The end of Year 6 is an exciting, yet daunting time for many of our youngsters. They are saying goodbye to the environment where they have felt safe and secure to embark on a huge adventure as they go on to ‘big school’. Increasingly, at both Primary and Secondary level, as the pressure intensifies on students to reach their ‘all important’ targets, so many students can in turn lose motivation and disengage from a system that is ill suited to their needs. However, projects that engage students through creative learning are an antidote to this. The resources and support available in local communities can be a real source of engagement, and both independent and collaborative learning.
July 2018 saw a community project that brought Everything English Education, Shiney Row Primary School in Tyne and Wear and the Shiney Row Advice and Resource Project (ShARP) together in collaborative partnership for a Year 6 project based transition project. The project was centred upon the 1644 siege of Newcastle during the English Civil War and involved the students researching the life of young people at that time as well as several battles that took place around Shiney Row itself. Over three days the project developed the students’ historical, creative writing, drama art, design, presentation and critical thinking skills and involved a cultural visit to local sites related to the period.
The students were encouraged to actively handle objects from the 1644 Civil War, dress up in uniforms and to critically question experts from Newcastle Keep, as well as from the Battlefields Trust and the Newcastle Garrison Living History Group, regarding the life of a young person during that period. The students researched the role of children and the impact the war had on families at the time. Intrinsic to the success of the project was the opportunity for the students to dress up in clothes and handle real artefacts from the period. The two Year 6 classes were then divided up in to Royalists and Parliamentarians, mirroring the division of Newcastle and Sunderland at the time. This is the source of their centuries old rivalry, not the football. It also gives a competitive edge to the students’ research, as they worked towards a completed anthology of stories and artistic designs.
Our work with the students was further enhanced by visits to Penshaw Monument, to survey the local battlefields. We then journeyed on to Newcastle Keep where we had a tour that recreated the circumstances of the Royalists defending the castle against the Parliamentarians. The students were encouraged to act like reporters with their own notebooks in order to take ownership of their own research and to independently prepare their creative writing piece. The students rose to the challenge and grilled the wonderful guide at Newcastle Keep about the gruesome history of the castle, with a special emphasis on the siege of 1644. In the afternoon the children re-enacted a Pike Drill in the Grand Hall, an activity they all absolutely loved.
Shiney Row is in the bottom 10% on the government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) in numerous categories. It is important that we emphasise that for several students, although Newcastle Keep was just 13 miles from Shiney Row, it was their first visit to Newcastle city centre. This in itself is symbolic as a first step in preparing these students for the broader challenges that lay ahead in Secondary school.
Upon the final day of the project, the students used their personal research, within a framework of characters and settings, to produce their creative writing pieces for the final anthology. The children wrote creative, engaging and well researched stories that described the events, experiences and emotions that a young person may have felt at the time. They worked tirelessly and produced some brilliant stories. They read some of them on the day, and we were impressed with both the effort they put in and the brilliance of the stories they produced. Please note, the level of engagement significantly increases when students have an emotional involvement in the work they have been asked to produce.
As a memento of primary school, and of our activities with the students, we collated and printed a copy of the anthologies stories. As a follow up, we attended a celebration assembly and presented progress prizes in recognition of their enthusiasm and achievements over the duration of the project. Each child was then presented with their own printed copy of the anthology as a memento of their creative efforts as well as record of their final piece of collaborative work from Shiney Row Primary School.
The feedback from the students is testament enough for how much they enjoyed the days. They developed the independence of thought and pride in their method that will be invaluable as learning tools as they progress to Secondary school. In addition, the level of engagement from the students was such that across the three days the behaviour of the students was impeccable.
What the students said:
“It was great to learn about the Civil War. I liked dressing up and I loved the castle too. The trip also made it much easier to write the story. It was a fun three days, and I liked writing the story and the trip the best.”
“I enjoyed learning about the Civil War and writing the story. It is now my favourite part of history. I have learned a lot over the past few days, including that armour isn’t as light as it looks!”
“I have really enjoyed everything. I enjoyed the people who came in and dressing up. I also enjoyed going to Penshaw Monument and the Castle Keep. Today, I really enjoyed the writing.”
“I have enjoyed everything. I loved visiting places where historical events happened and it was great learning new things. I think it was helpful learning about the Civil War before I wrote a story about it. To be truthful, I didn’t even know about the Civil war, so thank you for teaching me about it, and thank you for coming to my school.”
“Learning about how people lived in 1664 has been great. The last few days have really helped me understand how secondary school works. Mr and Mrs Thomas have made a huge effort to make writing as fun as possible. I have enjoyed how cheerful and interesting the work has been.”
“It has been fantastic, couldn’t have been better. Thank you both so much for the last three days. Thank you again for organising this it truly has been great! the children have got so much from it. I am already looking forward to next year!”
Joanna Ward – Deputy Headteacher Shiney Row Primary School
If you are considering such project based learning here are five key points to consider before you begin:
• How long will the project take?
• What community partners can you collaborate with?
• What are the associated costs and funding streams available to you?
• What resources do you need?
• Is the project designed to be sustainable
If you would like to book us to deliver some sessions at your school, please get in touch.