Our penultimate INSET of 2016-17 on 17 May worked with storytelling through movement and drama, with a strong emphasis on how embodying language can support oracy and writing skills in nearly every educational setting.
Writer and performer Katharine James began the day with Shuma the Guardian - a group storytelling activity that incorporated mirrored sounds and movements to build a collective sense of ownership around this fairytale. A series of paired voice and movement activities followed, all leading to the development, in small groups, of a story that started with Chinese Whispers about a favourite animal and the phrase ‘This is the story of…’. Animals could be real or fantastical and the stories could go in any direction the group chose.
Groups then used a folded story exercise to develop physical and emotional details, an event that the animal was part of, a ‘catchphrase’, and a final line for the story. Each group then performed its story in and around the confines of a metre-square space, as Katharine emphasized that constraints and parameters are as critical as imagination in all storytelling. ‘When we combine voice and movement with words, stories become more vibrant and lively,’ Katharine said. ‘But of course, every story has to begin and end, too.’
In the afternoon session, choreographer and theatre practitioner Andrea Puerta extended Katharine’s embodied language work. Andrea has a research interest in the power of our bodies to ‘own’ language, which she believes creates meaning and context for intellectual understanding.
Andrea began by having the group generate words that reflected their mood, then creating movements – individually and collectively – that reflected these. Shifting to small groups, a small excerpt from Romeo and Juliet was interrogated by each group with a focus on words that groups either didn’t know or found intriguing (‘wolvish’ and ‘bowered’ were top picks).
Each group then spent time improvising movements that represented these words before combining movements with a reading of the text itself; Andrea encouraged groups to ‘feel’ the words, whether they were hard or soft, gentle or violent. The result was a more energetic, visceral sense of the text: one teacher described it as ‘passing the text around like a ball of energy.’
In our reflection sessions, teachers commented that finding ‘ways in’ to language was a top priority and that both Katharine and Andrea had offered some tools and food for thought. ‘I’d not really thought of Shakespeare as something Year 1's could do but I’d like to take this back to school,’ said one teacher. ‘A lot of my children don’t get a chance to engage with drama outside of school. Some of them are really talented.’
‘We’re trying as much as possible to find ways for our students to access drama and dance in new ways,’ said another teacher, ‘since some of the new curricula coming down makes them feel less engaged and less intelligent.’
The final INSET of the school year is on 28 June and will feature a full day with artist Abigail Reed, who has exhibited at Tate Modern and Tate Britain. The focus will be working with objects and museum/gallery settings; we’ll again be at the Museum of London and will use the museum itself as the basis of our work.