Creative Practitioner: Daniel Burton
Creative Practice: Nature Pedagogue
School: Hudson Park Primary School
Teachers: Chris Clayton, Yvonne Obern
Year Group: Year 3/4
Main Curriculum Focus
Technologies Processes/Production Skills
Design and Technologies
Cross Curriculum Priorities
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories & cultures
Personal and Social Capability, Intercultural Understanding, Critical and Creative Thinking
Hudson Park Primary School, in the center of the suburb of Girrawheen, caters for children from Kindergarten to Year 6. The school has an incredibly diverse, multicultural student body with almost half of the students coming from different parts of the world. This term I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside classroom teachers Chris Clayton and Yvonne Obern, supporting a combined class of 40 year 3 and 4 students to see that their voice has a place in their class and that learning occurs in various forms.
Communities are made of individuals with gifts, skills and passion. Each individual has a past and a story, where they came from and what makes them who they are. Throughout this term the Year 3 and 4s at Hudson Park Primary School have been on a journey of self-discovery, sharing stories of their heritage, their origins and their individuality. Through map-making, shelter-building and connection to place we have explored how our one class joins together to make one community who all originate from one world!
Through a series of outdoor sessions, the students have been using natural materials to develop their self-confidence, their ability to collaborate and stretch their imaginations by connecting with culture and connecting with place. As we set out at the beginning of this journey we aimed to explore what makes up our identity, where our stories originate from, what makes us ‘us’, and how these intricate stories from various backgrounds come together to create a community. The underlying aim of all of our sessions was to help the students to build a sense of self-efficacy, self-pride and personal belief. The students were in the driving seat and had a strong say in how their learning was to look, contributing to their engagement, enjoyment and ultimately successful academic, social and emotional outcomes. Using the language of the 5 Habits of Learning, the students were disciplined, persistent, collaborative, imaginative and inquisitive.
How did we make the curriculum come alive?
So often schools are a place of teaching, something done to students. Our aim for this term was to follow the inspiration of Professor Bill Lucas and explore ways that we could truly make this a place of learning, a collaborative process that involves the learner at the center of the experience. These students have so much going on in their lives outside of school, just turning up to school can sometimes be a challenge. It’s important, therefore, to make sure that the learning experiences that are planned for are engaging, focused on what truly matters to these students, and activates their inner spark.
In this light, our sessions for Creative Schools were planned to be hands-on, full-body experiences; outdoors; flexible in time and duration; dynamic and adaptive to ideas and suggestions; and free flowing. We challenged the children with tasks that required them to think outside the box, outside the classroom. Challenges included representing their favourite place in the world by making a sculpture with natural loose parts, interviewing each other on video as a way of sharing their sculpture. Developing a miniature shelter using objects found in their playground, and collaborating to create one design generated from two brains. A spontaneous excursion outside the school grounds to harvest shelter building materials from a fallen down (large) branch from a tree on a local oval, and a final culmination of all of the sessions in developing a ‘cubby building zone’ in the school grounds to create a space to play, build, explore and develop a sense of self.
You know that you’ve hit the mark in regards to making the curriculum come alive when a student who is one of the most reluctant to record anything in class and struggles to engage with written tasks comes up to the teacher and suggests, without prompting, that the class should ‘write stories about their shelters once they are finished’! This same student offered to run a lesson in another learning area, outside of the Creative Schools sessions, and demonstrated leadership, commitment, concentration and dedication to learning that hadn’t been forthcoming in his previous classroom engagements.
How did we activate student voice and learner agency?
In a class of students who struggle to see the importance of making their voice heard, in fact, know that they have a voice and that it’s valuable in the first place, student voice and agency was top priority. It was quite eye opening in the first session as a group to see that there were many students in the group that had stories, gifts, skills and passions that none of the other students knew about.
“I want to see this project connecting everyone so everyone comes together in a family. I want the kids to feel this connection in Creative Schools, that this is our place when we are at school. We are planning on creating a giant cubby. We want to build a structure that helps them connect to place at school as a final project. Our meeting place. And get them to think about names for that place.” (Chris Clayton, Teacher)
“Together, we shared elements of our identity that we are proud of. On a post-it note, we wrote our name and two things about ourselves that we were proud of. This was challenging for many and took some support from friends and teachers to dig down into the gifts that each student possesses. The next part of the challenge was to find a partner and share our post-it note with them, to hear them share theirs and then swap post-it notes, swap identities. Chaos and laughter ensued as we continued, two more times, to swap our identities with someone else. Once settled back in our circle, with our new identity, we took turns reading out our new identity (without revealing the name) and wondered together as a group who this identity belonged to. It was fascinating to see how well the group knew each other and identified who the true owner of each identity was. There were a few facts that surprised the group, a few things that people identified that they were proud of that other students didn’t know or realise - an opportunity to get to know each other a little more!” (Daniel Burton, Creative Practitioner)
It was crucial that these creative school sessions be an opportunity to highlight individual voices in a collective, collaborative, community environment.
As the term came to a close and the last session finished up, the group came together for one last group discussion. It was at this point we decided to pass the conversation facilitation over to the children and move from a ‘hands up to comment’ to an actual discussion where people find a space to talk and just start talking. This was a fascinating experience and provides a launch pad for next term’s project direction where we plan to break down the parameters of group discussion, class discourse and democratic conversation and see how this group of individuals can come together as a community of self-directed learners.
WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?
The program has had impacts in all areas of the children’s lives. From the depth of their conversations, to the reflective nature of their thought processes the children have become more critical in the way they relate to their learning. Children who were disengaged with school are now excited to attend and keen to utilise the skills learned in Creative Schools sessions in other aspects of their class lives.
This is highlighted when one particular child won a reward and chose to teach a lesson to the whole group; he planned the lesson using the social outcomes he wanted and had the children write the creative skills they used when participating in the group portion of the lesson. This was a massive step for this young man who previously regularly distracted others to hide the fact that he was weak academically. His, and others, attitudes have changed for the better thanks to the Creative schools program and specifically the creative Daniel. Additionally, the children are relating conversations they are having with their parents regarding the program and how the community resources can be accessed to improve the program.
As a teacher I would like to say the Creative Schools Program is like a breath of fresh air into our school but that would be underselling the effectiveness of such a program in our demographic. There is a saying that “you can’t Bloom until you Maslow” meaning that we need to meet our students’ basic needs before we can expect them to become critical and reflective thinkers. This program achieves BOTH outcomes while presenting academic achievement and educational rigour in all things: FUN.
This program has re-energised my teaching and helped me see how I can assist ALL my students regardless of background, ability, social economic situation or special needs.
In addition, my planning thought process has now included ALL the creative skills to complement the general capabilities outlined by the Department of Education.
In this project we are looking at the student’s favourite place. Heart places. What is becoming clear is that people make it special, it’s not so much about the place. (Chris Clayton, Year 3 Teacher)
When I first arrived I got the students to make postcards to me about the important things that I needed to know about them. One student said that they were a refugee and that at home they speak a different language. I was blown away by how multicultural this group was and how deeply connected to their stories they were. They were proud of their cultural backgrounds and were searching for a platform to share this. Overall, I was reminded of the power of listening to children’s voices and challenging the status quo… pushing the envelope on the way learning could look in this community.
It’s been so wonderful to see Greg, the school gardener, getting involved. It began when we approached him to ask about using some equipment and materials, to him popping into our lessons outdoors, to him eventually joining us on our adventure out to collect sticks and branches for the cubbies! He’s been really intrigued by what we are doing and so supportive of the process.
“This sort of learning should be happening at home too. This is the sort of thing I did as a kid. I grew up on 5 acres. I’m the gardener here at the school and the kids know I can’t tell them off. They call me Mr Gardy.” - School Maintenance and Gardener
At our school, getting any feedback from the parents is rare, but in this situation one particular parent mentioned that he had seen a marked change in his son’s desire to come to school on Mondays (our Creative Schools day). He mentioned that his son talked about what they had done and what was coming up the following week. He also mentioned that his son was more committed to staying out of trouble because he didn’t want to miss out on the program.
“This type of experience engages those students who are not suited to desk-based learning. These students need to move, to be active, and to learn through hands-on experiences. The thing is those children who are successful learners IN the classroom with more traditional learning pedagogies also benefit from learning outdoors in more hands-on ways… it’s not a disadvantage to those students. Outdoor learning levels the playing field and is more inclusive and supportive and schools have a big responsibility to demonstrate this and challenge the status quo.” - Daniel Burton, Creative Practitioner
“This style of thinking and learning leads to a belief that they have a voice, a belief that they have a say in what they do. This is so important. The students are starting to realise that not every decision needs to go through the teacher that learning isn’t sitting in silence and being taught, that they are in control of their own learning.” - Chris Clayton, Year 3 Teacher
“Creative Schools is creative and enjoyable. Creativity means you are thinking and doing work. It’s different from the work you do inside. The work you do inside you sit down and it’s hard. Outside you get to enjoy the birds and nature. It’s good to be out of class and get some air. I love Creative Schools. It makes you push hard, it makes you learn hard about nature without cutting trees down. We collect things under the trees or trees that have fallen over. We are building structures. It pushes you more.” - Student
“Creative Schools is great. There is a high level of engagement amongst the students. They are excited and they are learning while they are doing it.” - Andrew Britton, Principal
“Creative Schools is the best thing ever.” - Student
“Creative Schools are amazing. We get to work in teams. Team work makes the dream work. You get to build stuff. We got to use sticky notes to say if we are imaginative.” - Student
“We get to go outside the school gates when we do Creative Schools.” - Student
“In Creative Schools we have a chance to make things we haven’t made before. We normally don’t do Creative Schools we usually do maths. We don’t usually come out of school. It’s really cool to come out of school I’ve never been out of the gates during school time before. It’s different because we aren’t usually allowed to do it. Its good different because you can see nature. It makes me feel happy.” - Student
“I learnt how to build structures. You don’t give up if it doesn’t work straight away. You can just start again.” - Student