"Stefan completely revolutionised my teaching of writing - not an understatement!"
Sarah, Deputy Head & Literacy Leader, Leeds

"I believe I have seen a genuine correlation between children involved in the ARTiculate workshops and target children making Age Related Expectation (ARE)...Every child benefited with progress, clearly evident in their school books."
Simon, Y4 Teacher, Leeds

"Very inspirational and creative - lots of new ideas to improve writing and unlock children's imaginations."
Nadia, Year 4 teacher

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

...and cut! Cape Town filming, day 2

A lovely way to wrap up the filming today at the primary school in Cape Town. Following yesterday’s session where we focused our imaginary migrant’s first day at school – an unfriendly, unwelcoming place – today we looked on the bright side: what would a positive, friendly school look like?
Me filming on our beautiful set!
After yesterday’s filming where the researcher and I had modelled a lot of ideas and techniques for the group, I was hoping that the children would get more of a chance to take the lead today. I hoped that this independence would be both in front of and behind the camera.

We started off the session by discussing what they could remember from the previous day’s conversation - about what we had imagined might happen to the boy. Making a film had seemed a bit of an abstract process to them to begin with so I hoped that by refreshing their memory with their ideas, the children would see how these ideas correlated into the actual film.
We then sat down to watch the footage that we had filmed so far: from their reactions – a lot of smiling and laughing –  they seemed that they were happy with the result! Phew! Children can be a tough crowd sometimes...   This was pleasing for us too, as we felt that the children could see their stamp on the movie we had made and that it was their ideas, rather than our own, at the centre. This is a challenge for creative practitioners and, from my experiences in school, an outcome that requires having a prior agreement between staff about which aspects the teacher or child will lead on, a structure that allows discussion and reflection and time to let the children work.
After watching the film, the children could easily see how they could alter the film to show a friendly, welcoming school. We asked them what their characters might do or say differently this time to be more welcoming to the migrant boy. The children quickly made suggestions of what their character could do differently: rather than push him, give him a hug; instead of steal from him, give him a pencil to use; rather than ignore him, help him to read the signs that had confused him before. We noted down their ideas to use in our filming schedule – this process was a lot more focused and done with confidence - and we were soon outside filming.
Done this way, I felt that the children had a sense that they were seeing the purpose of their activities and had visibly become more confident with the role of storyteller.
One area that I felt we didn’t give the children the full experience, was operating the camera. It would have made the experience more complete – at least from my perspective – to let them be more hands on. Sometimes it is hard to quieten your inner-teacher and follow their direction. This is especially true with having an end-product in mind. Would the footage have been as good if they had filmed it? Would they have got more from the experience if we had let them? Were they happy to let us take the lead initially? These are questions we should both consider before next time.
In any case, the next step will be to put together a short trailer and then the finished movie in time for the children’s premier (early April).

Monday, 19 March 2018

Movie poster - The Arrival!

Ok, I know we are only half way through filming but I couldn’t resist making a quick poster for the movie! A lot of the work I do involves children filming or publishing their work. I think a fundamental part of developing children as authors or artists with a genuine sense of voice is that they get to see their work promoted, shared and celebrated. If you’re making a film for a real audience, then it needs to be promoted as a real movie. I wonder how much of a perception shift the impact of this has? 

When you explain to a group of children that you are going to publish a book or make a film, one of the greatest challenges is convincing the children that you mean it – that their work really will get shared even if it is just locally in the school. This, I suppose, offers an insight into how they view their education. From past experiences, getting children to see themselves as authors requires an injection of confidence and when they see their work being shared publicly, I think this is when they start to feel more confident about their capabilities.

So here is the poster for the movie ‘The Arrival’ featuring the wonderful children of Grade 4, filmed on location in Cape Town. 

...and action! Cape Town filming Day 1

The film project got off to a flying start with the children at a primary school in Cape Town this afternoon. It was wonderful to be invited to work on this research project into migrant children’s perspectives on inclusion in schools.

Last week, the lead researcher discussed inclusion with a group of six children from Grade 4 – a mixture of migrant and local children. To make this topic accessible, the researcher had used The Arrival by Shaun Tan: a wonderful picture book that follows the journey of a man and his family who leave their home to build a life in a new country; the story explores the challenges and surprises that await them. The book has no words and the fantastic illustrations make the book part graphic novel, part photograph album.

Last week, the lead researcher worked with the children to take their own photographs around school to enable the children to identify things that showed that the school was including them (or not) in the life of the school. With this insight, I was asked to help the children turn these ideas into a film based on The Arrival showing the arrival of a new migrant child to the school.

Overall, my aim for this film-making project was to incorporate as many of the children’s ideas as possible rather than impose my own plan. As much as possible, I wanted this project to be directed by them. This is often an issue I grapple with in my teaching – how can you enable children to be creative whilst still offering them guidance? When does the line lie between enabler and enforcer? As someone who enjoys being creative, it is hard not to want to join in! The key challenge in this case was that film making was an entirely new experience for them. Pedagogy, curriculum and practical issues such as large class sizes and lack of resources means that drama, technology and more free-flow methods don’t feature much. In this sense, I have something to offer but I realised they would need a lot of guidance from me in how to fit a plot together, use camera angles and so on. We are going to follow the same formula in our next session, however, so I was happy to use this session to model the storytelling process, so they could take more ownership next time.  

On meeting the children, I planned to discuss the story that they had read and ask them to find parallels with arriving at school. For the children, this was a challenge. Although this was something they do every day, it was tricky for them to put into words something so prosaic. It could have been the arrival (no pun intended) of a tall British man with a funny accent that spirited away their tongues! One boy however had a lot to say – a Grade 4 boy who had recently migrated from Zimbabwe who I will call Tinashe*. 

Arriving at school for the first time was a fresh experience for Tinashe, so he had quite a lot to contribute. Letting him take the lead, I drew the other children in to the discussion about the plot of our film by directly asking them by name what they thought could happen next. This seemed to get some of the other children talking. I showed the children some different camera angles using photographs I had taken of the researcher prior to the session and we discussed how using a high angle can make the subject look small or intimidated whereas using a low angle could make them look taller or more menacing. This was useful as it helped them visualise what they might look like on screen. So far so good.

The filming outside was much more engaging for the children and largely they seemed to become more confident with acting and performing. Tinashe volunteered to play the lead role of the new arrival and he seemed to flourish in the spotlight. It was almost like this was something he really wanted others to understand – maybe us being outsiders helped.

The filming today centred on what an unwelcoming school would look like and I was really satisfied that the ideas we used came from the children’s experiences; being ignored for not speaking their language and being confused by a new place were important migrant experiences while stealing, bullying and gangs were some of the local children’s worries.

Although it was their first time filming we both felt that the children took something from the experience and seemed to grow in confidence in the role of storyteller, especially when they could see their ideas were valued and listened to. Hopefully tomorrow, the children will be able to take more of a lead behind the camera.

A short trailer will follow!

*Not his real name.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Welcome to Cape Town! Research with migrant children

Cape Town is a diverse city that I have been lucky enough to visit several times over the last few years. The landscape, the people, the culture all work together to reflect the rich variety of this city and this country. As the turbulent history of South Africa would suggest, this country’s society is out of balance: staggering economic inequalities are inescapable. But this is also a city with great energy and the place bristles with creative energy and promise – a power that if encouraged and harnessed can surely help drive this country economically, culturally and socially towards a greater sense of equality. Education obviously has a large part to play in developing the talents of the next generation of South Africans, both those born here and those who travel to the cape to find work and a better life. 

On this trip to Cape Town, I’ll be working alongside a researcher from the UK who is researching with young migrant children in state primary schools to explore their views on inclusion. Using exciting methods such as picture books and photography, the research hopes to gain a child’s insight into how they feel their school includes them and how the school can help young migrants to flourish.

I'll be helping the children turn their ideas to make a film telling the story of a migrant’s arrival at school. Looking forward to it!