Creating Story Through Place

October 13, 2020
By
Zoe Street
&
Catherine McCunn

CREATING STORY THROUGH PLACE 

Case Study: Term 3 

School: Mosman Park Primary School 

Teacher: Catherine McCunn 

Year group: 1

Creative Practitioner: Zoe Street 

Creative Practice: Multidisciplinary and place based. 

Main Curriculum Focus: English – Literacy and Literature (Creating Literary Texts, Features of Literary Texts) and Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) Skills.

Cross-curricular Links: – HASS Knowledge & Understanding, Technologies, The Arts, Biological Science.

Cross-Curricular Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Sustainability, Ethical Understanding and Intercultural Understanding.

CONTEXT

In our initial conversation, Catherine was passionate about focusing on storytelling with the kids and working on bringing stories to life. It became clear that creating an authentic learning environment where the students could see why they were learning what they were learning was an important focus to develop the high-functioning classroom. We chose to focus on the Creative Habits of discipline and collaboration, as Catherine observed the students were very focused on their individual experience and found it challenging to return to the same task and continue working on it over time. We hoped to grow their skills of working together, thinking beyond themselves and learning to develop the discipline of continuing to work on something ongoingly through practice rather than ideas.

“We are learning about discipline. Disciplined means sticking with things, even if it is hard.” - Student

As a creative, I have a deep curiosity and passion for connecting to, and getting to know, the places we are in, as part of any creative learning process. In this term, we brought in the practice of doing an Acknowledgement of Country with the students to acknowledge that our learning was taking place on the land of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation, and start to have conversations about the significance of place with the students. It also excited me to see what stories the students could create themselves, connected to the real-life experience of exploring place, by being outside.

“We are learning about Noongar Boodjar and outdoors and the past and the present.” - Student

WHAT WE DID

Key questions: Where do stories come from? How do we connect to the place where we are? What are the stories of our place? Where are we? What lives here? 

Together, the creative practitioner, teacher and year 1 class, experimented with taking learning outside and transforming the school nature playground into an outdoor classroom. We started with exploring and connecting to the place we were as inspiration to experience and create stories. 

We started each lesson with a sensory Acknowledgement to Country, lying on the grass and using our senses to connect to the land we were on. Eventually, this grew to the students leading the Acknowledgement to Country in their own words and greeting the land and sky.

“The children are getting more of an awareness. They are engaging more with things around them. Every session is starting with an acknowledgement of country. The children are more settled now. They are starting to pay more attention to their environment, they are listening more. I am excited about their story writing skills. I'm seeing an awareness of where we are and connecting to place, deepening observation skills.” - Teacher

In the first part of term, the focus was on observing, exploring and investigating the outside space using our ‘inquisitive explorer superpowers’ – our hands (touch), our eyes (sight), our ears (deep listening) and our hearts (feeling inside) and asking big questions (our minds). The kids added a sixth superpower of ‘working together’. This process created a lived experience of setting. We went on inquisitive explorer missions through the school, exploring place, space and environment with our superpowers. 

“We are being inquisitive explorers. Our superpowers are looking, listening and feeling with our hands, teamwork and feeling with our hearts.” - Student


In the second part of the term we started to focus more on characters, exploring what creatures already lived at the school, continuing our inquisitive explorer missions to discover and identify the different species of birds and insects. We also observed their habitats and learnt what noises they made. 

Eventually, in the last few lessons of the term, we asked the students to create their own character out of clay that lived somewhere in the nature playground. By the end of term, each student had a character, with a place that it lived and had started telling small stories about their characters.

“They love it. It is great to get the children outside the classroom and thinking creatively, turning on that creative side of their brains. The children are more involved in these sessions. They have more discussions with each other, not just with the teacher. They have more of a say. They feel a bit more freedom to think outside the box. They really get to use their imagination and think differently out here.” - Education Assistant

HOW WE MADE THE CURRICULUM COME ALIVE 

By taking learning outside, we brought the curriculum alive in a real-life environment that gave the students an opportunity to have their own lived experiences of parts of the curriculum. For example, finding features of literary texts (characters, settings and plot) in the real-life through the school nature playground, they could feel, touch, smell and walk through a setting for their story. 


“Creative Schools is awesome because we have really fun times with Zoe. It’s about interacting. You learn how to acknowledge the country. We learn about animals and create  stories about them.” - Student


HOW WE MADE THE CREATIVE HABITS OF MIND COME ALIVE 

We brought the Creative Habits to life by using them to reflect each session. This required developing the vocabulary of the habits with the students. We then used the habits in our inquisitive explorer missions, using our superpowers to find animals that used the different habits outside. For example, finding ants and seeing how they were very collaborative, as we saw them working together to carry something.

“In Creative Schools we talk about nature. We find out where animals live and what they do. We go for a walk around and see if we can find bird nests in trees and find animal homes.” - Student


HOW WE ACTIVATED STUDENT VOICE AND LEARNER AGENCY 

The students had the most voice and agency when they were able to take ownership of, and gain autonomy in, their own stories. When the students created their own creature that lived somewhere in the school nature playground, I saw them light up and come to life with their learning and ideas. Catherine and I both observed this moment as a significant shift in the learning journey we were facilitating together.

We also had feedback sessions to gather the student’s thoughts and ideas using the feedback style of 2 stars (things you liked/enjoyed) and 1 wish (things you would change). To feed into next term we also had a brainstorm session of what they would like to do with their creatures.


WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?

Student Impact 

“I feel more relaxed when Zoe is here.” - Student


As a creative, I noticed a gradual excitement that would develop around my weekly visits. This grew from the kids being curious about me and why I was here, to in the second last session all the kids lining up for our Creative Schools class before the bell rang while it was still lunchtime, because they were ready to go exploring. Some changes I have noticed in the students are: 

  • Excitement for learning outside  – knowing that the outside space can be a learning area, not just a play area.

“Can we keep going outside? We want to go on more missions.” - Student  


  • Learning to do Acknowledgement to Country. Know what Country they are on. This is feeding a curiosity about Noongar language and names.
     
  • Familiarity with the Creative Habits, where students progressed from not understanding the words, to giving examples of when they used different habits in the classroom. 
  • Observing and connecting – both Catherine and I noticed the students individually coming up to us and sharing their observations of the environment, e.g. 

“Zoe I saw the djiti djiti (willy-wagtail) today.” - Student

  • They are readily identifying different birds in the local area and building awareness of their surroundings.
  • Encouraged to ask questions and wonder – we collect questions on our ‘inquisitive question board’ to encourage asking questions even if we don’t know the answer straight away. 
  • Knowing their senses are powers that they can use to learn.


Teacher and Creative Practitioner Impact

“It’s been great to build up a rapport with children and the teacher and work towards all designing the learning. I think it’s been interesting how my approach is more open and I go with the flow and Catherine has a more structured approach. We are learning from each other. I usually work with older students, but I’ve fallen in love with working with younger kids. What they are learning and how they are learning to care for the environment. They have this wonder when looking at the world.” - Creative Practitioner


Reflecting on the term together, Catherine and I identified the moment we transitioned from our separate roles of teacher and creative respectively to becoming collaborative learning facilitators together in service of the students leading their own learning. This happened when we created open tasks for the students to create their own creatures and tell their own stories. We noticed this inquiry-based learning asked us to step back and do less prep and instead, required us to actively encourage the students to be in wonder, ask big questions and follow their own curiosity. We don’t have the answers all the time, and at times this meant we were working in uncertainty and learning to sit in the unknown, moving away from an ‘outcome’ based approach of measuring success and trusting the process of following the students in their curiosity.


When we were learning about the crow and the red wattlebird they both flew down and sat near us outside in our circle.


“It’s like magic, we were listening to them and then they came and visited us.” - Student