jobs / teachings

Would I like to work in a primary school?

childelephantNope, I would not. I came to that conclusion after running a workshop at Alwoodley Primary Schoolthe biggest primary school Leeds.

It was just too much for me – all the different people, the constant moving around, and the noise – it was stimulation overload. I was pooped at the end of the day. Plus, who is this Miss Green. I can’t get on board with being called that at all, I was weirded out all day because school policy meant that I wasn’t allowed to be Kate. My hat most definitely comes off to those amazing people that can and do teach. Well done and thank you. For me though, the odd workshop would be more than enough!

To explain further how I ended up working in a primary school for a day….

My manager at Leeds University library, Judith, is also the librarian at the primary school, and she is taking eight children from her book club to present the book The Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston at the Leeds Book Awards. As part of the Awards the children have read all six books from 9-11 age category before voting for their favourite. As part of the event each of the books will be presented by a school, and Alwoodley were asked if they could do a five-minute presentation (with out the use of any technology) about The Child’s Elephant.

Judith asked me for ideas she could pass on to the children about how best to represent the child soldiers from the book as part of the presentation, which also featured live african instruments, and the elephant’s mother dying, plus the friendship between the main character, Bat, and the orphaned elephant. I came up with the idea of masks and suggested that I came into school to help Judith make them with the children. She thought this was a great idea and got approval from the head teacher. To help with this I sent over a link to the Visual Communication Projects website and details of the other workshops I’ve ran and the organisations that I have existing DBS checks with. They were both very impressed with the breadth, depth, and quality of work produced by my course.

I gave Judith a number of days I could do, and we settled on Friday 9 May, as it freed the children up for their SAT exams, and ensured the masks were completed in plenty of time for their test run at assembly, before they present at the actual awards on Tuesday 20 May.

I gathered together lots of mask ideas on a Pinterest board and showed them to Judith the next weekend we worked together at Leeds Uni. We agreed on a direction and talked about the plan for the day and the different roles we’d each take. I was to get to the school at 9.30, where we’d discuss the lesson, where the students had got to with their presentation, and layout the room for the students joining us at 11.20. We’d then work the students until lunch at 12.10, and again between 1.20 and 3pm.

Between meeting Judith and the mask making at the end of the following week, I did further research and planned the lesson. I looked back on my notes from the prep and training I did for the Big Draw at Leeds Museum and got tribal and African mask/art books from the library. I decided that the session would involve:

  • introductions and finding out the students favourite bit from the book
  • outlining the day
  • a drawing task to warm everyone up and get them thinking about different identities – folded piece of paper and drawing a different head, torso and legs.
  • a creative drawing task responding to sounds of africa – child to free draw in response to sounds and music
  • a look at the mask books and samples I had made to get them thinking and talking over lunch
  • looking at the resources again
  • sketching out initial ideas and thoughts on paper
  • making the mask using collage

This is the video I put together for the free drawing exercise. I found lots of African soundscapes, music, and animals online, and created this short film for the children to listen to and respond to it. I thought that if they are looking at books and using their hands to make, it would be interesting to make them listen too. The sounds are also very transportive, and only listening my spark ideas that could have been constrained by having a visual stimuli too.

I had decided that collage would be the best as the colours would be more vibrant for the stage, more tribal, quicker to make in one sitting, and dry more quickly for Judith to take away with her at the end of the day. We also knew there were loads of paper resources, but we weren’t sure about paint, or the ability to clean up after our selves.

Elephant ear samples

Elephant ear samples

I’ve also made a couple of masks to show the children as examples of shape and size. They are just plain as I can show them the books and Pinterest for colours, but I don’t want to make one with colours incase they don’t have access to the same materials and they get disappointed.

I know the school will be well resourced, but I’ll bring along some extra just in case, for example a cutting knife and mat so I can clean up some of the eyes the children cut, and some adult scissors for me to use.

I’ve also been asked to help Maddie make and elephant custom. I’ve made some samples of what the ears could be like, and will work with her during the session too to make them out of proper card. I’ll make sure I get some grey from college, just in case!

On the day everything went pretty smoothly, until we realised there weren’t many scissors, normal colouring felt tips, or glue and the primary school, although everything else was very well resourced. I had a glue stick with me, and Judith had brought some super glue and there were enough scissors the children to share. I also had a lot of trouble getting on the wifi, and a guest it kept dropping out when I went to wifi black spots (like the library), which would mean I had to go back to the IT technician to get the password put back in again. Unexpectedly, Pinterest was a banned site from the school internet, which was a complete pickle because that where all my online resources were. In the end I had to show the children them on my phone (even though I got a few raised eyebrows from them when they saw me fiddling with it and I felt that I had to explain that I wasn’t being naughty!). Despite this I still needed wifi because the video I had set to be available offline via Google Drive did not allow me to access it offline (despite the settings!).

The children were all very well behaved, curious and willing to get involved. There were different levels of confidence with creative activities, and some were big picture thinkers while some got caught up in the details. Some also got very upset when things were to be done quickly and when they thought they had done it incorrectly or less than perfect for themselves. There was quite a gender split as well in the approach to activities. I didn’t expect any of these things to happen, and did just try to reassure the group that there wasn’t right or wrong and the activities were just for fun. The work that students were insecure of and tried to keep to the background and not draw loads of attention to.

The folded paper drawing took far far longer than I expected. I had thought that these exercises would be excellent transitions from class to creative before the mask making, but I hadn’t thought about how difficult it might be for them to switch brains and calm down from break and getting together with the group. Nevertheless, there was still plenty of time to do the free drawing. This went nothing like I expected. The children had to listen to the music twice because the first time many just sat there stunned and unsure what to do. I showed them how I was responding by drawing dots when there was rain, and zig zags and circles representing the different levels and textures I could hear, but all of them took it literally and wanted to draw a lion when they heard a roar, waterfalls for water. Because they wanted to draw exactly what they heard the sounds were far to quick and they all refused to just free draw and make responsive marks.

I wouldn’t however say that these tasks failed. They certainly helped the children to switch modes, and after lunch they dived straight in to mask making and didn’t struggle for ideas or creative confidence. The free drawing brought out shapes and themes that continued through into the masks, like yellow for the sun, and dots and waterfall shapes.

The books proved to be excellent resources for the child when making masks – they really needed a reference point to get their ideas. Again some children were detail orientated, while some were more practical about making shapes and using colours that would stand out on a stage. Some needed more help than others in realising their ideas, or getting directed in a more appropriate direction.

I was really good at help the children and giving them ideas. I was also quite good with the group of eight and encouraging and directing them, although I don’t think I’m good with bigger groups. I was also good at adapting when things weren’t going well (wifi) or as expected (warm ups).  I wasn’t very good at time keeping at all, or remembering their names, or making everyone feel like they were getting some attention (although I did help everyone that asked and kept an eye on everything and spoke up when I had suggestions).

The Head Teacher and Deputy Head Teacher popped in at the end of the session and thanked me for coming to help. They loved the masks the children made, and the children themselves seemed very proud of them and couldn’t wait to wear them and show their friends.



What worked well with the children, which was something Judith had been doing throughout the Book Awards, was letting the children lead on the direction of the presentation. So many of the decision on artistic direction for the mask costumes and who used what background paper came from the children and I helped them put those ideas in practice and reminded them that the masks had to be used on stage, often getting them to look at it from the other side of the room and making adjustments based on their thoughts from a distance.

The children very thoughtfully left me a little note in backpack, which was very sweet of them, and Judith got me a lovely bunch of tulips and a new mug for the office (my old one had been stolen) to say thank you. It was really nice to hear that everyone appreciated my work.


There just wasn’t enough time to make the elephant outfit during the class as Maddie wanted to make a mask too and she wasn’t finished until nearly the end of the session. Instead I showed her the examples, talked to her about her ideas, and did some measuring. I then made the outfit over the weekend as it was the only time I would see Judith before the Awards. It was a bit of a squeeze to get them done because of working, but I got there (despite the double sided tape coming loose overnight). The ears and the trunk are made out of paper and acrylic paint, and are attached to two separate head bands. It is held together with a significant dose of PVA glue and Judith is under instructions to just cellotape anything that goes a bit wobbly (no one will notice from the stage anyway). My favourite bit are the nostrils at the end of the trunk, and I could happily wear the elephant ears all day as I made them into a beautiful shape through scoring and folding, as well as pinching and glueing the material to exaggerate the shape.




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