It is a difficult thing to plan - every activity needs to cover a lot of bases. I believe that the experience must be a positive one - but also challenge. This challenge needs to be framed in a way that does not damage the confidence of the learner. The project was called FAB. It involved paintings from the Dutch masters - Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Cuyp, as well as a few contemporary artists.
I wanted to immerse the children in the paintings - and challenge them to come up with amazing words, poetry, artwork and musical compositions. Every activity had a different theme and outcome - but there were 3 major ones - hence the name FAB after the lolly…
The outcomes were:
Written - in the form of poetry and phrases
Visual - in the form of acrylic paintings
Sonic - in the form of song and composition.
What was most important and crucial to the success of the whole week was that the ideas generated came from the children, that they were owned by the children. They meant something. The ethos of the school is a creative one - one that celebrates the individual. In this environment it is easy for the children to have the confidence to be themselves, to be comfortable with their own interpretations.
One picture was used for all (they were Years 5 and 6) - River Landscape by Albert Cuyp. I composed four sounds to go with this painting. The purpose of the sound was to draw the watcher’s mind into the scene - sound is very good at doing this! The children then mapped what they were drawn to in the painting - it could be an object or character they could see - or a mood they sensed or even something they imagined they saw in the painting. It was up to them - the ideas had to be theirs. These were mapped and organised.
The picture was then taken off the screen. I did not want the children to copy from the board; I wanted them to interpret their visual ideas from the written ones on their maps. They used acrylics and the results were incredible…
I wanted the pictures to become words again, so the children wrote a poem about the picture. This had been preceded by talk. Simply asking the children to talk about what they had drawn drew poetic phrases. And they wanted to talk about their paintings. The other activities all challenged and all produced amazing results. The focus of the classes, and the amount of work they produced, is something that as a teacher I am very proud of.
Another stand out activity involved two classes working with paintings by Van Gogh - they had to see the painting with all five senses. This produced phrases and poems - these were used for songs but also for wonderful mini acrylic paintings to illustrate the phrase.
The end of the week was a celebration of the achievements for parents and carers.
Many of the guests came up to me and Laura afterwards to say thank you for the ‘vibe’ of the work. It meant something, and it clearly mattered to the children. Learning is a dynamic process and all too often the content of what is to be learned is ‘delivered’. This is not enough - dry delivery does not lead to engagement and passion, it does not allow personal ideas and ownership.
The FAB project shows that if we immerse people in engaging, meaningful learning experiences - that are positive and challenging - the resulting work will be wonderful. And more than that - all people involved in these learning experiences - teachers and pupils alike - will remember them for many years to come. Surely that is what learning should look like; a flowering of confidence and achievement.
One boy in the school was incredibly shy. He wrote an amazing poem based on one of the paintings that he had seen. Laura encouraged him to speak on the Friday. He was terrified but with the support and belief of all, he did it. I was on stage with him when he came up - he was trembling. He calmed his nerves as his classmates held aloft a huge sign saying - “We are all with you - good luck!” This wonderful support was initiated by the children themselves - it mattered to everyone that there was a feeling of success permeating through the week.
It was a wonderful week - in an amazing school.
If you would like to learn more about the school then please contact headteacher David Porritt on email@example.com
Has your job ever taken you abroad to run an event such as this? Tell us about it in the comments below.