Creative Practitioner: Andrea Tenger
Creative Practice: Visual artist
School: Westfield Park Primary School
Teacher: Sarah Harrison
Year Group: 5/6
Main Curriculum Focus
Science: Earth and Space Sciences
Cross Curricular Priority
Researching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ understanding of the night sky and its use for timekeeping purposes as evidenced in oral cultural records, petroglyphs, paintings and stone arrangements.
Westfield Park Primary is a trauma-responsive school serving a highly transient and fractured low socio-economic community in Perth’s south-east corridor. There is a high level of complex needs and a low level of service uptake, which presents a unique set of challenges to the school. Its 260 students are nurtured, valued, and encouraged to reach their full potential via a full-service extended school model.
The school has established strong partnerships between the home, school and community that help provide a holistic education approach that addresses the academic, artistic, social, physical and emotional development of all 260 students so that they can embrace the future with integrity, compassion and a love for lifelong learning. *
What we did and the impact
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 mindfulness activity, an intentional pause to help settle ourselves; to notice our own thoughts and feelings and build our capacity to cope with doing things differently. Students sat or laid on the floor around long sheets of paper and tried to be still and silent and notice their breathing. They used a pen to make a mark on the paper each time they breathed in and another mark each time they breathed out. With practice the students were able to set up the equipment and quickly settle themselves without prompts. 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 mindfulness we did a warm-up activity, an essential tool that allowed the students to practise the creative habits of learning in a variety of increasingly challenging, fun and sometimes physical ways. After each warm-up we spent a few minutes reflecting on what happened and tried to identify which creative habits of learning we were practising. By the end of term many 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.
The main activities focused on the main curriculum area of science understanding. We were hoping to identify the planets, compare how long they take to orbit the sun, model their relative size and distance from the Sun and explore how different peoples and cultures have looked at the night sky throughout history. Three of the five Habits of Learning were prioritised; Imaginative (making connections), Inquisitive (exploring & investigating) and Persistent (Sticking with difficulty).
The first session ‘Tell me a story about how the universe was created’ was designed to give us some valuable learning as to how the students approach tasks, how they think (or not) and how they show and talk about their thinking. As a group, we created some rules about the stories that we would refer back to later, during reflection:
• Can be fiction or nonfiction
• Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling
• Can be written, typed, drawing, acting, told, poster, recite, art, news report.
• Has to be interesting
• Have structure of a narrative (a beginning, middle, and end)
• Not too long – manage your time
• Can work in groups – choose own.
• After 40 minutes, tell your story and explain your thinking.
The students were genuinely excited about this task. They had a lot of ideas about the ‘rules’ and talked over the top of each other, working things out. But despite the variety of ideas about how to tell the story, once the students split into groups, they seemed unsure of what to do. One group got green screen equipment out and the others copied. There were no discussions about how the screens would be used. All green screen groups used the same format: two students sitting at desks and speaking to camera, news report style. There was no evidence of planning and few rehearsals before recording. Time management was poor as were collaborative skills. There was a lot of messing about and some challenging behaviour such as individual students disrupting and/or antagonising other students in their own group or other groups. Of the ten groups, five were able to share their stories. Connections were made to either the Christian creation story (the Adam & Eve part, not the God creating the world in six days part) or to Big Bang Theory. Few groups remembered or referred to the rules we had created and only one group was able to explain their thinking.
It was difficult for Sarah and me to step back and watch this chaos. We worried about all ten groups having a story to tell at the end, forgetting that our aim was to observe how the students approached the task. It was about the process, not the finished product.
Instead of moving on to the next activity the following week, we decided to continue this story activity. This time Sarah and I took a more active role. We went over the ‘rules’ (criteria) that we created the first session, explicitly. The groups were asked to review last week’s work against these criteria and report back to us about any changes or additions that were needed. We moved from group to group helping the students by asking them questions about what they were doing, how they thought they would do it and reminding them about time.
Students were alternately shocked and dismayed that they had to ‘re-do’ the work (or actually do it in the first place). It was another challenging and frustrating session but there were successes; every group told a story and every student was able to reflect on the story and on their role in creating it.
The remaining sessions followed a similar format. Students would be asked to work in groups to answer a question or tell me something, using the resources provided. Sarah and I would plan the amount of information or instruction we would give and how we would deliver it. We would then carefully observe if it was too much or not quite enough to allow the students to start using their imaginations and managing their own learning. Sometimes we had to repeat or re-do an activity, as with that first story session or what we thought could be done in one session would actually take three. This was not easy. It took time and practice. And as a result, we were not able to spend time exploring how different peoples and cultures have looked at the night sky throughout history.
Students made nebula in jars using water, paint, glitter and cotton balls. They used recycled materials and hot glue guns to create planets, relative in size and showing identifiable features. They assembled these planets into a solar system on the oval and moved them around the sun.
By the end of term, we noticed that the students were beginning to collaborate better, they were being inquisitive and persistent. Even though it was difficult, they were tolerating the uncertainty that comes with being in control of their own learning and their behaviour was not as challenging.
“You actually do something fun. You make stuff you don’t usually make stuff in other lessons. You normally don’t do writing. You get to say stuff about what you like. And it’s about being creative. Being creative is about imagining. It’s really up to you.”
“I noticed that people are getting smarter and learning better. Because they are turning their brains on. They are listening to teachers more.”
“I’m learning to have a big imagination. Learning how to express my feelings and what I think.”
“It’s calming. It calms your brain down from other work. You can feel relaxed and confident about yourself without anyone judging you. It’s a lot more fun.”
“I really like Creative Schools. It lets us be really creative. Andrea doesn’t give us so many instructions. She lets us figure it out ourselves which is chaotic but fun at the same time. It’s teaching us better teamwork and how to get into teams. The breathing is very nice, it helps me focus. Sometimes you can make pictures out of the marks that you make. It teaches us better intuition.”
“The children are so excited when they know Andrea is coming in. We use a STEAM/ inquisitive approach at our school. But this group are finding this type of learning challenging still. So, it’s good to be able to work on this area with them more.”
“As the project has progressed students are getting better at working as a group and not arguing. Some of them are starting to realise what it means to collaborate and how important is for everyone to make contributions.”
“Sarah and I have been grappling with how much we do for the students versus just letting them work things out for themselves. To start with I went too far, gave them too little instruction and they struggled, acted out or did absolutely nothing. It was really difficult to notice learning. We’ve had to try different approaches each time, add scaffolding or stepping back, to try and find that sweet spot where the students not only manage their own learning but also reflect critically on what they did and how they did it. We are getting there, slowly but surely. It takes time and patience.”
“I am so very grateful for Sarah’s creativity, especially her bravery and persistence this term. I think both of us have found some aspects of the project difficult and frustrating but the students themselves are having fun and enjoying themselves, and that’s very important to me.”
*School Overview Westfield Park Primary School (det.wa.edu.au) and School Story: Westfield Park Primary School (aedc.gov.au)