Cecily O’Neil working with Year 3 – “Mystery Virus Hits Holiday Island”
It was a pleasure to host the West Midlands Mantle of the Expert Network weekend at our school at the end of November. Thanks to Iona Towler Evans, David Allen and Kate Katafiasz for bringing the best people to our school! Cecily O’Neil is a respected drama practitioner [google her!] and was focussing on the use of story in the classroom. She started the session with the children by talking to them about their classroom and their current work. They agreed that they would tell a story together and use drama. This led smoothly into her writing up the headline “Mystery Virus Hits Holiday Island”.
“I was told you were doctors…” Some children said they were photographers [linked to their current work]. Cecily accepted this whilst reinforcing the main aim of the work; ”I need doctors…” and they were off! The story was developing. The children worked in role to establish what was happening on the island. Their suggestions of blue tarantulas carrying a virus was woven into the story and fortuously linked to a blue bottle of antidote!
What I particularly liked about the work was the way in which Cecily stopped every so often to tell the story; she described this as an arbitor role similar to a narrator. This enabled her to reinforce points but also to move the story on; for example she said, “So they flew home and were greeted at the airport by reporters” setting up the next task.
Throughout there was a deliberate mixture of public and private tasks; publically responding to an authoritative figure and engaging with a group of irate patients and privately rehearsing or talking 1:1. This stucture ensured that everyone was engaged and active. Cecily talked about the demands made on the children during the drama work:
- social – talking to adults in role, listening to each other; talk to half the children with the others having a reason to listen
- language – use of words such as toxic, constraints on the interaction i.e. “Don’t panic the patients” and rehearsing interactions
- drama and theatre skills – media interviews and a dip into forum theatre [working on a problem “Let’s test out what it will be like when…” by scaffolding the conversation/ action]
- working with constraints – developing thinking i.e. only a tiny piece of paper for a message in the bottle.
Discussion following the hour session focussed on the depth of the demands on the children. They were constantly thinking, making connections, finding answers to questions, seeking explanations, making hypotheses and speculating. This was “serious playing”. Cecily was “most impresssed” by the levels of involvement. The social dynamics of our children were the “best I’ve worked with” and on finding out that this was a mix of children from two classes Cecily stated that they were “a remarkable group”. On discovering that our school is in one of the most deprived areas of Worcestershire one of the adults commented that they were more like middle class children. Hmmm – I think it was intended to be a positive comment but I’m not sure what to make of that!
It was a privilege to see Cecily teach our children. As always there is much to reflect on and take into our own teaching.