Making Words Work

October 14, 2020
By
Charissa Delima
&
Andrea Tenger

MAKING WORDS WORK 

Case Study: Term 3

School: Merriwa Primary School

Teachers: Erin Purcell, Renee Rogers and Naydene Duffill

Year Group: 1/2

Creative Practitioners: Charissa Delima and Andrea Tenger

Creative Practice: Visual Art

Main Curriculum Focus: English Language and Literacy 


CONTEXT  

Merriwa Primary School is an Independent Public Primary School with a strong focus on academic achievement with priorities in literacy and numeracy. Its teaching programs allow all students to develop the knowledge and skills to become confident independent learners. The school rates below average in the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage with 59% of its students in the lowest quarter (the lower the ICSEA value, the lower the level of educational advantage of students who go to this school.) Its student population is complex and varied; 31% have a language background other than English and 13% are Indigenous. It has a highly transient population, with an annual rate of around 30%. 

This is the third year that Merriwa has participated in Creative Schools. This year three classes (two year one classes and one year two class) have combined to form two groups. The teachers have chosen to support the whole of school, focusing on enriching language development, in particular vocabulary and comprehension, as this area scores very low in NAPLAN tests. The teachers are hoping to benefit from experiencing new ways to approach this learning area and from being allowed the time and space to move away from a ‘structured teachers lead’ to a more open-ended way of sharing knowledge. The goal is to increase positive student engagement in the classroom and develop students who are excited and enthusiastic about learning and who will collaborate with their teachers and be involved in their learning. It is hoped that this approach will ultimately build independent and resilient learners, both in and outside of the school environment. 

“You received your school placement and research all about them. Yet nothing beats the excitement of meeting amazing students with different personalities. With time, you get to know them and see how their minds are working with every creative challenge you give. They take it, analyse, weigh their options with great enthusiasm. Then and there, you know you made your mark on them and vice-versa.” - Creative Practitioner


GENERAL CAPABILITIES 

The students learnt how to be critical and creative in their thinking by being inquisitive and identifying, exploring and organising information and ideas. They also discovered factual and exploratory questions based on personal interests and experiences. By identifying and clarifying information and ideas, the students could recognise and describe familiar information and ideas during a discussion or investigation. The students generated ideas by imagining possibilities and connecting ideas to view or create things in new ways and connect two things that seem different. By reflecting on their thinking and the creative process, the students were able to describe what they were thinking and give reasons why.  


“I’ve been having ideas all the time.” - Student

PERSONAL AND SOCIAL CAPABILITIES

The students cultivated self-awareness by developing their reflective practice, recognising and identifying their participation in activities and how they completed a task. By making choices and setting goals the students learnt self-management skills and self-discipline throughout their creative learning experience. The students showed their initiative by working independently, attempting tasks themselves while supporting each other. 

“I’ve noticed that the students are becoming more invested in their learning. They are starting to spend more time doing the activities, working things out and thinking about what they are doing, instead of rushing to finish so they can do something else.” - Creative Practitioner


English Language - The students learnt word level grammar by exploring the differences in words that represent people, places and things (nouns, pronouns), happenings and states (verbs), qualities (adjectives) and details like when, where and how (adverbs). 

Visual Language - We compared different kinds of images in narrative and informative texts and discussed how they contribute to meaning. 

English Literature - We explored Literature & context by discussing how authors create characters using language and images. 

Responding to Literature - We discussed characters and events in a range of literary texts, and shared personal responses to these texts, making connections with the students own experiences. 

“I love coming to school on Thursdays, because I love creative reading. We are learning new stuff, and we make stuff. We can start making things of the stories we read.” - Student

Comprehension Strategies - Comprehension strategies were used to build literal and inferred meaning about key events, ideas and information in texts that they listened to, viewed and read by drawing on growing knowledge of context, text structures and language features. 

“By focusing on creating experiences to talk about and reflect on, I have been able to make meaningful connections and build relationships with everyone in the classroom (students and adults) quite quickly. These shared experiences are starting to increase vocabulary and comprehension – we have a lot to talk about together!” - Creative Practitioner

Creating Literary Texts - The students recreated texts imaginatively using drawing, writing, performance and digital forms of communication. 

Listening and Speaking - We engaged in conversations and discussions, using active listening behaviours, showing interest, and contributing ideas, information and questions. We used interaction skills including turn–taking, recognising the contribution of others, speaking clearly and using appropriate volume and pace. 


“You really had to listen and ask really good questions.” - Student

WHAT WE DID AND WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?

There was increased positive student engagement in the classroom. Students were excited and enthusiastic about creative learning sessions. Each session followed a similar format to establish a secure routine. Warm-ups were an essential tool which allowed students to identify and practice the creative habits of learning in a variety of increasingly challenging, fun and sometimes physical ways. The Creative Practitioners invited and encouraged students to be involved; to share their ideas on how to expand the creative sessions and activities were designed to capitalise on the students’ enjoyment of making and moving.

“In regards to the students, I’ve seen some behaviour changes. They have coped very well with working in pairs and in groups. And their focus seems to increase.” - Erin Purcell (Teacher)
The Five Creative Habits of Mind


Life resilience was acknowledged and applied to learning in the classroom. The creation and holding of safe spaces allowed students to experience success and also its counterpart, failure (what does it look like? How does it feel? What can it do?) and then finding ways to rebuild confidence through acknowledging feelings and emotions and using persistence, as they kept on trying.  The students worked on projects through a creative process where every step required brainstorming, either within groups or between students and educators, including trial and error, and the students were encouraged to share their thoughts and concerns throughout the process.


“I’ve noticed that some of the students are a lot more confident and are speaking up more, there’s a couple of students who are usually VERY quiet and suddenly they’re saying things and joining in.” - Elaine Roke (Education Assistant)

There was an increase in vocabulary and comprehension skills as all sessions were inquisitive, participatory and multi-sensory. There was a focus on activities that were concrete and that contributed to the student’s life experiences. Activities occurred inside and outside of the classroom; at desks or on the floor, within school common areas and also outside. Any materials or equipment used were readily available or easy to access by the school or the creatives to allow teachers to re-create or adapt the activities themselves in the future. Books, smartboards, various art materials such as clay and iPads were utilised in different ways to support investigations into words.

“While working on the end of term three reflection, I noticed a shift of increased use of adjectives during room discussions and writing sentences. It’s a significant change compared to term two! The students have been more open and more engaged during reading comprehension.” - Renee Rogers (Teacher)


There was an ‘author focus;’ the vocabulary used by Julia Donaldson, in particular The Gruffalo, was used to populate learning activities. ‘Making words work’ allowed for the students to brainstorm what words mean, what they look like through language, whether they are expressive and visual representations, understanding how words create sentence(s) and how one sentence can evolve into a narrative. All sessions supported access and promoted success for everyone in the room; students, teachers and classroom assistants. Students were able to choose the level of engagement with each activity, including the warm-ups and reflections. Opportunities to ‘pass’ or ‘keep thinking’ allowed them to be involved and included in the process without the pressure to be confident or correct. 


“It is amazing what they are doing. You should hear the oral language of the children. It is wonderful.” - Principal

Learning activities required increasing periods of group work where collaborative learning habits were modeled and practiced. There was informal reflection throughout the sessions and opportunities to reflect critically at the end of each session. This gave the students some agency in the learning process and provided teachers and creatives with feedback that informed successive sessions. All adults in the classroom were required to tolerate the uncertainty of what was sometimes, a very different model of approach to teaching and learning. Teachers and classroom assistants were asked to step back and allow the students to take charge of their own learning and to help them solve problems themselves. 

“I’ve really enjoyed being able to step back and watch the students more, spend more quality time with them and really notice how they approach the activities. I feel like I don’t often get to do this because I’m the one teaching and I feel under pressure to get the work done in a certain amount of time.” - Naydene Duffill (Teacher)
Merriwa Teachers and Creative Practitioners