I’ve been sorting through notes from the last school year and came across the scribblings from a wonderful day I spent in Thorney Close Primary School in June. The school have been working with drama practitioners from Northern Stage to support pupils in having more confidence in speaking aloud, and to more consciously modulate language depending on circumstances.
Every pupil in Year 4 and Year 6 gave a short speech that afternoon. There was many a tear from a teacher I have to say – in response to the girl who hadn’t been able to say anything to the class without crying previously, confidently taking her place; when a pupil addressed the audience with why he was proud to be deaf; when we heard how special it was to have friends; what it felt like to be bullied; why a boy wanted to be a footballer but thought they shouldn’t earn more than doctors …..
Pupils had been given total freedom over what they wrote their speeches about, and teachers realised they never gave that permission, that there was always a topic or theme. The power of the experience fed off that autonomy, the success was fully theirs.
When we first met with Northern Stage they expected the school to want drama workshops with a performance at the end. The conversations that focussed the project down were great – it was so clear that this wasn’t about pupils being actors and delivering a script, it wasn’t about ‘shows’. It was about them getting a feel for the power of expressing their thoughts, and that the skills of actors and dramatists might be useful in getting there. It is that negotiation between the skills of educators and artists that create a mix that pupils can take where they need to. No-one in the ‘professional team’ was an expert speech maker, but everyone in the room had experiences they could offer that enabled the pupils to become speechmakers.
In truth it was only a beginning – there is a lot further to go, pupils at the school don’t have the starting point that some children do – but it was a beautiful beginning.
What would your speech be about? How do you feel about making it?