Case Study: Term 3
School: Glendale Primary School
Teacher: Jude McIntyre
Year Group: 3/4
Creative Practitioner: Shona McGregor
Creative Practice: Visual Arts
Main Curriculum Focus: Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) - History (communities).
Year 3 – Language, literacy, measurement and geometry, biological science, questioning and predicting, geography, civics and citizenship, visual arts, technologies (design and digital) and health.
Year 4 – language, literacy, measurement and geometry, biological science, chemical sciences, questioning and predicting, geography, civics and citizenship, visual arts, technologies (design & digital) and health.
Glendale Primary School is situated in the residential suburb of Hamersley which is about 14 kilometres north east of the Perth CBD. It is an area in redevelopment as families move in and replace the older homes with new ones, but there are also many state housing properties and families who have been in the area for several decades. As a result, Glendale has a very diverse community from a wide range of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as a number of students with special needs. It is an older school as it approaches its 50th anniversary and is surrounded by beautiful natural bush land, which is prominent around the buildings and ovals and has several playgrounds including a brand new nature playground at the rear of the school.
This is the first year at Glendale for my Creative Schools partner, teacher Jude McIntyre, who is a very experienced teacher with an interest in the arts, gourmet cooking and a passion for creative teaching. She is a very warm and knowledgeable educator which is evident when you see her interact with the children as she strives to provide her year 3/4 split class with a dynamic and inclusive education. However, even the best of teachers can find themselves needing a reboot to freshen up their delivery in a high pressure teaching system and I was very lucky to be matched with this rambunctious class and their witty leader. As an ex-early childhood teacher myself and now a practicing visual artist, I was very excited about the prospect of going back into the classroom to help bring creativity to the forefront of education at Glendale and aid the students by allowing them to learn in a more natural and engaging way.
When I met with Jude for the first time she had the general concept of tapping into the school’s 50th anniversary celebrations that is fast approaching and using HASS as the central curriculum focus to explore the school’s history and the students’ connection with it. This was a great place to start, but as we really wanted to follow the guidelines for creative teaching set out by inspirational educators like Sir Ken Robinson (Creative Schools, 2016) we felt that the students had to take the lead and let us know what they wanted to learn about, within that framework. The beginning point for the rest of the term all started with a walk around the grounds of the school. The students were armed with iPads to take snaps of whatever caught their eye and Jude and I had our cards and pens to write down anything interesting that the kids spoke about.
We learnt a lot about the kids that morning, their likes and dislikes about school, their obvious love for nature and the outdoors and also the fact that it seemed like they struggled with the ability to ask questions and be curious. Their photographs visualised the school as they saw it in small details of bark, flowers and patterns; the things we fail to notice when we get older and life and technology consume our attention. We realised that in order to really allow the children to experience their connection with the school and understand their place in it, we would have to go back to basics and allow them to use their senses. We would also have to retrain a teacher’s brain that required order, extreme planning and clearly designated curriculum areas to work within. Jude was nervous but she was up for the challenge!
“it’s interesting that you notice more stuff when you are being calm.” - Student
As the weeks went on, we observed the children and the ways in which their learning was more engaged and effective. Most of our lessons had some aspect of the session outdoors and while initially this did pose some issues for us as we had to set very clear boundaries of our expectations around student behaviour, it was not long before they were able to (mostly) self-manage and concentrate on the activity at hand. Whether it was taking texture rubbings around the school, making plaster casts of the patterns they found outside or recording the sounds of the school, we found that they were asking more questions and starting to experiment, rather than blankly waiting for instructions.
“I'm learning all about different textures so that we can be good artists.” - Student
One of Jude’s breakthrough moments came when she took the brave step of taking the kids outside for a writing activity about three weeks after we started the program. She was shocked to see the typically loud and energetic group find a space by themselves, quietly settle down on the grass and create the most imaginative and detailed piece of writing they had ever attempted. Behaviour management is one of the most frequent and tiring tasks with this group of children, but our program has definitely had a positive effect on this aspect of classroom life.
“We're learning more because we do things outside and listen to the outside. I'm getting better at listening.” - Student
Each week the children looked forward to their warm up activities and the challenges we set them. We learnt that they need to be actively doing something in small groups or pairs to hold their attention and activate their minds, and the more hands on the better. Tasks needed to be shorter in time frame and we avoided lengthy sessions spent on the mat or in chairs at all costs! We also came to realise that the students needed at least two sessions on a new concept or task in order to not only understand the information but then also to be able to use that information in different contexts. Without this back up teaching session they were unable to retain the learning and understand how it related to themselves, rather than just rote learning and regurgitating information as necessary and in isolation. Our most successful sessions were those that also allowed the students to choose how they learn and what they learn about within a larger project. When the children were given a choice of different teams to join to plan the class installation, they were able to decide which task interested them personally and this gave them a real sense of learner agency. We had never seen them so focused on an activity and their ideas were original and clearly connected to all the work we had done over the term.
“I want to learn new stuff. We do new stuff. I'm shocked because everything I do is new, and I can't wait to do it.” - Student
Our reflection time at the end of each session has also been a real eye opener and has been a crucial step in the students’ change of thinking and learning over the term. Initially, the introduction of the Five Habits of Learning chart stumped our group and we had to do a lot of in depth explaining about how the habits of persistence, imagination, inquisitiveness, discipline and collaboration pertained to them. The students who did catch on to the concept quickly tended to have their answers mimicked by the rest of the class, rather than coming up with their own ideas. We also found that writing the responses was difficult for the students with limited literacy skills and/or special needs, as it restricted their ability to express themselves in enough detail.
“I thought I was imaginative because I thought about what mine was going to look like and I also thought I was inquisitive because I was wondering and questioning a lot and I also thought I was disciplined because we did craft and we’re improving.” - Student
As a result of trial and error, we found that allowing the children to video their own responses, or those of others in the class, has given them a richer experience in thinking about the learning that has taken place and how it has affected them personally. The quieter students found their voice as they recorded their thoughts in private and a generation who are growing up immersed in YouTube and other social media apps, are very comfortable using technology to archive their reactions.
By slowing down, allowing the students to learn at their own pace and to do it in a physical and sensory way that fits them as a group, we now have a class that is excited about learning. They are much more aware now of how that learning is affecting them personally as they collaborate, question and use their imaginations to inquire about the world around them and understand their place in it.
“I chose collaborative because I shared my product which I don't normally do and the new thing I learnt today is that you go slowly and work with your team.” - Student
At the beginning of the term I was mostly concerned about losing a large chunk of ‘solid morning learning’ time to something ‘fun’ and possibly ‘frivolous,’ to the Creative Schools project. I had recently relocated from a high-achieving school with monitored whole-school learning plans and ‘pacing notes’ that were set at the beginning of the year. A large portion of time was allocated to analysing data and working on a plan-teach-evaluate cycle. So, spending time on an unknown project seemed very much like a luxury. Despite this, I was feeling curious about the impact and had been wanting to tap into some higher-order thinking skills with the class. One of the things I have been observing over the past 5-8 years in teaching is the lack of curiosity and independence of the students who have few opportunities to use their own minds and simply wonder. It feels as if our education system has been railroaded by data and there is a definite change from ‘educating the whole child’ when I began teaching, to force feeding rote data.
Thursday mornings have become the highlight of the week and the arrival of Shona at recess is met with much enthusiasm. Shona is the ‘key’ to the outdoors, excitement, engagement and curiosity. Her acceptance and interest in every student in our class has quickly built a wonderful trust in her by the students. She is a natural with children and is passionate about ‘noticing’ just what the students needed. Our very first session with the iPads just wandering our school, noticing, gave me a whole new sense of my class. I have decided this is something I will do with every class on a regular basis just in an effort to get to know them better. I saw a whole other side to their personalities and a sense of playfulness not shown inside the four walls of the classroom.
“There is some beautiful collaboration between the students. When I got here, they had never done group work. Initially their behaviour went through the roof when we did group work; they were just used to worksheets.” - Teacher
In my recent performance management meeting, I was asked what the children had gained from the program. I didn’t know where to start because I had so much to say; enthusiasm, engagement, a sense of purpose. The Five Habits of Learning have become part of our everyday metalanguage of learning. While reading from our class novel I read the line, “In a time of curiosity …” One of the children asked, “What?” and another younger child responded, “You know, inquisitive …” They will talk about wanting to give up on something hard and then another will say, “You have to be persistent. You’re just in the learning pit.” Then there were the curriculum outcomes we were meeting; for instance – Literacy: I could confidently report on many of the outcomes here – language for interaction, language variation and change, creating texts, interpreting, analysing and evaluating. In HASS and Science, we have met even more outcomes – most of them skill based and transferable across a range of learning experiences.
“I was persistent because I had lots of good ideas but they didn’t go to plan but I kept trying.” - Student
I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the children as they start to think differently and as they ask questions about why and how something could be, which has become a natural part of our class discussions now. Our reflection sessions after each lesson to discuss the students and their responses have been a brilliant way for me to see a different side of each student. We have also lured in the Music and Engineering teachers to help us with our installation next term – so it is truly becoming a collaborative effort. I am learning a great deal from Shona and from my colleagues that I wouldn’t have tapped into otherwise.
“When I was doing it I felt confused but when I completed it I felt proud. I was being persistent.” - Student