"How can different creative practices have an impact upon writing in the classroom?"
"How can we develop creative spaces to stimulate creative writing?"
These were the two enquiry questions posed as part of a Creative Partnerships project, based in two primary schools in Cheshire. Working in collaboration with artist Johnny Woodhams, myself and Johnny began to consider different ways to begin to creatively research and answer these questions over the course of ten days working in both schools.
Year 1 and 2, Cheadle Primary School
Initially, we presented our practice and work as artists to the children, providing visual examples of different creative spaces that we could create as artists and creative thinkers. Our attention focused upon exploring the concept of space, considering ways of constructing spaces with the children. To widen the children's vocabulary and understanding of different spaces, we explored the senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste). This process was captured in the children's journals.
We began to consult with children to develop their ideas for building spaces. We explored the school building and surroundings, taking photos and identified potential building sites. The children were asked to draw/write their ideas on postcards and later in their journals. They each submitted an idea and then ideas were voted to choose class favourites.
Eventually, the class teacher suggested that a space called 'Sparkle World' would be the most ideal space for the classroom as she could use it as a project space or corner for research and investigation. Rather confusingly, she also wanted to focus on the topic of 'outer space' and therefore this ran alongside our 'creative spaces' project.
The Design Process
The children were asked to draw their ideas for building their own 3D structures. They then went on to build these using paper straws and sticky tape. This developed as an outdoor activity, in which children worked in small groups to make dens out of garden canes, string, sticky tape, etc. They were asked to record this process in their journals, through drawing and writing. They described their structures, plans, ideas, experiences of the process, what they had learnt and what they would change.
The process of designing and building structures was particularly useful as the children were required to exercise motor skills, problem solve and work together successfully in teams, in order to realise their design. They also discovered that they had to think before rushing straight into making.
Interestingly, once the dens were built, a few children began to write without being asked. One group of children were particularly concerned that their foil-covered den would be destroyed if left outside in the playground, so they began to write messages to others saying, "if you come in this den, please don't punch it - no teachs allowed!" Other children began to join in, writing more messages and creating flags.
Indoors, the children had also moved into a new classroom so we helped to develop this space. Johnny built a mysteriously dark 'space pod' in the corner. The children began to research the topic of outer space and we played writing games to develop pop-up alien characters and puppets. We also made outer space features out of recycled materials to begin to fill our space pod.
In the space of five days, we had covered quite a lot of different tasks and left both the teacher and the children with a range of ideas to be working on. To find out what the children thought about the work carried out, we laid out a giant piece of paper in their outdoor play area and asked them to write/draw the things that they learnt, enjoyed, would like to do more of, etc. They all huddled together to discuss this and filled the paper with comments!