tangled feet: diary of their residency in Charles Dickens Primary School

December 1st, 2011

tangled feet STEP Residency Diary

It’s the first day of an exciting week where we are resident at Charles Dickens Primary School in Southwark. The aim of the week is to test the water and tread new ground as we look to develop our work in a primary school setting. Not only are we focusing on adapting the current tangled feet work to a younger age bracket within schools, we also want to utilise Alex’s experience and work as a Dramatherapist. Our intention is to weave these into the work we do at this level to offer a programme which is uniquely tangled feet. After acquainting ourselves with the school we set to work fine-tuning the first of two sessions we will be piloting this week. The only obstacle thus far was the setting – furniture fit for 8 year olds and the challenge that brings for a bunch of adults - mainly the fitting onto and under said furniture. Nevertheless, we overcame this and soon had a session with which we were happy to run for today’s session.

This week being an R and D residency for us as well as STEP, we will be experimenting with the form of our workshops, to explore how our work and varying elements of Dramatherapy can enhance and inform our work with primary school students. From what we achieved today we were pleased but will not rest on our laurels or play it safe. We are here to develop a strong programme of work and will scrutinize each session as we go, reshuffling changing and honing it until we are satisfied.

Our approach for the first session with each class is the ‘Outside In’ process. With this we encourage imagination by external stimulus. In this circumstance it will be music.

We spent the morning reflecting on the work of the day before, asking how we thought the afternoon session had gone with yesterday’s class, and how we could adjust the work for today’s session.

As a tool for this work we used a pack of ‘blob’ cards, each person selecting the ones we thought best represented our experience of the previous day’s work, our concerns and our positive feelings. From this exercise we made a list of things to be addressed before we planned this afternoon. Being the playful creatures we are we are finding it very interesting and practicing what we preach is really important. To this end we try everything out before we run the sessions with each class. Being reflective is crucial to understanding how our process will adapt for this age group. There are a lot of tools from Dramatherapy that help us reflect as well as achieve different goals within our planned sessions.

We talked a lot about how to better facilitate all parts of the session, and reflected on the tendency to be goal-oriented with regard to the final ‘shows’, and asked to what extent this might stifle expression. To this end, we also touched on the idea of failure and what we would define as failure. There were fears that the pupils wouldn’t engage with the work. We decided that as long as they were in the room, then they were engaging, just not in the way we expected, and as long as we accepted and worked with that, there was always a way back to inclusion in the session.

There was a great feeling of shared understanding in the room this morning. We really nailed the workshop yesterday and the children had engaged with it so well, consequently we didn’t spend too long tweaking, just clarifying working and rules of warm-ups to ensure maximum play time and minimum explanation/discipline (once the children are playing/engaged there is rarely need or room for discipline). We all shared the challenge of competing with a big noisy hall which provides a thoroughfare for the rest of Years 3-6, but these are the challenges all practitioners/teachers face when working within primary education, and it probably bothers us more than it does the children, who are quite used to constant noise!

We discussed and celebrated our very different facilitation styles, which all seem to complement each other very well. Fiona’s high energy, Leon’s enticing captivating ways, and and Nathan's and my slightly firmer ‘parental’ approach. We decided to make more examples of good behaviour and practice with the children, and ask more children to demonstrate anything they have really engaged with well.

We chose to implement a structure to the performance piece: a beginning, middle and end, in order to ensure even more flexibility and spontaneity between these pillars. All of this really paid off in the afternoon, delivering the workshop to our most challenging and potentially most disengaged group, they produced some of the most thought-provoking, clear and engaging work of the week so far. Our greater clarity allowed for their greater freedom of expression. We have found it incredible that every child has engaged fully with every aspect of this work, and have shared something of their inner world and imaginative capabilities...90 children...that is rare in our experience.

We spent the latter half of the morning’s planning session designing the ‘Inside Out’ workshop, focusing on the facilitation of stories from within with a distance of metaphor and structure. This method is a Dramatherapy assessment tool designed over thirty years ago by Psychologist Mooli Lahad. The structure follows the creation of six boxes on a blank piece of paper, the child is asked to draw the following in each of the boxes:
1) A hero/heroine, main character
2) A challenge/task which they have to face
3) Helper/helpmate to accompany the main character
4) An obstacle/monster that may get in their way
5) How (if at all) this obstacle is overcome
6) How the story ends
Both Fiona and Leon partook in the process, and seemingly thoroughly enjoyed it. Although it was designed as an assessment tool, we find it to be an extremely useful way to quickly facilitate an individual or group storytelling process. We only have 1 hour 15 mins for the workshop tomorrow, so we decided to stay in our previous groups and devise a group six-part story (as opposed to working individually). This is not ideal, as it is such a beneficial individual exercise, but in the interest of time, the importance of dramatising took priority.

So tomorrow’s session consists of two lead-in games focusing on storytelling and then straight into the main body of the work. We are hoping this will again allow individual ideas to be incorporated in group dynamics, the facilitators will ensure that every idea is heard and incorporated in some way or another. We are hoping that by the end of the day we will have a clearer idea of what will be shared on Friday afternoon, having asked the teachers for their advice in our staff meeting tomorrow after school.

It was another great day, and we are looking forward to testing out a completely new structure for so many children.

Today was a full teaching day with no evaluation time in the morning. Our aim was to achieve a second session with each class following the opening three days of working with a class each afternoon. Each class has had a slightly shorter session. This second session was to try our ‘Inside out’ approach.

We introduced the children to the six-part story model of creating a narrative. The six-part story model gives the young people a good route into creativity with some boundaries in place. It lets the children be free with their imaginations but creates a structure for the story to exist within. Groups would then tell their stories back to the rest of the class. The lesson was more static than the previous ‘Outside in’ structure and this changed the dynamic in the space and between workshop leaders and children.

Clarity of instruction was really important eg: the children understanding the meaning and implementation of the word ‘Obstacle’. Alex handled this well by making sure the group understood each phase. In this session we facilitated much less like drama facilitators – dealing with disputes and negotiation of ideas with each group. There was a real improvement of concentration, group negotiation after the first two boxes. It was like the young people needed to get into the swing of the task and the group. This was heartening and showed the group dynamic and task was achievable.

The children clearly enjoyed the creation – thinking of a character and being in charge of the narrative. The group dynamics were the real testing area for them. There was an interesting frequency of computer style puzzles – ‘defeating zombies and solving a puzzle to get to the next level’. Some stories felt borrowed from the world of computer games or action films and all the stories were fantastical. In this session we weren’t able to dramatise each story but instead facilitated the retelling to the whole group.

After a packed day yesterday we took time to reflect on the process and of course to plan for the sharing of year 3 and 4’s work to each other. We have had a lot to think about this week. This was primarily about how we make workshops distinctly tangled feet and not just a generic workshop for primary schools, how we utilise the Dramatherapy aspects we were researching and then how we can get the best of each facet to turn into a model or models for our work in primary schools. We have to say that this wasn’t easy. We have however had excellent support from STEP and the teachers we have been working with at Charles Dickens Primary School. We have never had so much support from a school, which was very refreshing. Their insight and feedback has been invaluable and vital if we are to make this research week into a high quality programme for young people.

The day was filled with short recap sessions with each class, going over what we would share. Each class would show a different aspect of the work we have done this week. These were to be the 'Outside in' process, where the students had created a story from listening to music. The second part would be a story telling game “Big, Bigger, Biggest” where the children tell a story and act it out at the same time. The third part of the sharing was to be the ‘Inside out’ process. For this we had a short amount of time to work with the students to stage their stories. We felt rushed for time as we only had half an hour but it was well worth doing this as the process of dramatising the stories brought out a lot of creativity and again tested the children’s ability to work together, negotiate ideas and work in a focused way with a goal in mind.

The sharing went extremely well. The play of each student was as fresh and imaginative despite having rehearsed what would be shown. We were unsure about having a sharing. We felt that it could undermine the process-focused approach to the week. We were also concerned how engaging the children would find watching a lot of other work which they were not part of. However every child was engaged throughout, from working in the recap sessions through to watching their fellow classmates and year group show work which they too had experienced during their session. In the end it proved a valuable part of the week.

Alex, Fiona, Nathan and Leon