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Friday, 31 October 2014

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MAKING A DRAMA OUT OF A CRISIS

THINKING about the thoughts and emotions that might have been felt by passengers on the Titanic was one of a host of ways that pupils of Victoria Junior School in Workington learned more about the stricken vessel.

As the country marked the centenary of the ship’s sinking, freelance storyteller Ian Douglas visited the school to lead drama workshops with all 260 pupils and explore similes and stretch their imagination, concentration and learning.

The sessions, which were organised by year group, saw fellow freelancer Dan Serridge strike a pose to show a scene in the experience of Titanic passenger Tom, a third-class passenger who was asleep when the ship hit the iceberg and whose wife was injured in the disaster.

The year groups shared ideas about what they thought was happening in the pictures they were given and how Tom might have felt. They were asked to think about the word “determined”, to close their eyes and think about what the adjective means and to imagine how a person would look, how they would move, how the emotion is reflected in their expression.

Then they were asked to strike a pose, to reflect that emotion in their limbs, their stance, and in their faces. Each child’s pose was different, and each child engaged with the task and demonstrated an individual, very personal response.

Each class was then given one of the 10 scenes to focus on and discussed how Tom’s story might have developed, based on the image they had to work with.

Their efforts culminated in a performance for parents, where classes introduced other characters who might have been on the Titanic to each produce a scene based on Tom’s experiences.

Pupils also looked at the emotional side of the disaster and attached work about how Tom might have felt to a willow and tissue paper model of the ship. This was then displayed as part of an exhibition in school for parents to view.

Ian said the week-long project aimed to develop collective writing and writing with empathy.

He added: “A lot of the things children learn about the Titanic are factual; we have got objects or we have got pictures of it setting off. This project is helping the pupils to form empathy.

“Each of the people who lost their lives was a story in their own right. Hopefully, some of these children will make a connection and think that in among the glory of Hollywood there’s a person in there.

“The project focuses on empathy; helping the children to translate this emotion to the page and encouraging them to reflect it in their writing. But in order to do that, they must first learn to recognise it and understand what it means. This is achieved through a series of activities and workshops designed to challenge and engage.

“I hope it might result in children having a better understanding of what it might have felt like and being able to articulate that story.

“On the first day, I introduced a fictional character called Tom, an imagined passenger on the Titanic. Using movement and expression Tom presented each group with a frozen moment and the children were asked to interpret the scenario by thinking about both what was happening and how he might be feeling.”

Ian added that storytelling was the basis of humans’ ability to understand and express things around them.

He said: “Storytelling is the world around us. It’s how we articulate what we see and how we make sense of it all.

“The ability to express what’s going on is the most primitive form of storytelling.

“We are losing the ability now to look people in the eye and have a conversation. Nothing exists without the story.”

Gillian Spokes, deputy headteacher, said: “We have done a lot of work on writing and language skills and we invited Ian in as another way of delivering them.

“It’s a way of teaching the children in a fun and different way.

“They have all been thoroughly engaged and enjoying it.”

Ian’s visit came on the back of an array of learning the school had done on the Titanic topic.

Each pupil visited the Titanic exhibition at The Wave Centre, Maryport, to find out more about the history of the disaster and its local links.

Some have worked with dance teacher Natalie Smith, learning the difference between the dance styles and entertainment of first and third class passengers as well as recreating the disaster with pupils performing as the ship and its passengers.

Year five pupils visited the archives centre in Whitehaven to find out both about West Cumbria’s links to the Titanic and what was happening in Workington in 1912.

Pupils also created passengers out of fabric, which were fixed together to form the shape of the Titanic, and they enjoyed a themed lunch.

Mrs Spokes said: “We’ve been looking at different ways of teaching the children and incorporating it into as many areas of the curriculum as possible.

“Everybody learns differently but they’ve all had the ability to do something that they were interested in or good at.

“This has fired them up. Learning through drama usually spurs them on and they come up with some brilliant ideas.”

Ian Douglas has 16 years’ experience delivering storytelling workshops and projects in schools working with children from nursery age right up to sixth-form students.

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