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Growing during Closing

October, falling leaves and creeping numbers. It was a month of growing in a season of closing. My colleague Ciara Heffernan led our school approach to Creative Clusters within our theme, Connecting and Reconnecting. This creative collaboration between Cluster Schools is an exciting new dimension to our arts programme. The extension of the Creative Schools programme with Associate Gabi McGrath has enabled us to develop creative partnerships with artists from a range of different disciplines. Early Years Music Specialist Nuala Kelly returned to complete a partnership with Mrs. Cushen and Ms. Heffernan, while a range of classes from Junior Infants to 2nd Class will work with multidisciplinary fine artist Francesca Hutchinson, dancer and visual artist Kate Wilson and storyteller Thomas McCarthy. It is a privilege to work with and support artists in the current climate.

Teacher Artist Partnership would like to wish all our summer course participants well as they engage in their TAP residency and we look forward to sharing in the work. Our Design Tutor Team are extremely proud of the work and achievements of our National TAP Coordinator Dr. Katie Sweeney, Tralee Education Centre Director, Terry O Sullivan and Administrator Máire Vieux in securing Erasmus + funding to develop our programme on a European level with partner countries Serbia, Austria, Netherlands and Greece. Within this initiative our Design Team have been working on a series of mini-creative moments called Take Ten with TAP which we look forward to sharing with you soon…watch this space!

Thank you, Portal, for this space to share. Thank you, reader, for reading.

It’s lovely to do something with our hands, other than sanitise.

Returning to school felt different this year and the children were wonderful. They marched down hallways leaving parents at the gate, washed hands and met the new school measures with their best efforts to work together and keep each other safe. Our school leadership did everything in their power to make children, staff and parents feel as safe and comfortable as possible in school during these uncertain times.

However, and undeniably, Covid 19 has disrupted the familiar flow of school rhythms by adding its own disjointed systems of distancing, washing and vigilance. But the primary focus of our work remains as it has always been, to meet the deepest needs of the children in our care through education and with love. From lower numbers of referrals to Tusla, to a decline in educational attainment for some children, school closures have had a detrimental effect. In my reopening, arts-based learning and the role of embodiment has been crucial to connecting mind, body, and spirit in the classroom. This is especially relevant in Infants, where the teacher’s physical proximity and comfort of touch has been severely limited.

Teaching is about listening, to the body and the words. This September, children have been communicating. From a child who needs to run at full tilt for an entire PE lesson, to a quiet daily request “Teacher, will you read us a story?”. Though I always do, the request is about reassurance and meeting a need. In the absence of a hug or handhold, I have looked to the arts to affirm the place of comfort, grounding, and reassurance. We have used music, dance, visual arts, yoga, stories and meditation, concentrating on the sensory nature of experiences, objects and materials. Twisting, cutting, playing, pasting, moving and focusing, it has been lovely to do something with our hands other than sanitise.

Image copyright: Jennifer Buggie

“I believe that two lines of poetry can save a life”, Paula Meehan 

As a teenager my wonderful English teacher Ms. Meade guided us with heart and skill through the Leaving Certificate poetry curriculum. In subsequent college years, the melancholy, timeless glory of John Keats poems gave solace, comfort, and a lexicon of poetic potential to my growing adult mind and experience. In fact, his anthology became a strange amalgam of thoughts, diary, and scrap book throughout my college years.

Just before Laois went into lockdown, I had the deep, nostalgic pleasure of returning to a house on the coast built by a dear friend’s Grandfather. While standing in his beautifully eclectic functional cobbled kitchen, I listened to a John Bowman interview with John Hume, where he spoke of influential teachers in his young adult life and their impact on the man he became. My friend’s Grandpa passed away in my 3rd year at university. On return home to Stradbally, I found my Keats anthology and there with “On the Sea” was a dedication to Mr. Rafter, a man who shared his home and life perspective with a granddaughter’s friend. It was a powerful blend of comforting memory and poetry. The power and confluence of memory and art.

It packed a punch, because in June I had a miscarriage. Denise Blake, my TAP colleague, and friend introduced me to Paula Meehan’s a most wonderful phrase; “I believe that two lines of poetry can save a life” (www.irelandchairofpoetry.org; www.deniseblake.com). I never really thought poetry was for me, I certainly never expected to write a blog about it, but in June nothing else would fit. It helped. All the learning, loving, yearning, and feeling given by the poetry of others heaved my pain on to the page. John Keats never had a miscarriage, but he knew about loss. The poetry of others gives a window to their soul and a template to the lived human experience that sustains through sharing.

When we, teachers, artists, and humans, give arts-experiences and heartfelt connections, we can never know or ever fully document the possibility and power of that exchange. So, this blog stands in defence of, and to champion the unknowable outcome of arts education to a life being lived.

Teacher-Artist Partnership (TAP) is a unique Department of Education and Skills initiative for supporting and enhancing arts in education in primary schools. The CPD Summer Course and residency programme is now mainstreamed and consists of free DES approved (EPV days) Summer Courses operating in each of the 21 full-time Education Centres in Ireland. The initiative includes funded Artist in Residency opportunities in which participating teachers and artists work together in collaboration in the School during the following academic year.

For more information click here.

Tell us the story of your project – What was the impetus? What was it about? Who was involved? How did you begin?

There were three central elements in our partnership; a teacher who is also an archaeologist, a drama facilitator who loves to weave a dramatic tale and a class of lively, enthusiastic 3rd class pupils. Joanna is a vastly experienced drama facilitator who has been working in the field of Educational Drama for many years and Jenny is a dynamic teacher with a previous career in archaeology and a history of engagement in theatre and youth drama.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

When I’m planning my drama sessions I focus on creating a story that evolves over a number of weeks through a drama process. Developing a narrative arch in this way means you can respond to the elements of the story that are of particular interest to the children involved and can reflect the unique contributions of all those involved so this project was an ideal opportunity to merge Jenny’s and my skills and experiences in a collaborative venture.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

I have a deep love of history, archaeology and the arts, therefore we decided to locate the story for the drama at the local Dunamase monument. This commanding ruin provided an ideal vehicle to weave a magical story and to entwine my professional experience with a place of local interest and beauty. The result was 8 weeks of adventure, dramatic recounting and thoughtful reflection through the story which we called Donal of Dunamase and the mighty boar of Ballyfriar.

How were the ideas developed and how did the young people, artist and teacher work together?

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

This particular dramatic narrative developed over 8 weeks when I visited the school and working with Jenny and her 3rd class for 90 minutes every week. The story began in the present when the class went into the role as archaeologists on a dig at the historic site of Dunamase.  Working with care and attention on this imaginary dig the girls discovered ancient artefacts dating from the 800’s. Over the next two weeks in girls made the objects they had imagined finding on the dig, these objects were then incorporated into the drama narrative.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

My class went on an incredible journey back in time to 814CE and the fort at Dún Masc through the medium of drama. Over 8 weeks we worked together as children, artist and teacher to imagine this community of people, their everyday lives and preoccupations. The children were divided into six different family groupings: the Potters, Weavers, Druids, Metal Workers, Farmers and the Clan Leader’s Family. In history the girls developed their background knowledge of each families’ skill-set in the daily life of the dún so that in drama, using small group and whole class improvisation, in role negotiation, discussion,  teacher in role and mime the children could explore and develop their roles, giving depth to the drama personae.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

Through immersion in the rich narrative the children came to know the characters in detail. They were introduced to their Clan Leader, Donal, his unconventional and inspirational daughter Alfric, and her cousins Tadhg and Tuan. They developed an understanding of these key characters and the significant events in their lives. Jenny used her dramatic skills to great advantage when in role as the Seanachaí, captivating her class with a dynamic and hair-raising account of the great battle between the Clan Leader and the wild boar.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

I was delighted with how the class became absorbed in the story through the characters Joanna created and they developed. The class entered entirely into role as members of the Clan, resolving dilemmas, engaging in debate and finding resolution along the way. I noted that they particularly enjoyed playing Alfric, the feisty daughter. When we reflected on the process afterwards, the girls noted that she became a positive role model for them as they enjoyed her energy and physicality. They noted how much more they enjoyed learning about history through immersion in a story by becoming people in the past and finding out what everyday life was like.

They got a true insight into what has changed, but also how people and their preoccupations remain similar in 2014 in 814. When I gathered the children together again in 2018, as they prepared to graduate primary school, the girls remarked on how their drama had helped them to build self-confidence, develop their understanding of each other and work as part of a group. Their memory of this work was bright, nuanced and life enriching.

What was your personal experience of the project in terms of successes and challenges?

Successes

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

The reason I believe this partnership was so successful was that it was a shared, collaborative experience. Every element of the process, from the initial imagining of the story to the weekly planning and delivery was developed in partnership so we had a unified vision and understanding. Since we were equally involved and connected, when the children were particularly engaged with the reality of their drama or when unexpected “moments of magic” occurred, there was someone to observe, share and reflect with.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

I loved having a partner in the room. Joanna’s deep well of drama knowledge, creativity and skill encouraged me to develop and share my own creative skills through my work with children. This project was a professional turning point in my career approach as it encouraged me to look outward from the classroom. My partnership and friendship with Joanna was crucial to this change of perspective. I actively enjoy and seek engagement with professionals outside of teaching to help enrich the educational experience of my pupils and my own professional skills.

Challenges

The most significant challenge in this project lay in documenting learning, as process drama focuses on engagement. Creativity is experienced, felt and communicated in the dramatic moment. The work of artist and teacher focuses on creating the opportunity for dynamic “moments of magic” for the children. There is then a separate and challenging task of evidencing this ephemeral form of learning.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

Throughout my work I have found process drama presents unique challenges in terms of documentation. Learning is focused on the emotion and engagement of the moment rather than in presentation, performance and product. Photography and recording rarely capture or communicate powerful moments of drama, story and learning that emerge, such as Donal’s funeral or the election of Alfric.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

Within the project we were deeply conscious of the “invisibility” of our creativity and learning to all except those directly involved. This generated unique pressure to create tangible, concrete evidence of our work. I consciously planned lessons that developed and produced pieces of writing, construction, photography and visual art we not only extended, but evidenced our learning. The pressure to record tended to pull the artist and teacher out of the dramatic moment and into the role of an outsider recorder.

What was significant for you about the project that is worth sharing?

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

Working through Joanna’s narrative, I developed a programme of broad and deep curricular integration for the class. This approach, which encompassed English literacy and writing, history, storytelling, visual arts, illustration and music, was significant in enabling the children to engage knowledgably and immersively in learning. As they spent time outside drama thinking about the story (making their artefacts in Art, writing the story in English, completing their Drama Journals) they became active agents in the story. This resonated more deeply with them than other classes who limit drama reflection to the confines of a weekly drama lesson.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

As a free-lance artists I can often feel isolated in my work, so I really appreciated the opportunity to plan and deliver the drama workshops with someone else who was equally committed to the process. Also, compared to other drama projects, it was very striking to witness how much more embedded and committed the children were to the drama process because of the cross curricular nature of the project and how it resonated throughout the school week. Due to the extra time and energy Jenny dedicated to this process, outside our drama sessions, the pupils had the opportunity to genuinely connect to the fictional community we created and to actively engaged with the characters, with their dilemmas and life-choices.

Has anything changed in your work as a result of the project?

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

Since the 2014 initiative, Joanna and I have engaged in subsequent projects with children and developed a workshop for educators on 1916. I employ the skills I developed in partnership with Joanna throughout my professional work, with both colleagues and children. This project has made me more cognisant of the arts and creativity in our schools. I believe passionately that all children deserve life enriching arts experiences. Through looking outward, reflecting inward, communicating and connecting, our primary schools can be centres of whole-child and teacher learning where physical, emotional and spiritual needs are expressed, acknowledged and fulfilled.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

Working with Jenny during this partnership gave me an ideal opportunity to appreciate the full potential of working in partnership with a committed and enthusiastic teacher. Working in this way does take time and extra resources but as a result of this partnership, I realised more than ever that it is worth cultivating a strong collaborative relationship with the teachers in such projects. It is very evident that when this committed collaboration happens, the engagement and connection is deeper and more meaningful for the pupils.

Music Generation Laois

Closing Date: 12 noon, Wednesday 29th August, 2018

Music Generation Laois and Laois School of Music are now seeking submissions from an experienced Violin Tutor to deliver their programmes. Training in whole-class string tuition will be provided to the successful candidate. Music Generation Laois works in partnership with Laois School of Music to deliver whole-class, group and one-to-one violin lessons in Co Laois.

Closing date for completed submissions: 12 noon, Wednesday 29 August, 2018

Interviews are scheduled to take place on: Wednesday 5 September, 2018

Full details and application information are available online at: www.musicgenerationlaois.ie

Submission forms can be submitted electronically by email to rflannery@laoiscoco.ie

Music Generation Laois is a performance music education service for children and young people in Co Laois, part of Music Generation – Ireland’s National Music Education Programme, initiated by Music Network and co-funded by U2, The Ireland Funds together with, The Department of Education and Skills and Local Music Education Partnerships. Locally, Music Generation Laois is funded by Laois County Council, Laois-Offaly Education and Training Board and Laois Partnership Company.

 Blog 2

Peat began as an impulse to explore a story and a history for a specific audience, and an impulse to rigorously develop my writing for young audiences.

After an initial workshop focus on story, storytelling and myth, I returned to Third Class in Sacred Heart Portlaoise to ask them to think about stories for the stage. The conversations that emerged from sharing, re-sharing and changing stories had sparked discussion around memory, history, shared stories, becoming a character, and who in society has permission to speak on behalf of another.

Here, these opened into a discussion on theatre – beginning with a discussion about the roles, responsibilities and skills of writers, directors, actors, designers. We talked: about how playwright meant playmaker; about beginnings, middles and endings; about storytelling versus drama; about dialogue versus monologue, narration versus conversation; about sets, costumes, props; about audience interaction and fourth walls.

Towards the end of that workshop, groups had debated and settled on one personal story that would become the story of their group. Focusing on collaboration, armed with script samples prepared by teacher Jennifer Buggie, groups were tasked with transforming this text into a story for the stage.

Working effectively in the classroom was a learning curve. I was finding my feet, and the support, expertise and enthusiasm of collaborating teacher Jennifer Buggie was invaluable. At the end of the series of workshops, in thinking about my practice, Jennifer and I have discussed building on this relationship, discussing future projects, interrogating the approach in order to refine and improve the quality of engagement.

Experiences in the classroom greatly informed the next stage of development – ideas around agency, voice, engagement, emotion, depth. In June 2016, with the support of The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children, I spent a week developing the text with director Maisie Lee and performers Nyree Yergainharsian and Lloyd Cooney. As development progressed and continues to progress, through working directly with young audiences, the elk itself started to take a back seat. The bigger questions about life and death that had lingered below the surface were grounded by experiences in the classroom at Sacred Heart.

The text which began to emerge is a sort of metaphysical conversation rooted in the world and perspective of two 12 year olds. On a peatland plain on the edge of an island, a boy and girl meet to bury a cat in its preserving earth. As they sit and dig the boggy grave, what follows is a conversation about life, fate, extinction, migration, mortality.

After four days, we shared a 15-minute piece with The Ark’s Children’s Council, in what was their first experience of a work-in-progress presentation. The responses of these 11-year old Council members were frank – they told us exactly what from their point of view worked and didn’t, what was engaging, what was funny, what was moving.

They responded enthusiastically to the characters use of the Would You Rather? game, answering the questions the characters posed to each other for themselves (some silently, some aloud, some later that day). From the beginning, and throughout the work in the classroom, I wanted Peat to try and equalise the relationship between stage and audience, to create in its audience the urge to enter the space, to engage in conversation with the characters, to find out more. Following the Council’s feedback, Would you Rather? remains a key structuring device.

The following month, we presented this work-in-progress showing of Peat at On the Edge World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences in Birmingham to an audience of artists, producers and presenters.

Development continues in 2017.

Initial development was enabled by the Arts Council’s Young People Children and Education Bursary. Development in 2016 was supported by The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children. With the support of The Ark, Theatre for Young Audiences Ireland and Culture Ireland, a work-in-progress showing was presented at On the Edge Birmingham, the World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences (directed by Maisie Lee, performed by Lloyd Cooney and Nyree Yergainharsian)

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

 

Blog 1

On the east coast, right on the edge of Ireland, there is a bog known as The Elk Graveyard. Here, hundreds and hundreds of ancient elk skeletons were dug from the peat.

Megaloceros Giganteus. Giant Irish Deer. The last megafauna on an island of, well, non–megafauna. Twelve feet tall from tip of toe to top of antler, the giant deer disappeared from Ireland about 10,500 years ago, the reasons uncertain: it or its antlers became too big; it was over-hunted; its food sources disappeared as the world grew colder. The Great Irish Elk lived across Europe and Asia, its continental cousins drifting eastward, sunward, in search of a better life. As the Ice Age descended, the ones who lived on this island were the first to disappear. Trapped, with nowhere to go as the snow stopped melting.

In 2015, I set out to rigorously explore and develop my writing for young audiences. After an initial year spent in solo research, exploring the real history of this elk in order to find the possibilities of story, I began a phase of research in collaboration with Third Class at Sacred Heart Portlaoise, and teacher Jennifer Buggie.

I was drawn to the subject matter of Peat for this age group for their ability to deal with complex ideas and the reality of the oftentimes dark world we live in. Peat’s spiderwebby resonances were broad and weighty: climate change, carbon footprints, death, extinction, migration: adult ideas that children of this age group encounter daily. And closer to home: what it means to belong; what it feels like to be living in a body and a world that is changing faster than you’d like.

I focused on a series of classroom workshops on writing for theatre rather than the subject matter itself, and developed the approach around a number of initial questions: in terms of story, how might a piece of theatre recognise and respect the sophisticated thought processes and complex emotions of its audience?; how might it provoke an open and frank conversation about the vast world we live in, while at the same time offering a steady and sympathetic guide to navigating that vastness?; how might the theatrical form suggest a different way to think visually – to provoke the audience to see their world not just as something which contains them, but as something that can be influenced, manipulated, created?

As a writer, I am preoccupied with the complexity of culture, society, history – in how story and history is told, recalled, contained, in how things form the deep past very often seem so close to us. I can’t help but poke holes in history to see what leaks through.

An initial workshop thus focused on the nature of stories, storytelling and myth. I began by reading a piece of theatrical storytelling to the eyes-closed class – an excerpt from Complicite’s The Encounter in which the main character remembers the moment he became completely lost in the jungle. We discussed the images it conjured and the senses it sparked. We talked about memory, about how it was a key tool in a writer’s toolbox.

Students were provoked to think of a time when something in their own world changed. In pairs, they shared this memory with their partner, and we talked about how memory is transformed when we tell it as a story to someone else. Each was then asked to share their partner’s story with their table-group, prompted to be true to the details they heard but permitted embellishment in form and content that would make it a good story for an audience. From this, we talked about how stories are changed in their retelling, and how myths are born.

The stories the students shared and re-shared grappled with life, death, loss, love, joy and sadness in ways that showed an enormous variance in emotional maturity. Their responses to being asked to take responsibility for telling the story of another ranged from sensitive respect, to mischievous joy, to indignation and protest that they would rather share their own. This itself raised interesting discussion on a table-by-table basis about collective memory, shared stories, narration, becoming a character, and who in society has permission to speak on behalf of another.

The final provocation was based on a question that emerged from these discussions: how do we choose the stories we tell? Each table thus entered into a debate, in order to choose one story that would become the story of their group.

I returned several weeks later to work with the students on transforming their story into a piece of theatre.

Initial development was enabled by the Arts Council’s Young People Children and Education Bursary. Development in 2016 was supported by The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children. With the support of The Ark, Theatre for Young Audiences Ireland and Culture Ireland, a work-in-progress showing was presented at On the Edge Birmingham, the World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences (directed by Maisie Lee, performed by Lloyd Cooney and Nyree Yergainharsian)

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin


!!!! Blog 4 – Jennifer Buggie, Teacher & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

Growing during Closing

October, falling leaves and creeping numbers. It was a month of growing in a season of closing. My colleague Ciara Heffernan led our school approach to Creative Clusters within our theme, Connecting and Reconnecting. This creative collaboration between Cluster Schools is an exciting new dimension to our arts programme. The extension of the Creative Schools programme with Associate Gabi McGrath has enabled us to develop creative partnerships with artists from a range of different disciplines. Early Years Music Specialist Nuala Kelly returned to complete a partnership with Mrs. Cushen and Ms. Heffernan, while a range of classes from Junior Infants to 2nd Class will work with multidisciplinary fine artist Francesca Hutchinson, dancer and visual artist Kate Wilson and storyteller Thomas McCarthy. It is a privilege to work with and support artists in the current climate.

Teacher Artist Partnership would like to wish all our summer course participants well as they engage in their TAP residency and we look forward to sharing in the work. Our Design Tutor Team are extremely proud of the work and achievements of our National TAP Coordinator Dr. Katie Sweeney, Tralee Education Centre Director, Terry O Sullivan and Administrator Máire Vieux in securing Erasmus + funding to develop our programme on a European level with partner countries Serbia, Austria, Netherlands and Greece. Within this initiative our Design Team have been working on a series of mini-creative moments called Take Ten with TAP which we look forward to sharing with you soon…watch this space!

Thank you, Portal, for this space to share. Thank you, reader, for reading.

!!!! Blog 3 – Jennifer Buggie, Teacher & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

It’s lovely to do something with our hands, other than sanitise.

Returning to school felt different this year and the children were wonderful. They marched down hallways leaving parents at the gate, washed hands and met the new school measures with their best efforts to work together and keep each other safe. Our school leadership did everything in their power to make children, staff and parents feel as safe and comfortable as possible in school during these uncertain times.

However, and undeniably, Covid 19 has disrupted the familiar flow of school rhythms by adding its own disjointed systems of distancing, washing and vigilance. But the primary focus of our work remains as it has always been, to meet the deepest needs of the children in our care through education and with love. From lower numbers of referrals to Tusla, to a decline in educational attainment for some children, school closures have had a detrimental effect. In my reopening, arts-based learning and the role of embodiment has been crucial to connecting mind, body, and spirit in the classroom. This is especially relevant in Infants, where the teacher’s physical proximity and comfort of touch has been severely limited.

Teaching is about listening, to the body and the words. This September, children have been communicating. From a child who needs to run at full tilt for an entire PE lesson, to a quiet daily request “Teacher, will you read us a story?”. Though I always do, the request is about reassurance and meeting a need. In the absence of a hug or handhold, I have looked to the arts to affirm the place of comfort, grounding, and reassurance. We have used music, dance, visual arts, yoga, stories and meditation, concentrating on the sensory nature of experiences, objects and materials. Twisting, cutting, playing, pasting, moving and focusing, it has been lovely to do something with our hands other than sanitise.

Image copyright: Jennifer Buggie

!!!! Blog 2 – Jennifer Buggie, Teacher & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

“I believe that two lines of poetry can save a life”, Paula Meehan 

As a teenager my wonderful English teacher Ms. Meade guided us with heart and skill through the Leaving Certificate poetry curriculum. In subsequent college years, the melancholy, timeless glory of John Keats poems gave solace, comfort, and a lexicon of poetic potential to my growing adult mind and experience. In fact, his anthology became a strange amalgam of thoughts, diary, and scrap book throughout my college years.

Just before Laois went into lockdown, I had the deep, nostalgic pleasure of returning to a house on the coast built by a dear friend’s Grandfather. While standing in his beautifully eclectic functional cobbled kitchen, I listened to a John Bowman interview with John Hume, where he spoke of influential teachers in his young adult life and their impact on the man he became. My friend’s Grandpa passed away in my 3rd year at university. On return home to Stradbally, I found my Keats anthology and there with “On the Sea” was a dedication to Mr. Rafter, a man who shared his home and life perspective with a granddaughter’s friend. It was a powerful blend of comforting memory and poetry. The power and confluence of memory and art.

It packed a punch, because in June I had a miscarriage. Denise Blake, my TAP colleague, and friend introduced me to Paula Meehan’s a most wonderful phrase; “I believe that two lines of poetry can save a life” (www.irelandchairofpoetry.org; www.deniseblake.com). I never really thought poetry was for me, I certainly never expected to write a blog about it, but in June nothing else would fit. It helped. All the learning, loving, yearning, and feeling given by the poetry of others heaved my pain on to the page. John Keats never had a miscarriage, but he knew about loss. The poetry of others gives a window to their soul and a template to the lived human experience that sustains through sharing.

When we, teachers, artists, and humans, give arts-experiences and heartfelt connections, we can never know or ever fully document the possibility and power of that exchange. So, this blog stands in defence of, and to champion the unknowable outcome of arts education to a life being lived.

!!!! Teacher-Artist Partnership (TAP) Project – Donal of Dunamase and the mighty boar of Ballyfriar

Teacher-Artist Partnership (TAP) is a unique Department of Education and Skills initiative for supporting and enhancing arts in education in primary schools. The CPD Summer Course and residency programme is now mainstreamed and consists of free DES approved (EPV days) Summer Courses operating in each of the 21 full-time Education Centres in Ireland. The initiative includes funded Artist in Residency opportunities in which participating teachers and artists work together in collaboration in the School during the following academic year.

For more information click here.

Tell us the story of your project – What was the impetus? What was it about? Who was involved? How did you begin?

There were three central elements in our partnership; a teacher who is also an archaeologist, a drama facilitator who loves to weave a dramatic tale and a class of lively, enthusiastic 3rd class pupils. Joanna is a vastly experienced drama facilitator who has been working in the field of Educational Drama for many years and Jenny is a dynamic teacher with a previous career in archaeology and a history of engagement in theatre and youth drama.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

When I’m planning my drama sessions I focus on creating a story that evolves over a number of weeks through a drama process. Developing a narrative arch in this way means you can respond to the elements of the story that are of particular interest to the children involved and can reflect the unique contributions of all those involved so this project was an ideal opportunity to merge Jenny’s and my skills and experiences in a collaborative venture.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

I have a deep love of history, archaeology and the arts, therefore we decided to locate the story for the drama at the local Dunamase monument. This commanding ruin provided an ideal vehicle to weave a magical story and to entwine my professional experience with a place of local interest and beauty. The result was 8 weeks of adventure, dramatic recounting and thoughtful reflection through the story which we called Donal of Dunamase and the mighty boar of Ballyfriar.

How were the ideas developed and how did the young people, artist and teacher work together?

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

This particular dramatic narrative developed over 8 weeks when I visited the school and working with Jenny and her 3rd class for 90 minutes every week. The story began in the present when the class went into the role as archaeologists on a dig at the historic site of Dunamase.  Working with care and attention on this imaginary dig the girls discovered ancient artefacts dating from the 800’s. Over the next two weeks in girls made the objects they had imagined finding on the dig, these objects were then incorporated into the drama narrative.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

My class went on an incredible journey back in time to 814CE and the fort at Dún Masc through the medium of drama. Over 8 weeks we worked together as children, artist and teacher to imagine this community of people, their everyday lives and preoccupations. The children were divided into six different family groupings: the Potters, Weavers, Druids, Metal Workers, Farmers and the Clan Leader’s Family. In history the girls developed their background knowledge of each families’ skill-set in the daily life of the dún so that in drama, using small group and whole class improvisation, in role negotiation, discussion,  teacher in role and mime the children could explore and develop their roles, giving depth to the drama personae.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

Through immersion in the rich narrative the children came to know the characters in detail. They were introduced to their Clan Leader, Donal, his unconventional and inspirational daughter Alfric, and her cousins Tadhg and Tuan. They developed an understanding of these key characters and the significant events in their lives. Jenny used her dramatic skills to great advantage when in role as the Seanachaí, captivating her class with a dynamic and hair-raising account of the great battle between the Clan Leader and the wild boar.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

I was delighted with how the class became absorbed in the story through the characters Joanna created and they developed. The class entered entirely into role as members of the Clan, resolving dilemmas, engaging in debate and finding resolution along the way. I noted that they particularly enjoyed playing Alfric, the feisty daughter. When we reflected on the process afterwards, the girls noted that she became a positive role model for them as they enjoyed her energy and physicality. They noted how much more they enjoyed learning about history through immersion in a story by becoming people in the past and finding out what everyday life was like.

They got a true insight into what has changed, but also how people and their preoccupations remain similar in 2014 in 814. When I gathered the children together again in 2018, as they prepared to graduate primary school, the girls remarked on how their drama had helped them to build self-confidence, develop their understanding of each other and work as part of a group. Their memory of this work was bright, nuanced and life enriching.

What was your personal experience of the project in terms of successes and challenges?

Successes

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

The reason I believe this partnership was so successful was that it was a shared, collaborative experience. Every element of the process, from the initial imagining of the story to the weekly planning and delivery was developed in partnership so we had a unified vision and understanding. Since we were equally involved and connected, when the children were particularly engaged with the reality of their drama or when unexpected “moments of magic” occurred, there was someone to observe, share and reflect with.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

I loved having a partner in the room. Joanna’s deep well of drama knowledge, creativity and skill encouraged me to develop and share my own creative skills through my work with children. This project was a professional turning point in my career approach as it encouraged me to look outward from the classroom. My partnership and friendship with Joanna was crucial to this change of perspective. I actively enjoy and seek engagement with professionals outside of teaching to help enrich the educational experience of my pupils and my own professional skills.

Challenges

The most significant challenge in this project lay in documenting learning, as process drama focuses on engagement. Creativity is experienced, felt and communicated in the dramatic moment. The work of artist and teacher focuses on creating the opportunity for dynamic “moments of magic” for the children. There is then a separate and challenging task of evidencing this ephemeral form of learning.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

Throughout my work I have found process drama presents unique challenges in terms of documentation. Learning is focused on the emotion and engagement of the moment rather than in presentation, performance and product. Photography and recording rarely capture or communicate powerful moments of drama, story and learning that emerge, such as Donal’s funeral or the election of Alfric.

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

Within the project we were deeply conscious of the “invisibility” of our creativity and learning to all except those directly involved. This generated unique pressure to create tangible, concrete evidence of our work. I consciously planned lessons that developed and produced pieces of writing, construction, photography and visual art we not only extended, but evidenced our learning. The pressure to record tended to pull the artist and teacher out of the dramatic moment and into the role of an outsider recorder.

What was significant for you about the project that is worth sharing?

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

Working through Joanna’s narrative, I developed a programme of broad and deep curricular integration for the class. This approach, which encompassed English literacy and writing, history, storytelling, visual arts, illustration and music, was significant in enabling the children to engage knowledgably and immersively in learning. As they spent time outside drama thinking about the story (making their artefacts in Art, writing the story in English, completing their Drama Journals) they became active agents in the story. This resonated more deeply with them than other classes who limit drama reflection to the confines of a weekly drama lesson.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

As a free-lance artists I can often feel isolated in my work, so I really appreciated the opportunity to plan and deliver the drama workshops with someone else who was equally committed to the process. Also, compared to other drama projects, it was very striking to witness how much more embedded and committed the children were to the drama process because of the cross curricular nature of the project and how it resonated throughout the school week. Due to the extra time and energy Jenny dedicated to this process, outside our drama sessions, the pupils had the opportunity to genuinely connect to the fictional community we created and to actively engaged with the characters, with their dilemmas and life-choices.

Has anything changed in your work as a result of the project?

Jennifer Buggie, Teacher

Since the 2014 initiative, Joanna and I have engaged in subsequent projects with children and developed a workshop for educators on 1916. I employ the skills I developed in partnership with Joanna throughout my professional work, with both colleagues and children. This project has made me more cognisant of the arts and creativity in our schools. I believe passionately that all children deserve life enriching arts experiences. Through looking outward, reflecting inward, communicating and connecting, our primary schools can be centres of whole-child and teacher learning where physical, emotional and spiritual needs are expressed, acknowledged and fulfilled.

Joanna Parkes, Drama Practitioner 

Working with Jenny during this partnership gave me an ideal opportunity to appreciate the full potential of working in partnership with a committed and enthusiastic teacher. Working in this way does take time and extra resources but as a result of this partnership, I realised more than ever that it is worth cultivating a strong collaborative relationship with the teachers in such projects. It is very evident that when this committed collaboration happens, the engagement and connection is deeper and more meaningful for the pupils.

!!!! Opportunity: Music Generation Laois & Laois School of Music seeking a Violin Tutor

Music Generation Laois

Closing Date: 12 noon, Wednesday 29th August, 2018

Music Generation Laois and Laois School of Music are now seeking submissions from an experienced Violin Tutor to deliver their programmes. Training in whole-class string tuition will be provided to the successful candidate. Music Generation Laois works in partnership with Laois School of Music to deliver whole-class, group and one-to-one violin lessons in Co Laois.

Closing date for completed submissions: 12 noon, Wednesday 29 August, 2018

Interviews are scheduled to take place on: Wednesday 5 September, 2018

Full details and application information are available online at: www.musicgenerationlaois.ie

Submission forms can be submitted electronically by email to rflannery@laoiscoco.ie

Music Generation Laois is a performance music education service for children and young people in Co Laois, part of Music Generation – Ireland’s National Music Education Programme, initiated by Music Network and co-funded by U2, The Ireland Funds together with, The Department of Education and Skills and Local Music Education Partnerships. Locally, Music Generation Laois is funded by Laois County Council, Laois-Offaly Education and Training Board and Laois Partnership Company.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Kate Heffernan – Writer – Blog no 2

 Blog 2

Peat began as an impulse to explore a story and a history for a specific audience, and an impulse to rigorously develop my writing for young audiences.

After an initial workshop focus on story, storytelling and myth, I returned to Third Class in Sacred Heart Portlaoise to ask them to think about stories for the stage. The conversations that emerged from sharing, re-sharing and changing stories had sparked discussion around memory, history, shared stories, becoming a character, and who in society has permission to speak on behalf of another.

Here, these opened into a discussion on theatre – beginning with a discussion about the roles, responsibilities and skills of writers, directors, actors, designers. We talked: about how playwright meant playmaker; about beginnings, middles and endings; about storytelling versus drama; about dialogue versus monologue, narration versus conversation; about sets, costumes, props; about audience interaction and fourth walls.

Towards the end of that workshop, groups had debated and settled on one personal story that would become the story of their group. Focusing on collaboration, armed with script samples prepared by teacher Jennifer Buggie, groups were tasked with transforming this text into a story for the stage.

Working effectively in the classroom was a learning curve. I was finding my feet, and the support, expertise and enthusiasm of collaborating teacher Jennifer Buggie was invaluable. At the end of the series of workshops, in thinking about my practice, Jennifer and I have discussed building on this relationship, discussing future projects, interrogating the approach in order to refine and improve the quality of engagement.

Experiences in the classroom greatly informed the next stage of development – ideas around agency, voice, engagement, emotion, depth. In June 2016, with the support of The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children, I spent a week developing the text with director Maisie Lee and performers Nyree Yergainharsian and Lloyd Cooney. As development progressed and continues to progress, through working directly with young audiences, the elk itself started to take a back seat. The bigger questions about life and death that had lingered below the surface were grounded by experiences in the classroom at Sacred Heart.

The text which began to emerge is a sort of metaphysical conversation rooted in the world and perspective of two 12 year olds. On a peatland plain on the edge of an island, a boy and girl meet to bury a cat in its preserving earth. As they sit and dig the boggy grave, what follows is a conversation about life, fate, extinction, migration, mortality.

After four days, we shared a 15-minute piece with The Ark’s Children’s Council, in what was their first experience of a work-in-progress presentation. The responses of these 11-year old Council members were frank – they told us exactly what from their point of view worked and didn’t, what was engaging, what was funny, what was moving.

They responded enthusiastically to the characters use of the Would You Rather? game, answering the questions the characters posed to each other for themselves (some silently, some aloud, some later that day). From the beginning, and throughout the work in the classroom, I wanted Peat to try and equalise the relationship between stage and audience, to create in its audience the urge to enter the space, to engage in conversation with the characters, to find out more. Following the Council’s feedback, Would you Rather? remains a key structuring device.

The following month, we presented this work-in-progress showing of Peat at On the Edge World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences in Birmingham to an audience of artists, producers and presenters.

Development continues in 2017.

Initial development was enabled by the Arts Council’s Young People Children and Education Bursary. Development in 2016 was supported by The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children. With the support of The Ark, Theatre for Young Audiences Ireland and Culture Ireland, a work-in-progress showing was presented at On the Edge Birmingham, the World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences (directed by Maisie Lee, performed by Lloyd Cooney and Nyree Yergainharsian)

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Kate Heffernan – Writer – Blog no 1

Blog 1

On the east coast, right on the edge of Ireland, there is a bog known as The Elk Graveyard. Here, hundreds and hundreds of ancient elk skeletons were dug from the peat.

Megaloceros Giganteus. Giant Irish Deer. The last megafauna on an island of, well, non–megafauna. Twelve feet tall from tip of toe to top of antler, the giant deer disappeared from Ireland about 10,500 years ago, the reasons uncertain: it or its antlers became too big; it was over-hunted; its food sources disappeared as the world grew colder. The Great Irish Elk lived across Europe and Asia, its continental cousins drifting eastward, sunward, in search of a better life. As the Ice Age descended, the ones who lived on this island were the first to disappear. Trapped, with nowhere to go as the snow stopped melting.

In 2015, I set out to rigorously explore and develop my writing for young audiences. After an initial year spent in solo research, exploring the real history of this elk in order to find the possibilities of story, I began a phase of research in collaboration with Third Class at Sacred Heart Portlaoise, and teacher Jennifer Buggie.

I was drawn to the subject matter of Peat for this age group for their ability to deal with complex ideas and the reality of the oftentimes dark world we live in. Peat’s spiderwebby resonances were broad and weighty: climate change, carbon footprints, death, extinction, migration: adult ideas that children of this age group encounter daily. And closer to home: what it means to belong; what it feels like to be living in a body and a world that is changing faster than you’d like.

I focused on a series of classroom workshops on writing for theatre rather than the subject matter itself, and developed the approach around a number of initial questions: in terms of story, how might a piece of theatre recognise and respect the sophisticated thought processes and complex emotions of its audience?; how might it provoke an open and frank conversation about the vast world we live in, while at the same time offering a steady and sympathetic guide to navigating that vastness?; how might the theatrical form suggest a different way to think visually – to provoke the audience to see their world not just as something which contains them, but as something that can be influenced, manipulated, created?

As a writer, I am preoccupied with the complexity of culture, society, history – in how story and history is told, recalled, contained, in how things form the deep past very often seem so close to us. I can’t help but poke holes in history to see what leaks through.

An initial workshop thus focused on the nature of stories, storytelling and myth. I began by reading a piece of theatrical storytelling to the eyes-closed class – an excerpt from Complicite’s The Encounter in which the main character remembers the moment he became completely lost in the jungle. We discussed the images it conjured and the senses it sparked. We talked about memory, about how it was a key tool in a writer’s toolbox.

Students were provoked to think of a time when something in their own world changed. In pairs, they shared this memory with their partner, and we talked about how memory is transformed when we tell it as a story to someone else. Each was then asked to share their partner’s story with their table-group, prompted to be true to the details they heard but permitted embellishment in form and content that would make it a good story for an audience. From this, we talked about how stories are changed in their retelling, and how myths are born.

The stories the students shared and re-shared grappled with life, death, loss, love, joy and sadness in ways that showed an enormous variance in emotional maturity. Their responses to being asked to take responsibility for telling the story of another ranged from sensitive respect, to mischievous joy, to indignation and protest that they would rather share their own. This itself raised interesting discussion on a table-by-table basis about collective memory, shared stories, narration, becoming a character, and who in society has permission to speak on behalf of another.

The final provocation was based on a question that emerged from these discussions: how do we choose the stories we tell? Each table thus entered into a debate, in order to choose one story that would become the story of their group.

I returned several weeks later to work with the students on transforming their story into a piece of theatre.

Initial development was enabled by the Arts Council’s Young People Children and Education Bursary. Development in 2016 was supported by The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children. With the support of The Ark, Theatre for Young Audiences Ireland and Culture Ireland, a work-in-progress showing was presented at On the Edge Birmingham, the World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences (directed by Maisie Lee, performed by Lloyd Cooney and Nyree Yergainharsian)

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin