All posts by bloomsburypublishing

The Importance of Arts in Primary Education, by Ghislaine Kenyon

I’ve recently been spending time with opera singers – not as a punter in some fancy opera house, but as external evaluator for the Learning and Participation programme of Garsington Opera. Garsington does indeed have a ‘house’, a light-filled structure set in the gentle hills of the Wormsley estate in Buckinghamshire. And the people who attend operas on this main stage do dress up and picnic on the lawns; the audio is of clinking champagne glasses and refined chit-chat – ‘country-house opera’ in every sense.

But now imagine a day when the sounds echoing across those same lawns are those of primary age children playing, chasing, cartwheeling, taking over the space in a way that children offered such green expanses just do. It’s the interval of the OperaFirst performance of Fantasio – a comic fairy-tale romp by the 19th century composer Jacques Offenbach. And at the final curtain call the cast are greeted with Glasto-style whooping from the audience of 600 school children with their teachers. Parents waiting outside on pick-up duty can scarcely believe that this deafeningly enthusiastic response is to an opera – an art-form considered by so many to be elite and exclusive.

Let’s reel back a bit – this OperaFirst performance was much more than some worthy ‘take children to culture’ exercise of the kind that most publicly-funded arts organisations are obliged to offer.  (I’m not being critical here – an actual experience is better than none!) Instead it was the culmination of a serious bit of work by Garsington’s L&P department in local state primary, secondary and special schools: Fantasio was explored creatively in two intense days of workshops involving singing, stagecraft, composition and shared performance. As a former teacher observing these workshops, it’s clear that to me there’s a straight line leading from the skills of the creative teams working in classrooms to that rapture in the opera-house a few weeks later.  It starts with Karen Gillingham, Garsington’s  talented and charismatic creative director of L&P, who brings together a small and well-matched group of professionals for each school: a singer, a music director a stage director, and a vitally important L&P producer, who sorts out every practical detail from school liaison to sourcing a singer’s favourite lunchtime sandwich.

At Stokenchurch Primary School stage director Hazel Gould gets groups of Year 5 children to freeze- frame the emotional moments of the opera: ‘show me Princess Elsbeth upset at the death of her friend the jester, which happens on her wedding day to a man she’s being forced to marry by her father the king’  the creative and disciplined working situation has been so well set up by this time that the children speedily tackle this complex situation. At Milbrook Primary School, singer Charmian Bedford kneels on the floor and addresses one of the songs from the opera directly to the children sitting two metres away. It’s about that unwanted wedding day that she’s so dreading. One or two children giggle (as they put it, ‘singing really high, not like normal singing’) but most are open-mouthed, admiring, surprised. Music-director/composer John Barber helps children compose their own songs on this theme: ’we’re going to compose a song giving the princess some advice. Imagine you’re the princess’s maid and you know she’s making a big mistake agreeing to this wedding’.  A boy pipes up ‘My lady, I know that you want to keep the peace, but this prince might not be what you think he is’. This is how children (or anyone) can learn about the key elements of opera which are, very simply, story-telling through acting and singing. The OperaFirst does educate children about opera, of course, but, as I witnessed it, it also demonstrates more generally the power of an arts-rich curriculum in primary schools. The arts reach us because they address us 9781472961051emotionally. There’s nothing more motivating than that and it’s the reason why I, having worked both in schools and in the cultural sector wanted to, no, needed to write The Arts in Primary Education. By showcasing projects  such as OperaFirst and many other exemplary arts-based curricula in schools across the country I’m hoping that schools leaders who often for understandable reasons have left the arts as box-ticking, fringe activities, will find reasons to embrace them wholeheartedly.

Ghislaine Kenyon worked formerly as Deputy Head of Education at the National Gallery and then Head of Learning at Somerset House. She has curated several exhibitions, including Tell Me a Picture in 2000 with Quentin Blake. Her latest book The Arts in Primary Education is out now!

Explore the theme of migration with these Drama exercises for secondary students

With the subject of Migration Migration Playsbecoming more pressing and relevant in twenty-first century Britain, it is vital that we are able to have an informed debate about it, particularly with young people. Drama and performance can become a vehicle for those debates and feelings that we all have around migration.

Fin Kennedy’s new book, Migration Plays explores the theme of migration through four new plays. He explains the background to the book in his introduction here:

“Migration Stories was a Tamasha schools project delivered by playwrights and directors working in several different secondary schools in London and Derby. The format involved twenty-five Drama students from Years 7 to 10 coming off-timetable for a day and participating in exercises designed to unpack their thoughts and feelings on the topic of migration, and encourage them to respond creatively to what they were learning. These sessions were facilitated by the director, with the playwright taking notes. Each playwright then went away and worked up the ideas generated into a twenty-minute script for performance, with parts for the whole class.”

Migration Plays shares these plays along with director notes that you can use with your Drama class. This is then followed by a section of drama games and more involved exercises to generate characters and stories.


Two exercises to try today

Section 1: Exercises to unpack the theme of migration

Exercise: What’s in a name?

Set-up: Participants sit in a circle on chairs or the floor. This is usually the first activity of the workshop.

Teacher instructions: Invite everybody in the circle, one by one, to say their name. It can be their first name, their middle name or their surname. Then go round again and ask each student to share with the group one thing about their name. It could be one of the following:

  • What your name means.
  • Which language or culture is associated with your name.
  • Do you like your name?
  • Who gave you your name?
  • If you were a boy/girl what would you have been called instead?
  • What would you prefer to be called if you weren’t given your name?

Notes: Pupils generally respond very positively to this activity, especially if it is used as the first activity of the workshop. Most people like sharing something about themselves, but of course people can be given the option to ‘pass’. The teacher must be ready to positively respond to each name and to keep this activity flowing. We find that this activity inevitably brings up some migration references, and then these can be explored further in the subsequent activities.

Section 3: Improvisation exercises

Exercise: Creating obstacles and conflict

Set-up: Drama studio or cleared classroom. Whiteboard needed.

Teacher instructions: As a class, make a list of obstacles relating to migration, which might cause some kind of conflict for the migrant. Explain that obstacles and conflict are an important part of drama, because watching characters struggle to get what they want is how they learn and change. The best obstacles are often another character. Write their examples on the whiteboard. The list might include:

  • Assembling what they need for a long journey.
  • Applying for a visa.
  • Booking a boat ticket.
  • Saying goodbye to someone they love.
  • Finding suitable food.
  • Running out of money.
  • Preparing for an interview at the border.
  • Looking for work.
  • Finding somewhere to stay.
  • Meeting the locals.
  • Communicating with home.

In threes or fours, choose one obstacle and rehearse a short improvisation in which A and B are migrants engaged in this activity. C and/or D stands in their way and could either help them or block them depending on how the scene goes. The dialogue is about A and B trying to persuade C and/or D to give them what they want. Give the group five minutes’ rehearsal time, then watch a few.

After each scene, ask the audience:

  • What clues are in the scene about what the nature of the relationship is between the migrant characters?
  • What tactics do they use to try to get what they want?
  • How are they changed by the experience of dealing with this obstacle?
  • What might they try next?

Migration Plays is a Methuen Drama title and was published in August. Purchase your copy or request an inspection copy for your school here.

Ideas for Writing Original Material for Performance

Devising TheatreFor us, the theme or subject of the theatre we are devising always comes from an idea or question we have a direct relationship to or interest in. As a result the process of  material often requires us to draw from our own lives and experience and discuss our own opinions and personal points of view. In this way we also call it autobiographical. Devising autobiographical theatre in a collaborative way has led us to develop a number of different approaches to making original material. These are:

  • Writing Text
  • Movement and Choreography
  • Performance Images
  • Action
  • Music

When we are creating a new show we find that working in these different ways can help us to better understand our inquiry question from a variety of angles as well as allowing us to build a dynamic and diverse bank of performance material from which to choose. We also find that having a series of distinct ways to approach making material means that members of the group are able to work to their own strengths and area of interest. This allows each performer to utilize their individual learning style and find a form of creative expression that allows them a level of autonomy and ownership and the freedom to best communicate themselves and their point of view. In the past we have enjoyed watching young performers develop in new and unexpected directions as they experiment with different ways to create meaning and present themselves on stage.

Here are two new ways to use with your students when writing text for performance

Questions

Questions are our most favourite way to write text for performance. We love the act of asking questions because it feels so integral to who we are as human beings and our process of trying to understand the world around us. As theatre makers we are definitely more interested in questions than answers. Questions are possibilities. They open up our view of things and ask us to re-examine the way things are and the way they might be. Questions are action and dialogue and grappling with the complexity of things. It is actually impossible to find a show that we have made which does not contain at least one set of questions. They are knitted into the fabric of everything we do and everything we care about.

There are also multiple creative options as to how to place questions in a performance. You can ask questions to another performer, to one audience member or the whole audience in general or to yourself rhetorically. You can look for answers or leave the questions open as a text in themselves. The choices are endless.

Ideas for generating text from questions

  • Write a set of questions you have for someone in charge
  • Write a set of questions you have never asked
  • Write a set of questions you don’t know the answers to
  • Write a set of questions about big ideas
  • Write a set of questions about a subject you know very well
  • Write a set of questions you have about love
  • Write a set of questions for a friend
  • Write a set of questions for your family about you
  • Write a quiz on a specialist subject
  • Write a test for your teacher
  • Write a set of questions that do not have answers to

Letters

Letters can be an effective way to focus your ideas and explore your starting point from a particular perspective or point of view.  Letters also provide a creative way to bring something of the outside world into the performance. They can allow you to touch on the wider socio-political context of things or a lens with which to view a memory of a different time and place.

Letters can be found or sourced and brought into the rehearsal room; like a letter from a historical figure or a childhood pen-friend. They can also be written as part of the making process to allow you to explore the central inquiry form a different angle.

Ideas for generating text from letters

  • Write a letter to yourself when you were 5
  • Write a letter to yourself when you are older
  • Bring in a letter you received in the last month (bills/junk mail included)
  • Bring in a letter you have always kept
  • Write a letter you will never send
  • Write a letter to a celebrity
  • Write a letter to a stranger
  • Write a love letter
  • Write a chain letter
  • Write a letter to someone who can change things
  • Write a letter you wish you’d received

This was an extract taken from A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theatre by Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore. You can order your copy here.

Playing Shops: How Abie Longstaff wrote Cavegirl

There are six children in my family. I was the oldest and the bossiest, so I coordinated endless games to amuse my younger sisters. We stole Mum and Dads’ clothes for dress-ups; we pulled all the cushions off the sofa to make a gymnastics team; we even used the old wooden hostess trolley to sail away to sea.

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Abbie and her sisters

One of our favourite styles of game was shops! There’s something about buying and selling that really appeals to children. I think it’s because it’s a basic form of transaction; one that’s easy to understand. Someone has an object to sell, the other offers to buy it. So as children, my sisters and I made pretend shops that sold sweets, or books or toys to one another. I saw this game continue in my own children – they loved making yard sales: setting up a little stall on the street to sell old toys or DVDs for pennies, helping at the school fair with second uniform or biscuit sales.

With my first books, The Fairytale Hairdresser series, I created a world of shops, where the Big Bad Wolf is an optician (‘all the better to see you with’), Little Bo Peep has a wool shop; and the Tooth Fairy is a dentist. My main character, Kittie Lacey, has a salon. The books celebrate entrepreneurship and creativity. This theme is evidently close to my heart because my chapter books, The Magic Potions Shop, also feature a shop! It’s funny how the things you loved as a child are brought out in the stories you write. On school visits I often tell children that the games they play, and the books they read will influence the kind of writer they’ll become, and I guess I’m proof of that.

With this new book, Cavegirl, I’ve taken the idea of buying and selling back to Neolithic times – the late Stone Age. The Neolithic period (very roughly 8000 to 3000 BC) was an era of change. Societies had begun to develop; communities living in fixed shelters, farming crops and keeping livestock.  Clothing was made of animal skins, and stone was fashioned into tools or weapons. Settling in one place allowed time for creativity, in the form of pottery, cave paintings and jewellery. On a trip to the UAE to see schools, I was lucky enough to visit the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, which displays ancient artefacts from the Stone and Bronze ages, including arrowheads, axes, tools and fireplaces excavated in the surrounding area. Some of the region used to be underwater, and I was even taken to see ancient seashells embedded in the Desert Mountains.

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Ancient shells in the desert rock

The trip really inspired me to set a story in this period.

In those days, a barter system was in operation; goods such as weapons, pottery and copper were traded. Trade is the most basic form of commerce – one that children practise every time they swap a sticker or a trading card.

In Cavegirl, I wanted to play with the game of buy and sell in its purest form, but I wanted to add in entrepreneurship and creativity. I wanted my character to adapt the object she swaps, enhancing its value each time. In this way she moves up the ladder of trade, aiming to purchase the perfect birthday present for Mum. Only – it doesn’t all go to plan.Cavegirl

Abie Longstaff is the eldest of six children and grew up in Australia, Hong Kong and France. She knows all about squabbling, chaos and bossing younger sisters around so she logically began her career as a barrister. She started writing when her children were born and lives in Hove with her family. Abie writes for children from picture books to older fiction and is best known for the Fairytale Hairdresser series. Her latest book Cavegirl is out now!

Unicorns, Centaurs and Pegasus: why are we still fascinated by magical horses?

For much of recent human history, horses were a vital part of our daily lives: essential on farms, for transport and communication, and in battle.

But for most of us, nowadays, horses are almost irrelevant economically and horse-riding is a hobby for a small number of people. Most of us will go days, weeks, even months – especially if we live in a city – without seeing a horse. Yet horses are still a vital and passionately beloved element of our stories and culture.

Many 21st century children will never ride a pony, most will never groom or muck out a horse, but they still love stories about them, and particularly stories about magical and mythical horses.

I know this because when I ask classes of kids about their favourite magical creatures, unicorns almost always top the list, usually followed by winged horses and centaurs (and kelpies, if I’m in a Scottish school) mixed in with dragons and werewolves.

Why is that? Why do horses still appear so regularly in our stories and our imaginations and why do horses lend themselves so well to being given magical attributes?

Is it because of their beauty? Their size, strength and speed? Is it because of their mix of gentleness (a horse’s lips taking an apple off your palm) and potential danger (you don’t want a horse standing on your foot, and you really don’t want a startled horse to kick you)?

Is it that they can plausibly play such a wide variety of roles in stories – wise guide, essential transport, symbol of wealth and power, friend and companion or threat galloping towards you – because they have played so many roles in our history.

Is it because the horse’s importance in many cultures, for much of our history, means they have starring roles in a vast variety of folktales, myths and legends from all over the world? (I tell horse stories from Persia, Ukraine, Gambia, Russia, Australia, Tibet, Greece … and sometimes even Scotland.)

Is it all the vivid ways that storytellers in the past have added little bits of memorable magic to horses: the horn of a unicorn, the wings of Pegasus, the shapeshifting mystery of a kelpie? Are we all dazzled by the amazing and lasting pictures those magical additions leave in our imaginations?

Is it because of the unique relationship between rider and horse, and their dependence on each other? (In many of the ‘horse and hero’ legends I tell, the way the rider treats the horse reveals their character and whether they really are a hero or a bully.)

Is it because a horse, magical or not, can plausibly be a genuine and multi-faceted character in a story, not just a plot point or a magical MacGuffin? (My favourite magical horses as a child were Bree and Hwin in The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis – talking horses who aren’t just modes of transport, weapons or possessions, but characters with goals, moments of heroism, and distinct voices. Those Narnian horses are the protagonists in the story just as much as the two human children.)

Is it that horses are a powerful symbol of freedom, of escape, of traveling the world? We might use buses or bikes now, but the horse’s four fast powerful legs still carry that promise of adventure and freedom.

Despite all the research I’ve done into horse lore and mythology, and all the time I’ve spent discussing magical horses with children, I still don’t have a definitive answer to why we love magical horses. Perhaps they mean something different to each of us…

But I am sure that I’ll be discussing fiery, winged, shapeshifting, horned, talking and ghostly horses with kids again next term. Because whenever I say ‘magical animal’, the horse, in all its mythical and folklore forms, is the animal that leaps straight into their imaginations.

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I’m also sure that no matter how many wonderful magical horses there are in traditional tales, a class full of 10 year olds can always come up with a few new ideas to invent their own 21st century story-horses (laser eyes? snake’s tail? cat’s paws? time-travelling?) and to imagine their own unique adventures.

And I’m sure that even though real horses are no longer part of many of our daily lives, magical horses will star in our stories for generations.

 

Lari Don is a Scottish children’s author and storyteller. Her book, Horse of Fire, gathers her favourite ‘magical horse’ folktales myths and legends from all over the world, and is out in paperback now.

Check Out Bloomsbury Education’s YouTube!

The Bloomsbury Education YouTube channel has TONS of brilliant videos to get stuck into; from five top tips for surviving in teaching to dramatic readings of poetry, animated trailers for up-and-coming fiction to suggestions on how to incorporate more kindness in the classroom.

Here’s a quick run-through of all the exciting videos on offer:

Bloomsbury Young Readers

Meet the characters, authors and illustrators behind the Bloomsbury Young Reader series, our book-banded stories for children aged 5-7. There will be pirate ships, there will be canine birthday parties, but most importantly, there will be some children flying into space!

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Happiness and Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom

Adrian Bethune, the author behind Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom, brings you a series of videos on how to create happiness, stillness and positivity in the hive of chaos that is a primary classroom! From tips for teaching kindness to writing your ‘what went wells’ at the end of each week, Adrian is awash with ideas on how to foster happy and healthy children!

Adrian 1

Meet Daniel Sobel

Who’s Daniel Sobel, you may wonder. Well, wonder no more. The inspiring author behind Narrowing the Attainment Gap and Leading on Pastoral Care describes his wonderful work on inclusion and how you can apply his ideas to your school.

Daniel

Andrew Brodie Apps

We have a have a terrific range of apps for primary learners, written and designed by the legend himself, Andrew Brodie (full range here). These confidence-boosting apps for home and school cover telling the time, spelling, times tables and mental maths, and are a brilliant way of prepping students for SATS. Want to know more? Here’s a video to show you…

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Teacher Toolkit

Want to hear from the UK’s leading education blogger? We’ve got you covered. Ross Morrison McGill, aka Teacher Toolkit, shares tips, tricks and techniques from his bestselling book, Mark. Plan. Teach.!

Ross

Poetry from Joshua Seigal

He’s hilarious, he’s insightful, he’s brilliant…

Joshua Seigal is the mastermind poet behind Little Lemur Laughing, I Don’t Like Poetry and I Bet I Can Make You Laugh, and here he is reading a variety of poems. From Addicted to Chicken to Love Letter to a Lychee, there’s nothing quite like them!

Josh Seigal

Make Your School an Excellent One

Rob Carpenter, author of A Manifesto for Excellence, has created a series of videos on how to make your school bloomin’ excellent. From creating an aspirational school environment to the importance of mindfulness and wellbeing, there are a plethora of great takeaways to enhance your teaching and inspire your pupils.

Rob Carpenter

Philosophy: 40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking

Fancy a whole lesson at your fingertips, FOR FREE?! Esteemed founder and CEO of The Philosophy Foundation and author of 40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking and The If Machine, Peter Worley presents a 44-minute video where he undertakes a sentence activity with a primary class, encouraging the children to think about meaning, structure and relationships.

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How to Survive in Teaching

How does one survive in teaching amidst the long hours, endless paperwork, demoralising colleagues, stress and anxiety? Ask Dr Emma Kell, author of How to Survive in Teaching and general unwavering optimist, who will teach you how to survive, nay, THRIVE, in this brilliant profession.

Emma Kell

Let’s Perform!

Loosen those limbs and begin those warm-up exercises, it’s time to get dramatic! Watch Cath Howe’s collection of original monologues, duologues and poetry in action, performed by the shining stars of Fern Hill Primary School!

Let's Perform

Head over to our YouTube channel to browse!

A Hurricane in My Head

Even though I had absolutely no idea at the time, A Hurricane in my Head was technically born on 7 April 2017. I’d been commissioned to write a poem for Eureka! The National Children’s Museum to celebrate their 25th birthday, as well as becoming one of their #Eureka25 ambassadors. At the time I was living in a warehouse in North London, but as I lay in the garden with a notepad, I was instantly transported back to my childhood in West Yorkshire. The hazy Halifax haven that was Eureka – I’d visited regularly as a kid, and in no time whatsoever, the memories came flooding back.

Eureka 1.pngThose of you who are familiar with my work already will know that most of my output is unashamedly political; recent themes including the working-class Leave vote and the refugee crisis. It’s not particularly explicit or anything, but it certainly isn’t what you’d consider to be child friendly. And yet there I was, pen in hand, writing from my childhood – a celebration of the quirky, colourful, creative paradise that lets your blossoming imagination run wild. I absolutely loved it, and fortunately for me, so did Eureka.

On 19 June 2017, Eureka uploaded the poem to Facebook, and later that day, I was contacted by somebody from Bloomsbury – tentatively asking about a poetry collection for children. Now at this stage, I’d been running poetry workshops for pupils aged 7 upwards for 4 years, but for some reason, I’d never thought about writing poetry for children. It seemed so drastically far away from my “adult” output that I guess I just never considered it to be a possibility.

The message from Bloomsbury planted a seed in my head. I developed a clear idea of what I’d want to achieve with a kids’ poetry collection – challenging gender stereotypes, addressing online bullying, channelling playful rebellion, etc. – and with that, the seed continued growing. 9 months to the day after that first message, I had a meeting with Hannah Rolls, and a year after I’d written the Eureka poem, I was commissioned to write what is now A Hurricane in my Head.

Suddenly, I had to completely remove myself from the increasingly tumultuous political landscape. I’d literally just submitted the manuscript for my ‘Two Little Ducks’ collection, and now my challenge was to write something that an 11-year-old might engage with. The initial terror very quickly subsided to pure excitement, as I wrote poems about homework excuses, pulling a sicky and sulking in the supermarket. The older you get, the more magical your childhood becomes, and even though a lot of people will roll their eyes at me suggesting that 29 is a mature age, it definitely gives you a different take on childhood than what your early 20s would.

I’d been so busy completing ‘Two Little Ducks’ and working on other projects that the bulk of these poems had to be written in a relatively short period of time. By now I was living a house in East London, so my plan of action was to take the short walk to Plashet Park, find a tree, and then write until I simply couldn’t write any more. I’d sit there for a solid 4 or 5 hours at a time, and then come home without the foggiest notion of whether I was writing good quality poetry or not. My partner Maria was extremely supportive, and when I finally had 70 poems ordered and ready to submit, I’d completely transformed as a poet and as a person.

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Seeing the world through a kids’ eyes allows you to appreciate things a lot more. You stop to notice the details, ponder the possibilities, question what’s generally taken as a given and reminisce about rule-breaking and (gently) tackling authority. For tax returns, council tax bills and rental contracts, see cinema dates, sports days and footballs over fences. My “poetic currency” had always been political and cultural references, whereas now it was playful imagination, universal truths and coming-of-age struggles. What’s not to love?!

There are obviously huge differences between my childhood in the ‘90s (cue more eye-rolling from some!) and those who are experiencing childhood now. The main difference being smartphones and social media – I was 12 when I owned my first mobile phone, and the thought of you being able to take pictures or go online with it would’ve been utterly baffling. Same with social media; I guess the equivalent would’ve been forums, but even then, it was nowhere near the same, and barely any kids or teenagers used them.

I can’t imagine how tough it must be, being a kid when everybody has Instagram and Snapchat. It must take fear, insecurity and anxiety to whole new levels. It’s also brought a whole new dimension to bullying, manipulation and vulnerability, which breaks my heart. I do regularly reference technology and social media in this collection – hence the tongue-in-cheek strapline “poems for when your phone dies” – but I also hope that it gives the readers a chance to appreciate life away from a screen, and concentrate on the things that really matter. Friendships, ambitions, whatever family you happen to have, if any. And most importantly, your imagination.

When you’re a kid, you presume that all adults know exactly what they’re doing in life. They’re grown-ups; they not only stick to the rules, but they impose them as well, and 9781472963505they always have reasons and answers for things, and they make things happen and they sort things out. What you certainly don’t realise is that we’re basically just kids in older bodies – we generally have a fairly good idea of what we’re doing and why, but a lot of the reasons and answers are either guesses or fabrications, and really all we want to do, deep down, is just be a kid again. Every adult that I know has a hurricane in their head, and if this collection helps to calm things down a bit, even for a short while, then I’ll have done my job. Happy reading…

 

Matt Abbott is a spoken word artist, activist and nationally acclaimed writer and performer. His debut children’s poetry collection, A Hurricane in My Head, is available now.

How to Increase Poor Behaviour in Schools

Oversized classes

Clear research has shown that the ability of the teacher to teach reduces in relationship to the increase in the size of the class. This of course is an obvious correlation. Indeed, it has been suggested that teacher’s effectiveness increases rapidly as the class sizes go below 20.

Questions to ask are how then do teachers in schools with high pp percentages manage to both control and teach large classes? Particularly considering the increase in the numbers of children with SEMH. The evidence for this may be seen in the significant increase in exclusions in primary schools.

Reduced support services

Over the last 10 years there has been a significant drop in the support services available to schools in relation to children with SEMH.

  1. The increased cost of advice from the schools’ psychological service, coming out of an already squeezed school budget
  2. The admitted failure of both PCAMHS and CAMHS to respond significantly to school’s need for advice with more severe SEMH children, and the lack of long-term commitment to those pupils
  3. The reduction of teacher outreach services (BSS) for teachers and schools struggling with the more profound cases of mental instability and behavioural dysfunction
  4. Lack of quality social support services for schools struggling to manage severe pastoral problems
  5. The inconsistency of the hub system, often creating more problems than they solve

Inadequate analysis of behaviour

  1. Lack of appropriate tools for objective measurement of behaviour patterns of children and groups
  2. Lack of clear and reliable record keeping of incidents

Ineffective Insets on behaviour management

  1. Lack of available knowledge in the school to enable differentiation of presenting behavioural symptoms displayed in the school setting
  2. The virtual absence of appropriate targeted in-service training, on the management of children and carers presenting significant mental health problems.

Inadequate curriculum content

With a narrowed curriculum driven by league tables etc., schools now reduce the amount of time given to the more creative subjects. As a consequence, the more difficult children miss out on areas they may be more competent in, compared with more academic subjects, resulting in poor academic self-image. Research shows clearly that this poor academic self-image correlates strongly with poor pupil behaviour.

Insufficient differentiation

  1. With increased class sizes, differentiation is more complex and as SEMH pupils are often below average, they rarely succeed in the more academic subjects
  2. Differentiation can sometimes mean differentiation by outcome; creating a sense of failure reinforcing poor academic self-image

Insensitivity to pupils’ social dynamics

  1. Because of their behaviour, SEMH children are more likely to be isolated, or form dysfunctional negative groupings. As a consequence, their lack of inclusion causes significant difficulties for the teacher to manage
  2. Paradoxically, outside the classroom, these children have a very high self-image, but when that is exposed to the learning environment the pupil is conflicted, which challenges their self-image and consequently creates significant difficulties

Inconsistent behaviour management in school

  1. If there is inconsistency in adult’s responses to both good and bad behaviour, these sensitive fragile children are confused and consequently their behaviour becomes erratic.
  2. This is particularly evident in areas of free association and movement around the school where rules of conduct are not consistently applied by all managing adults.
  3. Research has shown that clear leadership built on sound and clear ownership by all staff regarding behaviour management significantly reduces behaviour problems.

In this field, so often the child is defined as the problem. However, this may not always be the case. Schools and individual teachers should constantly reassess the success or otherwise of their performance and strategies. Always keep in mind that the school experience of these very unfortunate children may be in sharp contrast to their environment out of school.

I would warn against punitive methods, because only through consistent co-ordinated positive reinforcement will many of these kids see the light of approval, giving them an opportunity to re-assess their own value, and take ownership of their own behaviour.

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Roy Howarth started his teaching career in London working in comprehensive education, remand homes and a 50-bed school for profoundly disturbed adolescents. He was then Headteacher at Northern House Special School in Oxford for over 20 years and now works in primary schools as a general advisor on both class management and behaviour management plans for individual pupils.

For 100 strategies to improve behaviour, Roy’s new book 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Supporting Pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties is out now!

 

 

 

A Well-Balanced Acting and Drama Lesson: 6 activities for you to try today!

“Here is the book that every drama teacher should have on their shelf” –  Sylvia Young, OBE

For a lesson that is an hour in length, you should be using about four to seven exercises.

For a well-balanced lesson, the teacher should take exercises from at least three or four different chapters. A well-balanced lesson might include one exercise from Chapter 1, ‘Relaxation and Focus’, one exercise from Chapter 2, ‘Voice’, one exercise from Chapter 3, ‘Movement’, one exercise from Chapter 4, ‘Unblocking Performers’ and two exercises from Chapter 6, ‘Objectives’.


Chapter 1: Relaxation and Focus

1.1 Releasing tension while lying down

A simple relaxation exercise in which students relax each body part, one body part at a time, while lying down.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Concentration, awareness, focus, relaxation and mindfulness.

Participants: This exercise can be done alone or in a group.

Time: 10–40 minutes (depending on the age group).

You’ll need: A warm room with a comfortable floor for students to lie on. If the room is cold, students should wear coats and/or use blankets to keep warm. If the floor is hard, students should lie on yoga mats or blankets.

How to: Ask the students to lie on the floor with their eyes closed. If the actor starts to feel sleepy during this exercise, they should open their eyes and try to bring the energy back into the body without moving; if they really need to, they can wiggle their toes or fingers to try and wake up.

Students need to try and bring their energy inwards, reclaiming it from others and different spaces, bringing their circle of attention in. Ask the students to notice the breath: is it slow, fast, steady, scattered? Is the breath in the chest, stomach or pelvic area? If it’s up in the chest, or even the throat, bring the breath down so that it’s lower in the body. The stomach, not the chest, should move up and down with each in- and out-breath.

Once the breath is stable, the actor can start relaxing each part of the body, one part at a time. They can start with softening the muscles in the forehead and then the eyebrows, the eyelids, the temples, the cheeks, the lips, the jaw, the tongue and any other parts of the face. It is important to spend a long time on the face as it’s one of the main areas people hold tension.

Once the actor has relaxed every part of the face, they can make very gentle ‘blah blah’ sounds, being careful to keep the tongue relaxed, as well as the face, as the sound is released. Once the actor has finished relaxing the face, they can move onto the body. Ask the students to start with the neck, allowing it to sink into the floor. Then they should drop the shoulders, noticing where the shoulders are in contact with the floor. Ask students to try and increase the contact with the floor by loosening into the ground: imagine the upper part of the body is melting into the floor. Next ask students to bring the attention to the hands, letting the fingers, thumbs, palms and wrists melt into the ground. Talk then through working the attention up into the arms, releasing the tension from the forearm, elbow and upper arm. Now ask them to work the attention down the body, releasing the mid back and lower back, relaxing the abdominal muscles and then moving onto the lower body.

Explain that people vary – some tend to carry most of their tension in the lower body, others in the upper body and others in isolated areas such as the eyelids or jaw. Ask students to reflect on where they hold their tension.

For the relaxation of the lower body, the actor can start by wiggling their toes and then relax the toes, the feet, the calf muscles, quad muscles, hamstrings, pelvis and buttocks. Once every part of the body has been relaxed, ask the actor to imagine energy flowing in through the feet, up the legs, through the hips, up into the upper body and face. Allow this energy to move freely through the body with no blockages of tension. Allow a good few minutes for this sensation to arise, and when it is time to stand up, make sure the students really take their time; firstly you don’t want them to get dizzy. But secondly it’s important to keep the relaxation that was just achieved in the body while standing up.

Variation: It’s also possible to do this exercise standing up with the back against a wall, or standing with no support or sitting down. If practising this exercise standing up, it’s important to keep the feet hip-width apart.

Tip: Students shouldn’t rush this exercise but take their time as they relax every part of the body. Anxieties and thoughts should be left outside of the rehearsal space.

The aim: For the actor to become more aware of their body and face, exploring where it is they are prone to holding tension and then releasing this.


Chapter 2: Voice

2.2 Diction and tongue-twisters

Vocal exercises to help students with speech and projection.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Voice, diction, speech and projection. Participants: This exercise can be done alone or in a group.

Time: 5–15 minutes.

You’ll need: A space for students to stand in a circle.

How to: Ask students to stand in a circle and to check their posture. The feet should be hip-width apart and the spine pulled up gently from the tip of the head. Start the warm-up by asking the students to open their mouths really wide and then quickly scrunch their lips up into a really tight prune shape. Repeat opening and closing the mouth like this three or four times. Now ask the students to place their hands on their diaphragms. With the in-breath the diaphragm pushes out the hand and with the out-breath the diaphragm contracts. Ask the students to think of their diaphragm as a balloon: with the in-breath the balloon blows up, filling with air, and with the out-breath the air is released, making the balloon shrink. After a few of these deep breaths in and out, ask the students to make a humming sound on the out-breath. Breathe in together to the count of three, expanding the diaphragm, and breathe out on a hum to the count of six. Explain to the students that they should choose one note and that sound should come from deep down in the pelvic area. This humming noise should vibrate the torso and lips; if it’s not doing so, ask the students to hum a little louder and deeper.

Now explain to the students that diction is very important, particularly in theatre work. Good diction will help the audience to hear and understand the actor. I find that diction is particularly a problem with younger students. For good diction, explain that consonants need to be pronounced very clearly at the beginning and end of each word. The 21 consonant letters in the English alphabet are b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, x, z and usually w and y. Say a consonant, for example, ‘b, b, b, b’, and then ask the students to say it with you, ‘b, b, b, b’. Do this for at least five or six constants, or go through all of them if the class is older and focused. Now do the same for some constant sounds such as ch, sh and th. Now move onto some words that start and end in a consonant, asking students to really emphasize pronouncing the letters. Some examples include bed, sack, hat, tall, Bob, fizz, frozen and Jack.

After this group warm-up, give the group some tongue-twisters to work on; these can be said as a group altogether or in smaller groups. Once the group knows each other well, you can ask students to say a tongue-twister on their own in front of the group; however, they must never be forced to do this.

Tongue-twisters:

Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry. …

She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore. …

Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran. …

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. …

Toy boat.
Toy boat.
Toy boat.
Toy boat. …

A proper copper coffee pot.
A proper copper coffee pot.
A proper copper coffee pot.
A proper copper coffee pot. …

Unique New York.
Unique New York.
Unique New York.
Unique New York. …

A big black bear ate a big black bug.
A big black bear ate a big black bug.
A big black bear ate a big black bug.
A big black bear ate a big black bug. …

Eleven benevolent elephants.
Eleven benevolent elephants.
Eleven benevolent elephants.
Eleven benevolent elephants.

Variation: You can ask the students to invent some of their own tongue-twisters.

Tip: Listen and learn from news readers, theatre actors, good public speakers (and fingers-crossed drama teachers!) to hear how they use their voices to communicate clearly.

The aim: To help students to speak with good diction.


Chapter 3: Movement

3.2 Elbow to elbow
A simple physical warm-up exercise.
Age: 8 plus.
Skills: Movement, energy, spatial awareness and group awareness.
Participants: Needs to be done in a group of five or more.

Time: 5–10 minutes. You’ll need: A room big enough for students to walk around in at a fast pace.

How to: The students walk around the room at a brisk speed, making sure they don’t bump into anyone or anything. Encourage the students to use up all of the space in the room and to change direction frequently. The teacher will call out a body part. Let’s say ‘elbow’ to start with, and the students run towards someone and touch their elbow to someone else’s elbow. This doesn’t have to be done in pairs; there can be groups of three or more touching elbows, although you will find the group will naturally gravitate into pairs. After everyone has found an elbow to touch their elbow with, the teacher calls ‘go’ and the students walk around the room again. After a few moments, the teacher calls out another body part – hand, for example – and the students race to touch their hand to someone else’s hand. Good body parts to call include knee, hand, thumb, foot, shoulder, back, little finger, wrist and ankle. Be careful not to call out any inappropriate body parts.

Tip: Don’t let anyone feel left out in this game. If someone is hovering around feeling like they can’t join a pair who are already touching elbows, encourage them to go over and make a three. This game is about inclusion, not exclusion.

The aim: To warm students up physically.


Chapter 4: Unblocking Performers

4.4 Yes, let’s!

A fast-paced group improvisation exercise.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Listening, spontaneity, imagination and improvisation.

Participants: This exercise needs to be practised in a group of five or more.

Time: 5–10 minutes.

You’ll need: A space big enough for students to walk around in.

How to: Ask the students to stand in a space in the room and then initiate an

action by saying something like ‘Let’s bake a cake.’ Ask the class to reply with

‘Yes, let’s!’ and then they will all pretend to bake a cake. The students can

shout out any idea they like; nothing is too crazy. Perhaps someone might

call out:

‘Let’s wash a lion!’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will wash a lion.

Then someone might call, ‘Let’s all be aeroplanes.’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will pretend to be aeroplanes. The game continues like this.

Theming: This game can be themed. Let’s imagine that you are leading a fairytale workshop. In this case, the game could be played as above, but instead

of the suggestions being random, they are suggestions which meet the theme

fairy tales. For example, someone might say, ‘Let’s all climb a beanstalk.’ The

class is to reply with ‘Yes, let’s!’ and then they will all pretend to climb a

beanstalk. The students can shout out any idea they like; nothing is too crazy,

but ask them to keep to the fairy-tale theme. Perhaps someone else might

call out:

‘Let’s blow down the little pig’s house.’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will blow down the little pig’s house.

Then someone might call, ‘Let’s clean the fireplace.’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will pretend to clean the fireplace. The game continues like this.

Tip: For younger students or/and groups that are lively, it’s a good idea for the

teacher to stop the class with a signal for silence and then ask students to put

their hands up if they have a suggestion for the next ‘Yes, let’s!’ idea. This way

the student calling the idea will be heard and a mixture of students will get to

make suggestions. Encourage the quieter members of the group to contribute

ideas too.

The aim: For all improvisation ideas to be accepted and acted on with the aim of

loosening up students and creating a space where they feel safe to improvise in


Chapter 6: Objectives

6.5 Objectives with props

A fun verbal reasoning exercise where students try to convince the group why they need an object the most.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Communicative skills, verbal reasoning, persuasion, lateral thinking and intuition. Participants: For a group of five or more.

Time: 10–15 minutes.

You’ll need: Anything between five and twenty props laid down in the centre of a circle of students. These props can be absolutely anything, but a variety is good. For example, a helmet, wooden spoon, scarf, mask, teddy bear, candle, coat, thermometer, headphones and yoga mat.

How to: The class sit in a circle, and in the centre of the circle, there is a collection of props. As explained above, this can be a collection of random objects. One student will then go to the centre of the circle, pick up one of these objects and explain to the circle of students around them why they really need that object. The person explaining needs to imagine that the class doesn’t want them to have the object. The actor has to try really hard to talk the group into letting them have the object. For example, if Chen were in the centre of the circle and she picked up a doll, she would need to convince the class to let her have this doll. She can think of any made-up reason she likes. Perhaps she could explain that she really needs it for her little sister as her sister is in hospital and the doll will cheer her up. Or Chen might explain that this is her long-lost doll from childhood and she lost it on holiday when she was four. It’s Chen’s objective to make the class say yes she can have the object. Once Chen has finished her story, the class can respond with yes or no.

Students can make the stories as elaborate as they like; if Chen were feeling adventurous, she could say the doll belongs to an enchanted empress and that if the class doesn’t let Chen have it, she can take it back to the rightful owner and the empress will cast a terrible spell on the group!

Tip: Encourage students to make eye contact with the people in the circle as a means to get what they want.

The aim: For students to think laterally and improve their persuasion skills.


6.4 Group improvisation with objectives

In groups, students create a short improvisation where each character has a strong objective.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Improvisation, teamwork, creating a character and communicative skills. Participants: This needs to be practised in groups of three or four.

Time: 20–25 minutes. You’ll need: A space big enough for students to rehearse.

How to: Ask the students to get into groups of three or four. Explain that they are going to create a 5-minute improvisation. In this improvisation, each character must have one want, and this want can be anything: to go to the moon, to have an ice cream, to be a world-famous skate boarder. Once each actor has thought up an objective; ask the group to agree on a setting for their improvisation. A public space works best, such as a park bench, doctor’s waiting room, art gallery, airport or bus stop.

Give the students about 10 minutes to practise an improvisation with those three or four characters together with their strong objectives in a public space. Once the 10 minutes is up, ask the students to show the improvisation to the rest of the class, and the audience can try and guess the characters’ objectives.

Tip: Each actor should only play one objective. Simple objectives are acceptable; sometimes it’s the simple ones that are the most effective. Something like ‘wants to do their coat up (but the zip’s broken)’ is enough.

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The aim: For students to create a group improvisation where objectives take centre stage and to show students that objectives are a great way to create conflict and action within a scene.

 

This is an extract from Samantha Marsden’s new book 100 Acting Exercises for 8-18 Year Olds. It is available to buy now.

Samantha Marsden studied method acting at The Method Studio in London. She worked as a freelance drama teacher for eleven years at theatre companies, youth theatres, private schools, state schools, special schools and weekend theatre schools. In 2012, she set up her own youth theatre, which quickly grew into one of the largest regional youth theatres in the country. Follow her on Twitter @SamMarsdenDrama

 

The Power of Telling Our Stories

I was thirty-eight years old when I first visited San Francisco.

Walking against the evening rush-hour we came to rest at a bookstore; my partner Mike submerged himself in historical texts, but my gaze was caught by an untidy pile marked ‘young readers.’

I uncovered a book cover featuring two men seated in a wooden boat; a young boy pictured in front of them feeding two white water birds; the cover read ‘Daddy’s Roommate-written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite.’

Intrigued I began to read…about a boy living between his mother and his father separately. Father had a new roommate (Frank) and together they undertook regular activities: working, sleeping, eating and occasionally having disagreements. Father and Frank took the boy to the beach, zoo and baseball. Later in the book, the boy asked Mother about Father and Frank; Mother explained that they were ‘gay’- simply another form of love. The book ended with the boy’s acknowledgement that since all of his parents were happy, he was happy too.

My tears came suddenly and relentlessly; fortunately Mike spotted it.

‘Are you ok?’ he enquired.

‘I’m thirty-eight years old and for the first time in my life I have read a book that, had I read it as a child, it might have made me feel like I belonged in this world’. I blubbed messily.

At primary school, despite knowing that I fancied Benny (not Frida) from the pop group Abba and Sean Connery (not Ursula Andress) in the film ‘Dr No’, I (like many others), was provided with not a single book at school or at home that helped me understand identity.

My transit through state education was punctuated with homophobia, bullying and beatings, so sustained and overwhelming that my story very nearly ended at the age of seventeen.

Diverse human children must experience diverse stories and role models to feel welcomed, validated, celebrated and natural, yet it took thirty-eight years to see my own experience of life on Earth reflected in any children’s books.

May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, an opportunity to explore identities histories, experiences and suffering of those who identify as LBGT+ and to stand as allies in the ongoing struggle against hate.

Ten years of facilitating LGBT+ inclusion in schools has shown me that prejudice-related bullying can be targeted at anyone who is perceived as ‘different’. We are all naturally diverse and therefore all potential targets.

In 2009 my primary school uncovered (via pupil data) that 75% of our children were experiencing bullying related to LGBT+ identities, whether or not they identified as LGBT+.

As a school leader I had a simple choice; ignore the data and be negligent or be pro-active.

9781472961501.jpgUnable to source relevant training at primary level I devised an LGBT+ inclusion teacher training programme, delivering it to over one hundred staff. I also sourced books for our classrooms about diverse identities, including ‘Daddy’s Roommate’ the very same book that had once moved me to tears.

 

Shaun Dellenty is an independent education trainer and inspirational keynote speaker who has been working to positively prevent LGBT+ and identity-based prejudice in the UK education system since 2009. His debut book, Celebrating Difference, publishes on 30th May.