NAWR blog by Rachel George

Hi All!
My name is Rachel and I teach at Ysgol Maes y Coed special school in Bryncoch, Neath. I have a class full of wonderful teenagers who love the arts almost as much as I do. I’m also an Arts Champion for NAWR and look forward to hopefully working with some of you in the future.
So this is my first ever blog! 42 years old and just catching up!

I thought I would discuss an issue close to all our hearts.
Performance Management
Now that got your attention!

How many of us have sat hunched up, looking at our computer screens to try and find that simple, inspirational lesson for our performance management lessons? You know the ones, the ones that engage all students, no matter their ability and interests? Yes that’s the one! Well, I sat in exactly that position.

Our school looks at different subjects and areas each term. This term was maths….
….sorry dropped off for a moment there! My class has very different needs and are all at completely different levels, as are most of yours too. I always found maths one of the most boring lessons when I was in school. I don’t even think it was what was being taught as much as the how. From a board, at the front.

I know that teaching methods have evolved quite significantly since then but maths still leaves me cold (apart from money – love shopping activities!). What I needed was, a maths lesson that played to my strengths and engaged all my learners. It’s at this point I should mention that I am working on the expressive arts strand of the new curriculum for Wales.

So I embraced my inner Donaldson and I decided I would teach maths (we were looking at pattern) through music. I wanted my students to be able to identify a simple pattern in music. I posed them the question – “Does music have a pattern?” The students answered with a simple yes/no. I then played “Uptown Funk” – I asked if they could find a simple rhythmic pattern, which they did – It’s a good string beat. All the students were able to find their toe tapping or clapping rhythm. I counted it out with them and they found their beats. I then asked “is it important for music to have a pattern?” Again some yes no answers, so I played for them Penderckis “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima”, a spine tingling, nerve jangling, teeth hurting piece of music. (If ever you want to set a spooky mood – forget Tubular Bells this one does it all the time!) We listened to different pieces of music, discussed them and then made our own graphic scores, with a simple repeating pattern, and performed them in front of each other for us all to evaluate. The lesson was a success (in fact the lesson ideas are being pinched for another class!) and we are continuing to develop our pattern skills in other expressive arts activities.

Thinking about the cross curricular aspects of expressive arts when developing the new curriculum has made me reflect on my practice. I have always loved the expressive arts in all forms and, as a teacher believe they are a strength to be used to develop the rest of the curriculum areas. I have taught some very difficult concepts through expressive arts, such as the holocaust, civil rights and children’s rights to name a few. It has been these lessons that my students remember, these emotions they have learned to deal with and develop respect.

The expressive arts also delivers a completely experiential lesson. It’s these experiences that stay with our students. I remember when I was in school it was the activities such as, falling in love with Turners art in the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery when I was 9, a cultural trip to China when I was 14, orchestra trips and actually taking my sketchbook out and drawing outside that engaged me on a personal level and has stayed with me.

In this day and age with funding being cut such activities are few and far between in schools, and very often it’s the expressive arts subjects which suffer, and are often the first to see the funding cuts. But the Arts Council of Wales have come to the rescue and are offering grants of up £25k to work collaboratively with artists and look at developing sustainable practise within schools. They also have a ‘Go and See Fund’ which you can apply to, and will give you up to 90% of the cost of a trip to the theatre or an arts event.

Take this opportunity!
Run with it!

Start by giving your students the arts experiences within the classroom, then take it further. Take them to galleries and theatres, show them what’s out there. Contact industry professionals, invite them in. Phone a friendly Arts Champion for help and advice. Help our students have the experiences they need in order to start making the connections between subjects, to see that they are not put into boxes, instead realise that they overlap. It’s these connections and the ability to see the links between subjects that employers are looking for. Take the risk, encourage our students to take risks, embrace the new curriculum and teach through the arts. Maths and music go hand in hand. I returned to pattern a week later, in a different context. My students were able to recall the patterns they made and then make more complex patterns. Success all round! Connections made. Using practical experiences, my students were able to identify patterns in music and then transfer this knowledge to other areas.
As Steve Jobs said “Creativity is just connecting things”.
Go ahead and help students to make connections and become well rounded creative thinkers.
Remember “Creativity is contagious, pass it on” – Einstein

This blog entry was written by Rachel George, Arts Champion for the Arts and Education Network: Mid and West Wales. Blog originally written in English. May 2017