Case Study: Term 3
School: Spearwood Alternative School
Teacher: Alison Caeiro
Year Group: 3/4
Creative Practitioner: Stephanie Reisch
Creative Practice: Visual Artist
Main Curriculum Area: Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) with a Drama focus – Identify current understanding of a topic. Identify different points of view/perspectives in information and/or data. Improvised and devised drama based on narrative structures in familiar drama styles. Performance skills and audience awareness.
Cross-curricular Links: Language – Listen to and contribute to conversations and discussions to share information and ideas and negotiate in collaborative situations. Use interaction skills, including active listening behaviours and communicate in a clear, coherent manner using a variety of everyday and learned vocabulary and appropriate tone, pace, pitch and volume.
For my placement at Spearwood Alternative School (SAS) I was paired with Alison Caeiro and a small class of vibrant year 3 and 4 students known as ‘Bakoolba’. ‘Bakoolba’ is an Indigenous word that I was told translates to mean ‘place of freedom and expression,’ and it became clear to me early on that this class had truly embodied that name. At SAS there is a strong focus on acknowledging Noongar culture by adopting Indigenous names for the year groups and connecting to country via a stone yarning circle created in association with Aboriginal elder, Noel Nannup. The students also practice daily meditation, eat lunch together and are assigned to ‘harmony groups’ instead of factions. From the moment you step onto the school grounds you get a sense that SAS is not just a school, but rather a warm and nurturing community of dedicated staff and parent helpers. As a result, the interactions between staff and students appear to be more relaxed, organic, and less formal.
The selected curriculum area for Term 3 was drama and this alone presented a number of challenges in developing an educational intervention. Not only is drama inherently creative and high functioning, but students come to class with high expectations that they will be stimulated for a full 90 minutes. Initially, Ali and I agreed to take a flexible, inquiry-based approach to our sessions, but we also realised our program needed a framework, so we introduced HASS as a cross-curricular link and set out to design drama activities that centred on exploring personal identity, as well as cultural, religious and social diversity. We also had to factor in sufficient time for questioning and reflecting. Finding a balance for this was a case of trial and error and as we discovered early on, the students quickly felt they were doing “too much thinking” and “not enough drama.” I admit there were a few times when I felt like the evil witch who had come along to ruin drama class for them, but our program needed to work within a meaningful, educational context and so Ali and I had to work extra hard to keep the class learning, reflecting and engaged, all while on the move. This meant that our weekly lesson plans needed to consider how long the students would be seated for and timers set to ensure we didn’t lose their attention by lingering too long on one activity.
“It is really good for us to have two teachers. There are two brains to help us.” - Student
When it came to the Creative Habits of Mind we initially chose to focus on collaborative and inquisitive, but it became apparent that the class also lacked an understanding of discipline, with the majority admitting they didn’t know what it meant, so warm-up activities were developed around improving listening skills and general retention of information instead. Not all the students struggled in these areas though, so those that understood the activities were called upon to model or repeat instructions to the rest of the group.
“It is fun and making learning interesting.” - Student
In our first few sessions we set out with the objective to unpack each student’s personal world and asked them to consider how they would go about describing their identity. The idea was that we would begin with the individual and then gradually broaden the area of the questioning to include humanity as a whole; for example, what makes us human? What is our purpose?
“We are learning about our emotions and virtues like determination. It is teaching us life skills.” - Student
The overarching project itself, which we titled ‘Your World/My World’, was established as the scaffolding for a future dramatic production that Ali and I anticipated would develop organically and be directed by the class. At the heart of the project was the notion that small things (or in our case, a small individual) can be the catalyst for great change. To give context to this idea we used superheroes from popular culture as examples and had the kids create superhero versions of themselves. We wanted to sow this seed early on and create a safe platform for the students to explore their individuality and emotional makeup, as well as consider how their environment and experiences have come to shape their perceptions and understanding of others. For each session we proposed different ways for the class to communicate their dreams, values and principles as well as consider their strengths and weaknesses. We also really wanted to discover what the class was passionate about and what they would change about the world if they were given the opportunity. Much of this information we extracted through tiny protests, short skits and think/pair/share activities.
“This is such an exciting program. I just love it. This is what learning should be like. It legitimises what we believe in as a school. It has been a real bonus for our teachers. It gives me a glimmer of hope for the future.” - Student
Approximately half-way through the term the impact of these exercises and discoveries started to become quite evident. Not only were the students showing improvements in how they worked with one another to achieve common goals, but we also noted that many kids were showing greater consideration and patience in how they were navigating the feelings and opinions of others. It was also at this time that we asked the class to tell us where they thought our learning journey was taking us. Requesting regular feedback from the students allowed us to shape and rework the program in ways that became more engaging for them, therefore, the decision was made to culminate all the best aspects of the class into a central, superhuman character the kids have named ‘Avajen’. This project will be continuing on into Term 4, where we will be shifting our focus to developing practical drama skills and building on the ‘Avajen’ narrative.
“We are learning more about speaking and listening to each other and seeing others’ perspective.” - Student
Looking back at what we’ve achieved, I have come to realise that for each of these students, Creative Schools has been a complex and challenging journey towards self-empowerment. For some, it has been more rewarding than others, however, I believe that the slightly existential approach we took in working with this year group has produced a type of self-reflection that is quite unique and emotionally brave. Students are learning to discover their individual voices, identify what is important to them and consider their role and responsibilities as human beings beyond the confines of the school.
“I think creative learning is really important. It’s how teaching should be all the time.” - Teacher