by Elin Williams and JoJo Tyhurst
A teacher-led adventure
As a company, it’s crucial that our practice continues to evolve and grow.
Here we share how listening to teachers has had a direct impact on our programme in schools. This collaborative approach speaks strongly to the Arts Council’s principle of ‘ambition and quality’ and is something that continues to impact what we do.
Punchdrunk Enrichment is a charity that creates transformational theatre for education, community and family audiences. We’ve been around since 2008, when we first started delivering work in primary schools.
For installation projects such as Under the Eiderdown and The Lost Lending Library, this work involved bringing a team of carpenters and designers into schools over a weekend to build a secret hidden world. When the children returned on Monday morning, they would soon learn that something was afoot and be tasked with discovering what we had created, encountering characters, and becoming the heroes of their own story.
Listening to teachers
The success of these projects would not be possible without the commitment of teachers, and in our conversations with them, we learned of their desire to further embed our work into their practice and the curriculum, providing a stronger legacy for immersive learning in their schools. The scale of our installation projects also meant we were limited to delivering them in London, and we wanted to find a way of sharing our practice with schools as far and wide as possible, for an accessible cost. We began to explore how we could create projects that would reimagine and disrupt everyday school life and put teachers in the driving seat. This led to the creation of a new strand of work, our teacher-led programme.
How could we get there?
We had two questions we wanted to answer in the development of this programme: if teachers could deliver an immersive learning experience in schools themselves, what tools would they need? How could we give them the confidence to deliver it?
Led by Director and Writer Tara Boland, for our first teacher-led adventure we collaborated with teachers from 10 schools to test a prototype. This group gave us a number of key insights:
What did we learn?
We learned that for teachers to be at the heart of a project, they also need to be at the core of its development. The teachers helped us to understand:
- The needs of the curriculum and how our work can benefit schools with different priorities
- How to ensure delivery is light and easy to build into their workload - we made sure our set up tasks took no longer than five minutes at the beginning of the school day
- That teachers must be supported with the right resources - as a result we worked hard to create detailed teacher packs including lesson planning prompts and ideas, CPDs and latterly an instructional video. Through engaging teachers more thoroughly in our work with these resources, we have found they are better equipped to develop their own legacy projects in the future.
Together with this group of teachers we created A Small Tale, a literacy project for primary years 1 - 4. Beginning with the discovery of a mysterious old picture book the teacher and their class learn about two mischievous and messy tiny people with a love of stories. The following day the class realise these two characters have escaped from the book and the only way to entice them back is for them to write stories.
The teachers receive a range of handmade props to position around the school such as a tiny rope ladder and tipi along with a teacher pack including lesson planning ideas across a seven-day period.
Since 2016 this project has been delivered in 114 primary schools and continues to make a big impact with pupils, encouraging reluctant writers to put pen to paper and boosting speaking and listening skills.
What happened next?
We’ve now applied this learning to a whole suite of teacher-led projects including A Curious Quest (suitable for a whole primary school), The Vanishing Land (for Years 5 and 6) and an early years foundation stage project is currently in development. For each project we have worked with a group of teachers from the very beginning of the project’s conception.
Recognising the potential impact of our work in schools we also set up The Immersive Learning Collective - a community of schools with who we work on a long-term basis. Over a three-year period, teachers meet regularly, work with Punchdrunk Enrichment practitioners to pilot new projects, and will eventually deliver their own immersive learning projects in schools, supporting continual teacher development.
Understanding how to meaningfully empower teachers to deliver our projects has also fed into our programme for families, giving us the skills to instruct parents and carers how to deliver our digital projects Our Home Story and The Wild Visitor.
For A Small Tale, the story is not over yet. A new partnership with The Spark in Leicester has seen the project being co-delivered in schools and libraries.
We also recently began experimenting with how the experience could work as a portable family theatre show, further broadening the reach of the project. We tested this with Hackney Shed over the summer and continue to develop this concept.
The journey of this project speaks to the Arts Council’s Investment Principle theme of progression, married with collaboration and refinement. Listening to audiences and partners is an essential component in the development of our work, it can bring fresh perspectives and opportunities and ultimately makes our projects stronger. We’ve already seen how this feedback loop makes our work more successful and more innovative, and we will continue to expand and strengthen this loop for the development of future work.