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Thinking Differently - teachers meet their artists

19th December 2019

Particiapnts made 3D sculptural objects from paper

On a wet and windy day last week, Meadow Arts staff members Steve Wilson, Clare Purcell and Rebecca Farkas were at the University of Worcester to meet artists and teachers who will be Thinking Differently in a brand new project, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Thinking Differently is a research Artists and teachers coming up with ideasproject that examines the link between the way that contemporary artists think, how they work and the unique ways that neurodiverse children might respond to a theme. The aim is to find out whether really amazing, stimulating artwork can help children in SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) schools to achieve.

To do this research, we’re working with three SEND schools – Westfield School in Herefordshire, Severndale Academy School in Shropshire and Chadsgrove School in Worcestershire. Our partners in the project are experts in their field, bringing exciting and creative ways of working to us and the participating teachers and artists: House of Imagination (formerly 5x5x5=creativity) is an independent arts-based action research organisation which supports children in their exploration and expression of ideas, helping them develop creative skills for life and the University of Worcester’s School of Education is one of the country’s major providers of education, training and research for the children’s workforce.

Dr Penny Hay presents to the groupThe first session was led by Dr Penny Hay from the House of Imagination, who helped the artists who will be working with schools, Fliss O’Neil, Melanie Woodhead and Sally Harper (three of our team of Creative Practitioners who were chosen after applying to our brief), and teachers from the schools to explore different ways of thinking and linking themes in an imaginative and creative day of workshops. We were joined by other Creative Practitioners who are interested in the professional development opportunities that the project offers, and Simon Taylor from the University of Worcester.

Participants were asked to bring in an object that represented something they were obsessed with, so we saw lots of things, from a football annual and a wooden spoon to a map and a bird’s nest. Everyone was asked to explain the reason for bringing their object with them and they started to write down these reasons together, then discuss them. The session led on to discovering what shared themes could be drawn out from the initial discussions and eventually each group made something creative: there were lots of paper sculptures, drawings and writing by the end of the morning.

In the afternoon, Fliss, Melanie and Sally stayed on with the teachers, Clare, Steve, Penny and Simon to discuss their approaches to starting the project next term – each school will have a weekly session with their artist over the course of two terms and the project will take two years altogether.

the group had a lots of ideas and conversationsEvaluation is hugely important, as this will help us to assess the impact of specialist contemporary visual arts teaching on the self-confidence and educational attainment of neurodiverse children in Key Stage 2. We will work with an illustrator to document the project as it moves forward, which will provide a creative ‘lift’ to the more ‘facts and figures’ outcomes that we will be capturing within the evaluation.

We’ll be sharing our progress on the blog and will end the two-year project with a report, leading towards a regional symposium at the end of 2021. To hear more news about this project as it develops, sign up to our newsletter here.