Learning through the Expressive Arts

Emma MacCallum shares her experience of teaching an environmental studies topic through the Expressive Arts.

Primary Teacher, Guardbridge Primary School, Fife

I embarked upon a research project as part of my probationary year and decided to look at learning through the expressive arts.  I have a p4/5 class of 20 children who all seem to love music, drama and art and I felt that I should give them an opportunity to show off their talents!  Our environmental studies topic for the term was the Scottish Wars of Independence and I decided to teach this topic through the expressive arts which resulted in our class producing a play. 

Our first step was to create the script.  I wrote a basic framework as obviously the children did not have sufficient topic knowledge to do this independently.  However I created one section of each of the six scenes for the children to write themselves.  I incorporated this into writing skills the children had been working on.  They put much more effort into the writing knowing that their work would become part of our play.  I think that giving them responsibility at this early stage was an important contributing factor to its success. 

For the music we looked at well known songs and adapted the lyrics to become relevant to our topic, we sang Bannockburn to the music of Waterloo for example!  I also began to utilise the musical skills of the children in my class (and their parents).  The children showcased musical abilities in drumming, playing harp and recorder.  In addition to this I enlisted the help of a parent who played the bagpipes to add extra authenticity to our production!  The children loved learning the songs and often spent their Golden Time and playtime rehearsing independently which confirmed to me their engagement.  The children made up their own dances to accompany the songs and one of my colleagues choreographed battle scenes using creative dance. 

Over the term, the children worked really hard on every aspect of the play, they designed scenery, learned lines and wrote letters inviting people to come to the performances.  The children performed their play over two days to full audiences .  Feedback from parents was excellent.  Everyone commented on how much their children had enjoyed this project and how much they had learned from it.  The play also acted as a fundraiser for a school trip to Stirling so that the children could see first hand the places we were learning about.  We raised over £230 from ticket sales and generous donations. 

The play was a huge learning curve for not only the children but for myself as well.  It was a lot of work, sometimes stressful but all worth it in the end!