone in the school community were still bravely facing difficulties and tolerating the ongoing uncertainty. This sparked an idea to use the concept of bravery to create sessions that would allow the students to reflect on, acknowledge and value their own and others contribution to the world, while knowing that everyone has a place in it and that each is essential to the whole (this is one of the school’s wishes for their students). We identified a connection to HASS learning and hoped to increase the ability of students to recognise assumptions (own and structural/societal), their causes and then challenge these assumptions.
“Challenging assumptions … always a challenge … and in this year disrupted by a global pandemic, possibly particularly so for our children. It certainly requires drawing on all the Creative Habits of Learning and creativity in its widest and wildest capacity to navigate. The project in which you have partnered with our Bunganans has provided opportunities for them (Josie and kids) to explore some of those anxieties, and question and explore possibilities; seeing where their own attitudes and perspectives are challenged and how their thinking and choosing to act can and will make a difference. I believe the project has given more possibility for individuals and the group to restore and sustain a hopeful outlook.” - Principal
Bungana Bravery Project: An investigation of self, family, friends, local community members; people who have (or continue to) demonstrate bravery in both quiet and loud ways. Everyday individual bravery, group bravery, physical bravery and the moral bravery required to stand up against entrenched ideas and habits.
“We made up our definition of bravery: Bravery is taking purposeful risks, for yourself or others, that change something for the better. It is standing up for what you believe in while facing your fears.” - Student
Nine authentic, highly inquisitive, participatory and multisensory sessions were held. All used resources and materials that were readily available or easy to access within the school.
The sessions followed a similar format that established a secure routine. Every session started with a three-minute drawing/breathing meditation. Everyone sat or laid on the floor around two long sheets of butcher’s paper, closed their eyes and tried to be still and silent and notice their breathing. We used a pen to make a mark on the paper each time we breathed in and another mark each time we breathed out. With practice, students were able to set up the equipment themselves and quickly settle into the meditation. Each time, they got better at being mindful and focusing on their breathing. By the end of term, they were starting to make links between this activity and two of the Creative Habits of Learning - persistence and discipline.
After the meditation we did a warm up activity, an essential tool that allowed the students to practice the Creative Habits of Learning in a variety of increasingly challenging, fun and sometimes physical ways. After the first five sessions, students were given the task of choosing the warm-up activity themselves. They favoured physical, group activities that were noisy and outside. After each warm-up we spent a few minutes reflecting on what happened and tried to identify which Creative Habits of Learning we were practicing. By the end of term almost all students were able to name and discuss their own role in the warm-ups and identify the Creative Habits of Learning with increasing depth and confidence, using their own words and without having to always look at the poster.
“I love working with Creative Schools. And it's been really, really fun and exciting to work with Andrea. The warm ups have been a highlight. And the way that the class has responded to the challenge of not having many instructions and encouraging lots of curiosity that they have to delve into themselves. It's a really good thing for the students. In the long game, it will enable them to be people who don't rely on others for an answer, who actually think.” - Teacher
The bravery project sessions usually began with a question e.g. what is bravery? The students were simply asked to respond to the question at the end of the session. No other instructions were given. It was up to the students to decide how to respond, whether on their own or in groups, inside or outside, write notes or write a play or poem, use resources or use their own thoughts. At first this caused anxiety with some students who asked many, many questions about what to do, how to do it etc. Every time a student asked a question Josie and I responded with “what do you think?” By the fourth bravery session the number of questions asked lessened, the students started to believe that they were not only allowed to make decisions about their approach to the task but also that they were capable. Every session allowed time to share the responses and the students chose how to do this. There was always a variety of presentations, students chose methods they liked (a short play or a monologue) or thought they were good at (a poem) or sometimes because it was the quickest and easiest way (read notes out loud) and some students declined to share with the class.
“The name says it all. It is about being creative. We have less instructions and more of a chance to do things.” - Student
Students managed their own participation in each activity. Being allowed to opt out was essential to creating a safe space for the students. Holding space allowed them to experience success, build confidence and acknowledge emotions and feelings. If a student wasn’t comfortable sharing their work, Josie or I would read out their notes or paraphrase the response. This demonstrated to the class that we were serious about allowing them to manage their learning and that we valued their thinking and their learning, not how well notes were written or how amazing a play or poem might be. The result was deeply varied responses to the questions which were much richer than if we had prescribed the process and assessed the product each time.
E.g. When asked “who is brave?” some student replies included:
We noticed that it was easier to make claims if we know a lot about the brave person.
Is it easier to identify bravery by fictional characters because they are designed to be brave?
Are real people less likely to be in situations that require bravery?
Is there a difference between doing a brave job or action and being brave?
“Well, when we do this, we're usually focusing on bravery, who do you think is brave and why they are brave and that's what it’s really revolving around. I think bravery is standing up for yourself and what you think is right. And you listen to the other person, but you also put in something that you think and I think that's standing up for what you're believing.” - Student
Allowing the students to manage their own learning meant that sometimes the students needed more time to think and work out their response. When this happened, we carried the activity over into the next week. Students who were ready to investigate another question could choose to either review last week’s work and see if they wanted to make any additions or changes or start work on a new question. This was fair as it allowed all students to have a good attempt at the task. It also allowed all of us to practice discipline as we had to reflect critically on what we did last week and craft and improve our answers in a safe and supported way.
“I have noticed some things change about myself. When someone said something, I used to just say, no, that's not me. But now when someone says something, I always encourage it and give it more of a chance. I think this class has helped me to do that.” - Student
In addition to continuous, informal reflection throughout the sessions there was an opportunity to reflect critically and think about the Creative Habits of Learning at the end of each session. Reflection activities were increasingly challenging, sometimes quiet and personal and sometimes collaborative and physical e.g. a game of ‘Bobs’ where I would call out Creative Habits of Learning statements and if the student thought they had used that habit they would bob down. I would then call on a student to explain their thinking. This gave the students further agency in the learning process and provided the teacher and creative with feedback that informed future sessions.
“It's all about working together and being cooperative with each other and just learning new things and stepping outside of your comfort zone. That's important because if you want to get places in the world, you can't do things by yourself. You're always gonna have to meet people, along the way. Creative Schools is very good for meeting people and learning to be cooperative.” - Student
During our post session reflection and planning time, Josie and I made a conscious effort to make explicit connections between Creative Schools sessions and the learning happening during other times of the week. Josie created opportunities to think about bravery, e.g. during English students read texts and then investigated a character’s bravery. I would plan to use some of the language and tools used in other programs at the school such as Rock and Water, Visible Thinking, Questioning Quadrant.
“Students identify different types of bravery. True bravery, fake bravery, hidden bravery, physical bravery, emotional bravery, mental bravery, accidental bravery and bravery on purpose.” - Student
Some of the connecting activities we planned were not successful. There was very little interest in a daily reflection activity where students were encouraged to respond, in their own time and in their own way, to a prompt written in an A3 sized book, kept open in the classroom. The prompts encouraged reflection on themes of bravery and the Creative Habits of Learning. Josie and I discussed ways to try and encourage the students to engage more in this activity, but concluded that doing so would not help the students manage their own learning, as we would be managing it for them.
“Creating opportunities for the students to manage their learning seemed do-able during the planning stages but actually supporting this in the classroom was, at times, difficult. I found it useful, at every stage, to ask myself and Josie “What are we doing FOR them that they can do themselves?” - Creative Practitioner