Written by Charles Bliss
Norwich Theatre’s Wise About Words project embeds drama and storytelling in the classroom to explore the barriers to learning in eight primary schools in urban, rural and coastal locations in Norfolk.
In partnership with the Wensum Trust, the project is designed to be immersive and collaborative, with teachers, artists and senior leaders in schools working together to improve outcomes for pupils.
The two-year project, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, aims to give teachers artistic tools to nurture children’s love of stories and build their emotional language skills. Interactive techniques such as games and role-playing build skills like teamwork, resilience, confidence, perceptions, emotions, problem-solving and self-awareness.
Sam Patel, head of creative engagement at Norwich Theatre, said:
“The project aims to enhance teachers’ skills to confidently tell stories in the classroom and bring them to life. This develops children’s story-sharing abilities alongside confidence, teamwork, resilience, and all of the skills children need to learn in the classroom that might not be formal.”
So far, the children have created fairy-tale puppets after discovering The Brothers Grimm, taken part in an expedition with Sir Ernest Shackleton, invented machines on an expedition with Grahame Baker-Smith, learned about apartheid, had a taste of a banquet at the Mead Hall from the story of Beowulf, and explored the emotions and perspectives of characters from many different stories. Pupils also created hundreds of tableaux, as well as writing new endings to many famous stories.
“We know the pandemic has been really difficult for children with the lockdowns hindering their speech and reading abilities.” said Sam. “So this project is having a positive impact in engaging children in the love of stories and reading for pleasure.”
Teachers reported that the sessions have been emotionally powerful, noting improvements in focus, literacy, empathy and communication.
Next year, eight more teachers will join the project, totalling four professional creative artists, eight schools, 16 teachers and more than 500 children.
“It has been especially fulfilling to find teachers on the project are adopting the practices in other subjects as well, such as maths and history. It gives a whole new dimension to children’s learning in the classroom.”