Irresistible learning through storytelling by @chizkent

For the past three years Warden House Primary School has held an ‘Oracy Week’ in September.  The aim of ‘Oracy Week’ is to engage children in key oracy skills that they can build upon in their work throughout the year while enthusing them be involved in irresistible learning that with inspire a deep enthusiasm for literacy.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Graham Chisnell and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Building on the excellent week in 2013 with Mandora the Alien and our Pirate week of 2014; the Heroic Journey, the theme for 2015, focused on developing our children’s oracy and performance skills through storytelling. We hired an actor to facilitate during the week and engage our children and model activities to our staff.  Planning of irresistible activities was is in the hands of the class teachers although I gave a range of suggested activities for teachers to use as a framework.  Classes were encouraged to work individually or with colleagues, with all staff encouraged to have fun with this week and inspire our children to experience the love of literacy and storytelling.

I first came across the concept of the Heroic Journey during a workshop session during an Independent Thinking Big Day Out at Pasmoore’s Academy in Essex. The Heroic Journey is an ancient story format used in stories from Homer’s Iliad to Harry Potter.  The heroic Journey provides a format through the narrative of a story can unfold and for our youngest children this can provide the structure of the story as it unfolds, for our older children a greater awareness of authorial intent.

A great resource for KS2 on The Heroic Journey is here.
Part 1 – Call to adventure

Marrvella Sekinda the Story Wizard

We hired a fantastic actor to arrive in assembly with a flourish and tell the tale that she had lost her storytelling words. Her land and time was based on the genre of ‘Middle Earth’, a world that echoes our own but is filled with magic, magical creatures and a battle between good and evil. The timing of the assembly fell on the morning after the special lunar eclipse where a rare ‘Blood Moon’ appeared.  Marrvella Sekinda, a Storywizard, then emerged from the curtains behind the principal as he spoke about the magical effects of the ‘Blood Moon’ of a special lunar eclipse. Marcella explained her confusion and that she needed all our help in order to return to her land.

Children were encouraged to talk about, write about, paint, draw, sing perform her story in order for her to return to his world and time.  She explained that there were a number of magical items hidden in plain view that would help on her quest. Marvella then visited the infant classrooms to develop further language and start to model storytelling techniques with the children.

Day 2  The Supreme Ordeal / Initiation

In day two we introduced the Mentor helper today with the idea that the hero is convinced to undertake the journey.  The school has six core values and this gave us a great opportunity to link this concept to our school values of being ‘Determined’ and “Partners’.  Developing the idea that with encouragement we can be determined to succeed.

Staff were amazingly creative when planning opportunities for learning and activities included partnership work where Year 6 children were invited to work with KS1 children and help them deepen their character descriptions they had devised when setting the scene for the call to adventure on Day 1. The experience was magical, Year 6 children took hold of the imaginations of our Year 1 children and described the character of the arch enemy in the mythical tale.  Children in year 1 drew the characters the Year 6 children described and a genuine connection was made between the children working together.  Our year six children have a true challenge with their writing progress this year as they attempt to align to the new curriculum age related expectations, this activity and drove their enthusiasm to aspire for more in their language skills and built confidence in their grammatical structures as they worked to create a mental image of their character in the younger children.  Another fine example that in order to improve children’s literacy you need to captivate them to truly accelerate learning not just drill them with age related information.

Our school teams use mythical creatures as their image.  The unicorn, griffin, dragon and phoenix, designed by our talented Art Subject Leader Mrs Vyse,  were developed as allies in the supreme ordeal.  Children drew, painted and described the characteristics of their team creature and deepened their story, holding on to the theme that Marrvella Sakinda needed to hear as many words and stories about her land to help her return to full power as a Story Wizard.

Day 3 Transformation

This is where we build the story of the ordeal.  Our hero needs to face his battle and conquer his enemy. Our upper junior team really explored this theme and decided to introduce a maths challenge as part of the oracy week, developing opportunities for developing maths talk.  Children were asked to solve riddles and mathematical problems to discover the location of key magical items that will help Marvella in her quest against her arch enemy.

I spoke with children after the activity and one child said they were ‘doing really hard maths’. I asked, “did you enjoy it?” The answer came back from one of our more complex youngsters who said with a smile; “It (the problem solving activity) was great, it made my brain sweat.”

Day 4 The Road Back

Marvella Sekinda returned to visit us during our whole school assembly.  The road back focussed on the final phase of the Heroic Journey and describes the journey back home for our hero.  The battle is won and life returns to a tranquil time.

Our actress arrived in assembly, sitting at the front of the hall meticulously cutting ribbons from a range of colourful cloths as the children entered.  She told a range of stories and thanked the children for weaving their stories as this had helped the colours return to her robe.  After assembly children in the junior classes engaged in a storytelling workshop with Marrvella where she developed children’s storytelling skills.

Children in Year 5 and 6 prepared their final storytelling performances and undertook the final challenge to find the dragon’s tail by deciphering a riddle.  Year 5 children recorded their quotes using Storybook Weaver.  Year 3 and 4 children developed their story and artwork relating to the setting of Isengard while our Year 1 and 2 children sang a special song to tell the tale of how Marrvella conquered her foe.

Day 5 Final Assembly & Dress up day

Our final day of the Heroic Journey and the conclusion to our Story Week asked all our staff and children to dress up as ‘Middle Earth’ characters. Children and staff really went to town and threw themselves into the spirit of the week.  Our talented @primaryreflect set up a green screen photo studio to take photographs of our children, this really gave a special backdrop to the children’s make-believe.

We shot a trailer using iMovie, and showed this during our final assembly. iMovie gives a really simple and fun way of building a movie trailer  of an event day and children love being involved in the direction and filming of the trailer.

The Story Week enabled our vision word ‘Success’ to be truly realised as we saw children develop as storytellers.  One child in Year 4, who named  himself “The Unknown Storyteller”, captivated the school with his storytelling prowess; his skills drawn out by the fully immersive learning experience of the Story Week.

Our Oracy Week has become a key element to our ‘irresistible curriculum’ at Warden House.  Each year, the Oracy Week draws our differing qualities in our children.  Our aim to engage children in key oracy skills that they can build upon in their work throughout the year has once again been realised through the creative and immersive curriculum planned by a dedicated staff team at Warden House.

My humble advice to you, be you a Story Wizard, Tree Elf or humble teacher; weave stories, dress up, be silly, suspend disbelief, have fun and experience what great learning feels like when emotion connects with learning.  Bring forth the Heroic Journey!

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