“It is very easy for us all to get stuck in a habitual way of perceiving and approaching a problem or task. It is equally likely for us to feel unconfident about taking a risk. The techniques, exercises and games that we are developing embrace and tackle both of these obstacles to creativity.
We are interested in stimulating the confidence and resilience that we all had in abundance as young children. When we were discovering the world at that age we had the confidence to play, to make mistakes, to improvise, to explore new ideas. Improvisation both awakens and nurtures those qualities. It allows the participant to come up with and access the unexpected in themselves”. John Nicholson, Artistic Director, Peepolykus.
is an education research project that began in 2014 in partnership with Viv Ellis, Professor of Educational Leadership & Teacher Development at Kings College, London and our colleague Mark Bishop of Big State Theatre and the Natural Theatre Company. We were interested in what happened when children got ‘stuck’ at school and how they and their teachers responded. Our interest was sparked by watching our own children (then at primary school) struggle (disengage, retreat) with getting stuck.
what would happen if we took some of the methods we use to find solutions and new ideas when we get stuck in the rehearsal room – devising games, improvisation etc – and see how those methods might be used to help children when they get stuck – or come up against a block in their learning – in the classroom. “In our society there is a real stigma attached to getting things wrong and this can begin at a young age. The path to real and exciting discovery, however, is all about trial and error and about being curious and confident enough to ask questions”.
An exploratory, small pilot study in 2015 was funded by the Rackham Foundation. Professor Ellis and his team observed and measured what went on. We also brought in two other colleagues to work with us: writer and director Toby Hulse and Adam Fuller who is a puppeteer, performer and also a writer.
We ran workshops with pupils in five primary schools across Bristol and B&NES (Bath and North East Somerset). These were:
Luckwell Primary School; Trinity Academy (Radstock); Fonthill Primary School; Fosseway (an SEN school) and Hareclive School. Ashton Gate Primary School and Elmlea Junior School helped us with some initial workshops.
In each school pupils participated in games and exercises (including improvisation techniques) which we filmed. Some of the exercises were specifically created, and some were adapted from our own repertoire. All were designed to encourage children to make natural and spontaneous reactions, rather than ‘safe’ or ‘prepared’ ones, so that they might participate in generating ideas and solutions. Part of our enquiry was also focussed on asking Headteachers and their staff to share with us their observations of childrens’ behaviour: when your pupils don’t get it, what do those pupils do? Of course, the critical sister question to this is when your pupils don’t get it, what do you do, and what do you feel able to do? You can read more about the methodology and background to the pilot study here
The Pilot Study showed us that improvisation can have a very beneficial impact when children get stuck. It can help them help to perceive a problem in a different way and to develop the confidence to get unstuck. However, the question we were left asking ourselves was two fold; a) how we might be able to offer wider support to schools and b) how might we measure the impact of improvisation tools across the curriculum. Teachers told us that an issue with one-off/short-term interventions is the difficulty in building on and continuing the positive aspects of that intervention in the long term and in everyday classroom teaching. This is often because it is the visiting practitioners that work more directly with the children than with the teachers.
Phase Two of Stuck, therefore, proposes to address this by offering a course that works directly with teachers, initially over an academic year. The course will comprise a series of six one-day training workshops spread throughout the year for up to 30 secondary school teachers. This training will focus on teachers working with our team of practitioners to develop their improvisation skills. In order to measure the wider potential impact of this training (when teachers return to curriculum teaching) participants are invited from across all subject areas. It is very difficult to evaluate the real impact of classroom interventions and there are very few examples on interventions that have been accompanied with control groups and in depth assessment. This project will work closely with Professor Ellis and his research team at Kings College in this respect.
We are putting together a series of funding bids to help support this research. If you would like to register your interest in participating in Phase Two of Stuck please email us via our Contacts Page. Please state your teaching subject area and school in the message field and we will be in touch. We will be tweeting about Stuck using the hashtag #stuckimpro
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Rackham Foundation and Arts Council England in funding the pilot phase of Stuck
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