In January 2013 The Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht launched the Arts in Education Charter¡±.This charter promotes Arts Education and Arts in Education for our children and young people. The initiation of the Charter led to a new and exciting research project which gathered six artists, from different disciplines, and six primary school teachers, located in different regions throughout Ireland to engage in a collaborative project taking place between September and December 2014.
In preparation for this exciting project the artists and teachers gathered at Laois Education Centre in August 2014 to work collaboratively, designing and planning their projects. Our Third Class teacher, Jenny Buggie was teamed up with Drama Artist Joanna Parkes. Joanna is one of Ireland's most experienced drama practitioners and has an extensive knowledge of Educational Drama, having worked both urban and rural school settings for many years. She not only works with numerous Arts organisations such as The Ark, but has also written 'Step by Step Educational Drama'with her colleague Sarah FitzGibbon.
Needless to say, Rang a Tr?/span>, Sacred Heart School were very enthusiastic about their upcoming project and, with the support of Mr. Hickey, our staff and parents the Arts in Education project began on the 19th of September.
'When I used to visit people's houses with Mammy, before drama I'd just sit on the couch and not speak to anybody. Now I don't feel nervous and I'll chat away' - Ava
'i feel more like an adult in drama, I use bigger words' - Rachel
'Before drama I felt nervous about speaking, now I feel more confident speaking to other people' - Antonina
'I used to only play with a few people in my class, now I can play with anyone' - Jolene
'I've learned that Jolene is great craic!' - Caoimhe
The project began with Joanna guiding the girls through a series of drama games and activities such as follow-the-leader, improvisation and freeze-framing. These games developed concentration, focused minds and energised bodies for drama. We then chatted about gender roles in our society asking questions such as 'What jobs are women not allowed to do in Ireland today??and posing the following riddle:
A father was driving along with his son, when they were involved in an accident. The father wasn't hurt, but his son was seriously injured and needed surgery. At the hospital the boy lay in theatre. The surgeon rushed in, looked down and said "I cannot operate on this child, this boy is my son
…do you know the answer?
The end of our first drama session was marked by a Reflection on Drama activity. This process, which we continued throughout the project, gave the children time to reflect on the work they had done, what learning they had gleaned from the experience and to question their feelings about the unfolding drama. For Joanna and Jenny, this was not only an opportunity to develop the girl's critical thinking and literacy skills, but gave them an insight into how the drama and learning associated with it impacted upon the children individually.
Excavation and Cross-Curricular Integration!
The work of the project began in earnest in Week 2 when the children became world famous archaeologists in their drama. They were called to assist in the rescue excavation of a Clan Leader's burial site at the Rock Dunamaise, the most impressive archaeological monument in Co. Laois. The archaeologists dug and dug, finding only modern pottery and lumps of rubbish, until finally, near the end of the day, each digger found an incredible object!
Rang a Tr?then took a two week break in drama to draw, design and create the special object they had excavated. Using clay, fabric, wood, cardboard and their imaginations the children brought the imaginary into reality. In art the girls constructed a papier m?ch?model of what they imagined the 9 Century fort at Dunamaise might look like, and created The Museum of Laois, in which we displayed the precious finds.
In creative writing the children used the features of the Recount Genre to draft and edit newsletter articles on their archaeological finds, using ICT lessons to type them up. The results, I think you'll agree are impressive!
The Legend of Dunamaise
On the 17 of October the AiE project reconvened and Joanna began to lead both pupils and teacher on an incredible journey back in time to 814AD and the fort at D¨²n Masc through the medium of drama. The children were divided into six different family groupings: the Potters, Weavers, Druids, Metal Workers, Farmers and the Clan Leader's Family. In history class the girls developed their background knowledge of the importance of each families?skill-set in the life of the D¨²n, so that in drama, using group work, negotiation, discussion and mime the children could explore and develop their roles, giving depth to their drama personae.
Through Joanna's rich narrative and drama skill the children came to know the characters of their drama in great detail. They were introduced to their Clan Leader, Donal, his unconventional and inspirational daughter Alfric, and her cousins Tadhg and Tuan. Through the medium of drama the girls developed their understanding of these key characters and the significant events in their lives. They took part in hunting expeditions, Clan discussions, such as how organise the Festival of Samhain and how to select a new Clan Leader and they enacted key moments, like when Alfric was appointed Clan Leader.
Joanna encouraged the children to question and explore their characters?motivations and feelings using the 'Hot Seating' technique, where the girls would be interviewed in character by their classmates. This activity was a fantastic opportunity to develop Oral Language skills and critical thinking. Miss Buggie also took part in the drama and even became a seancha?for one session, telling children all about the great battle between Donal and the fearsome Boar of Ballyfriar!
Sharing Our Work
During our Arts in Education project we have enjoyed wonderful support from our local community.
Laois Heritage Forum shared our photos on Facebook in November 2014.
Lynda Kiernan wrote a lovely article on the initiative in the Leinster Express in December 2014.
Watch this space for further updates!