Creative Practitioners: Trudi Bennett and Naomi West
Creative Practice: Nature Connection; Writing
School: Campbell Primary School
Teachers: Daniel Kujawski and Kellie Gibson
Year Group: 6
Curriculum Focus: Government and Politics
Cross-curricular Links: Persuasive Writing, Design Technology
Campbell Primary is a high achieving school. 55% of the student population come from non-English speaking backgrounds.
What We Did
Before the start of the project our two teachers explained that they often worked in collaboration, with the sliding screen between their two classrooms open most of the time. They were keen to do the same for the Creative Schools project, so we ran each session with the whole group of approximately 52 students, mixing up the two classes for group work.
Key to our project was using a “disruption” to surprise and engage the students early in the process. So, in the middle of our second session, the Principal and Assistant Principal arrived to deliver a shock announcement: 85% of their school oval was going to be taken away to build much-needed housing. The announcement was backed up by a detailed PowerPoint showing the real-life reason for this - the projected population growth of Perth and Peel to reach 3.5 million by 2050. We revealed at the end of the session that the bombshell announcement about losing the school oval was not actually true. However, the problem of a growing population in Perth needing housing was absolutely real. Collaborating with class teachers Kellie Gibson and Daniel Kujawski, we supported students to move beyond their outrage to positive action. In small groups, students explored a number of different solutions to the need for housing in their local area through the sessions.
The real life situation of population growth and housing provided an authentic context for the learning which was conducted in other classroom lessons. The teachers, Daniel and Kellie, taught explicit lessons in government structure and parliamentary processes which then were applied to real situations in the Creative School sessions. For example, Daniel and Kellie taught an explicit lesson on the levels of government from the syllabus and in the following week, outlined the role of the federal, state and local governments in managing population growth and securing housing. In another lesson, the classes had been learning about how bills are turned into laws. Then in Creative Schools, we presented the actual legislation in the Land Administration Act on land acquisition and proposed an amendment to the law which students debated in small groups.
The hypothetical situation that we posed as a real threat did at first betray trust with some of the students. We needed to spend some time explaining which figures were factual, which figures were real predictions made by government departments and which elements were made up by us. Being able to work with real figures and statistics, real current issues and real future predictions made the curriculum come alive as the students were engaged in a real world situation. The initial shock created a personal connection with all the students, exciting outrage within them that the government was considering taking away their school oval. Although there was a small element of betrayal of trust, the understanding of the issue and motivation to engage and be active in designing solutions to the issue, we believe was more effective than if we had just proposed it as a hypothetical situation.
The students engaged in developing a submission of alternative solutions to present to the government through group brainstorming and discussions, designing and drawing alternative housing, scouting Google Earth maps for alternative locations, building models and writing persuasive text. The result was a real submission document with text and diagrams to submit to the Member for Southern River.
The Five Habits of Learning were brought alive from the beginning of each session. We chose warm-ups which highlighted different habits and afterwards reflected as a group on how we skillfully used the habits. For the first few sessions, we used the oval as the setting for our warm-ups which was an invigorating setting and change of scene that students enjoyed. For example, we played “Stop Go” to challenge assumptions and “This is not a stick” to encourage them to play with possibilities. A favourite warm-up was the back-to-back origami game, to develop skills of collaboration and persistence.
In the main sessions, we particularly worked on the skill of being collaborative, as this was something that both the teachers and Creative Practitioners had noted was a challenge for the students. We needed to welcome questions which took us back to basics (like “what is feedback?”) and explore what collaboration might look like physically, what it can sound like, what can be gained by working at it. By the final collaboration of the process, we had seen positive progress, with students surprising teachers by their ability to work effectively together. There is plenty of scope to focus more on this next term.
When preparing ideas for alternative housing solutions, and when writing persuasive paragraphs, we placed the focus on the skill of being “disciplined”, looking at “crafting and improving” and “reflecting critically” on their work. We used peer feedback between a neighbouring group to provide ideas and pointers for improvement. This is definitely something which could be continued as part of developing the students’ creative process.
The teachers used the language of the Five Habits of Learning at other times in the week, which has been great. Kellie’s class had also discussed using animals to represent the different habits and one of her students had started by drawing a picture of a dog to represent “disciplined”.
We were hoping that through this project students would become more persistent through sticking with difficulty, daring to be different and tolerating uncertainty. Both the teachers and school management wanted to see the students take risks with their learning and creativity. We saw that before the project, the students were focused on getting the answers correct and so relied heavily on searching Google to find solutions or ideas. There is a high amount of explicit teaching of learning systems within the school culture and we wanted to know how the students would react to being put in a place of uncertainty and emotional connection. Would they rely on the systems they have been taught, would they try and Google the answers or would they be able to design their own solutions and systems?
The class is largely self-motivated and academic and these students used their emotional connection to losing the oval to invent imaginative solutions in both housing designs and alternative areas. Students were given the freedom to develop the type of solution they chose and all opinions were encouraged. We also made our belief in the students' ideas visible by expressing how we believed they have the right to express opinions on real issues now, rather than waiting until they are adults. This freedom of thinking meant that students had the confidence to make their voice heard and to put their ideas forward, even if they were very different ideas like underground apartment blocks or controversial ideas like “it would be better to lose the oval than to lose my house”. It was interesting to see some reluctance in submitting the letter to the government or protecting the endangered orchid when human property is under threat. We wonder how much cultural diversity, socio-economic status and upbringing impacts active citizenship, confidence in speaking opinions and protecting the environment. We also wonder if this project would still work in a class with less self-motivated students.
WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?
Impact on Students:
The students all had the authentic experience of the disruption involving them suddenly and dramatically in their learning. The students have become familiar with the language of the Five Habits of Learning, using them regularly during the sessions. They have delved deeper and gained a better understanding of what the habits involve and how to improve. We have observed more students “daring to be different”, with one explaining his approach to the Parliamentary debate: “I just wanted to say these things to be different and so that there was something to talk about.” One student commented in our final session: “Next term I want to get better at being collaborative.”
Impact on Teachers:
Kellie Gibson, Teacher:
“As a teacher, learning to step back to allow the children to reflect on their ideas, solve their own problems and voice what direction their learning should go, has been valuable. The children are slowly showing increased confidence in developing their ideas and my goal going forward is to support opportunities for student agency in other learning areas. The 5 Habits of Learning has helped my class develop a shared language and understanding of what the creative habits are. I have been able to apply the language of the creative habits for our focus areas of Imaginative: Playing with possibilities and Persistent: Sticking with difficulty across curriculum areas. The Creative Schools program reminded me of the value of providing authentic learning opportunities in order to engage children in the learning process. Orchestrating a disruption to evoke emotions and get ‘buy in’ to the task increased motivation, as students took ownership of the problem and investigated a range of solutions. The warm-up games engage the children and provide teachable moments in relation to the 5 Habits of Learning wheel. The games are a fun way for children to ready themselves for learning and often celebrate ‘out of the box’ thinking. I am looking forward to sharing the 5 Habits with my colleagues at an upcoming staff meeting.”
Daniel Kujawksi, Teacher:
“As a collective, an area we decided to work in was the imaginative habit because we felt the students can achieve high standards, however, they lack the ability to create without an explicit scaffold. This was the opportunity for our Year 6 students to show what they were still capable of before heading into high school. As we were working towards imagination, we instantly started to recognise the students' fear of failure. They were reluctant to speak and most were happy to rely on a select few students to answer questions. As the weeks went on, students became more comfortable with this habit through the ‘warm-up games’ and through their work and time, a noticeable change was seen. Students began to throw out their ideas and answers willingly and realised there was no judgment on correct or wrong answers.
As a staff, we assume that we have collaborative students within our framework of teaching. However, once we dived deeper into this habit, we discovered that the vital element of ‘giving and receiving feedback’ was actually not one of our strongest points. Sitting back and watching showed us that although when we get students to work collaboratively they get the work done, they do not all apply themselves to the task. So we started putting the students into random groups. At the start, the students were hesitant and uncomfortable but by the end of the term almost all students were willing to work with any of their peers to achieve a continued goal.”
Impact on Creative Practitioners:
“I was thrilled to see how engaged the students were in the initial disruption with the oval acquisition presentation. You could see the movement of engagement in the students’ bodies going from still shock and confusion moving to standing and big body language of anger. The following sessions were serious and I often worried that it was too serious and lost the use of bodies in learning. The students kept their engagement however, and produced a very meaty document at the end. I wonder how future writing-based projects can incorporate more movement and construction with objects. I also found working with two classes and a large number of students challenging. I learnt the importance of supported small group discussions and how that was vital so that some students didn’t become lost in the large group. In our first session we noticed that many students were too scared to give ideas and were shy about daring to be different. By the end of the series it was great to see even the more shy students contributing their voice. I believe that it was our belief that what they had to say was worthwhile that helped with this Creative Bravery.”
“The students responded very positively to the playful and inclusive approach of Creative Schools sessions. Both teachers had mentioned before we began how students are very concerned with getting things right, so establishing an atmosphere where all ideas were worth voicing was important. The relatable nature of the project allowed a range of students to contribute their observations and opinions. It was great to see the diversity of viewpoints they felt able to express e.g. those who were less attached to the oval and who identified with people who needed housing. One of the most successful sessions included a mini parliamentary debate in groups of around 10. This was a great scale for a group discussion and most students felt empowered to speak.
These Year 6s are such well-disciplined and well-motivated students that it can be hard to gauge how deeply engaged they are or whether they are just doing the right thing. I feel like there will definitely be more opportunities to step back and allow the students to lead the process even more. The complexity and pace of this project perhaps left some students feeling like they were following it rather than driving it. Looking back, it would have been worth using a wider range of methods for exploring the issues, which students chose, rather than having the fixed idea of what they would produce at the end.
Collaborating with another Creative, Trudi, has been a very positive aspect of this project for me. It necessarily involves extra communication, and has been a valuable learning experience. I have benefited hugely from bouncing ideas off her, and observing her in action with the students. Working with double the number of students meant it has taken longer to get to know them as individuals. We needed more strategies to get to know them more quickly, name stickers and more games to get acquainted. I am looking forward to bringing what we have learned from Term 2 into our next project, and to seeing how the students will continue to grow in their creative skills.”
Impact on the school
Paige Goodsell, Assistant Principal:
“The Creative Schools sessions really enabled the students to explore the 5 Habits of Learning in context, in particular persistence and collaboration. It also encouraged risk taking and out of the box thinking from our students. The disruption created emotion and a sense of urgency to solve a housing problem that is relevant to the students and community. The work that the students produced during the project was impressive and a real integration of the English and HASS learning areas. The admin team were really impressed with the range of ideas the students generated and the quality of their persuasive text.
Embedding creative and critical thinking will be a business plan priority for the next iteration of the Campbell PS Business Plan commencing in 2022. We hope to share and embed the 5 Habits of Learning with teachers across the school over the next 6 months and give them the skills through PL to begin to integrate some of these into their daily practice.”