Category Archives: Speaking & Listening

TEDxKids@Sunderland pt 2 – thrilling to be so very wrong

All involved have been overjoyed and even a little overwhelmed by the fantastic response to TEDxKids@Sunderland (see here for the first post about this project).

Twitter has done the event proud, with pupils receiving good luck messages, from across the globe, then responses during and after the event to the real time tweets (@TEDxKidsSland) made about the talks. The pupils are on half-term holiday this week, so on Monday they’ll find out about much of this – and think about how they want to collate, map and display that feedback, in among their busy time setting up the website and editing the videos they took of the talks to ensure others can share the experience of the day.

Some tweets were read out during the event, with the audience being as amazed and delighted as the pupils, and we ‘project adults’ rather enjoyed our peek at #TEDxKidsSland once everyone had gone home:

So how did it reach this point?

We left the story at the project idea being well received by the school – prompting Ewan McIntosh to respond “thanks for agreeing to this – I’m thrilled to help plan and deliver something that I hope will have a sizeable impact on all concerned (including me!).” Creative Partnerships places great value on the practitioners they engage with being willing to take risks, to be able to explore and be challenged themselves, not just replicate comfortable off the shelf solutions. Ewan was clearly going to make my job very easy!

The two class teachers were, of course, central to the journey – Ewan left the first planning meeting saying “there’s a natural apprehension about trying something new” this was a stretch, it wasn’t something that everyone knew would go just fine. When reflecting post-event the Y3 teacher was brave enough to admit this initial response as being quite a strong one, although now feeling unlikely:

It is hard to imagine that just a few months ago I was feeling that this was impossible. Too much for Year 3. How could all the complex abilities of all my class be served equally?

For once it is thrilling to be so very wrong. We as teachers always feel that it is us in the driving seat. That we are imparting all our hard earned knowledge. That we set the bar and the childrens job is to work hard enough to reach it. But yesterday, in fact this whole experience has proved the point. We need to let go of the reins. Because it has been the children that have challenged me to be a better teacher. They have raised the bar every day of this project and it has been my job to keep up.

I feel humbled by what my kids achieved and can’t wait till after the holidays when I can get back in the class and let them know how very proud I am of them. How proud I am to have been part of their growth as individuals. Proud to have shared this short, yet immense journey.”

Neither teacher was aware of the TED format before the project, and Ewan’s first task for them (and others in the team) was to choose some talks, from TED or elsewhere, that they felt could be used in class to help pupils to think about the makings of a great talk, and (as importantly!) to comment on some of each others videos and ideas. The format for sharing this was through the on-line Posterous ‘learning log’ set up to capture and easily share/respond to each others thoughts and planning. I have found this log such a valuable resource, as would be expected some were quicker to use it than others but it became a valuable way to keep the adults in the project connected – as not everyone was in school all of the time, and for those who were conversations are still not always possible.

Using Posterous as a project learning log

One of the aspects of the Ewan’s approach that I really liked was their proposal phrase “NoTosh doesn’t work on a ‘day rate’ basis, but rather on a ‘fair use’ policy over the period identified.” What we have found is that working with them hasn’t just about the days there is face to face to contact, it has been a partnership approach throughout. It is the on-line sharing that has really given us a way to tap into that expertise (regardless of what country he happens to be in at the time!), but also to gain from everyone’s else skills too.

The next step was for Ewan to outline the project time around the ‘design-thinking’ process, explained in one of his blog post here. Creative Partnerships is about linking together creatives and educationalists in the belief that that combination working together has the potential to create something valuable in the classroom. Ewan describes design thinking as core to the practice of successful creative companies, and sees it as a great tool for schools.

So the next bit takes us into the classroom to meet the pupils (the exciting bit I know) and into the next blog post…

Do let me know if you are hearing what you need to about this journey, or if there is anything you want to make sure is covered.

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TEDxKids@Sunderland – the start of the story

TEDx shapes appear at every authorised TEDx event

Pupils making the freestanding TEDx letters which appear at every licensed TEDx event

Anyone who follows my twitter feed – or that of Ewan McIntosh or Tom Barrett of NoTosh probably couldn’t miss that last Friday, 27th May 2011, was the day Year 3 and Year 4 students from one primary school in Sunderland, UK achieved a remarkable event – their own TEDx developed, organised, performed and documented by the pupils in those two classes. Through a wonderfully pupil led project those young people approached a task many adults would think twice (and maybe more) about.

TED is a global phenomena – inspirational talks presented at TED events but made available through the internet. In their words: “TED’s mission is spreading ideas. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building  a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”  TEDx is: “designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.”

The first of the audience arriving for TEDxKids@Sunderland

So how did a group of pupils in Sunderland tap into and respond to this? In this first of a number of posts I’ll be making about the project I’ll describe a little of the early part of the journey. This journey that led pupils to be delivering talks about their passions and concerns, talks including: Why you should raise money for Cancer Research…Why my Mum is my best Friend… How big are families?…What are you doing about car pollution?… What would it be like to win Wimbledon?… Why slugs have slime… Do you know what it is like to be me?

In its final year of the Creative Partnerships programme, the TEDxKids@Sunderland school wanted to continue with a strand that had run across the two previous year. The enquiry question summarised this as: “Can more opportunities for ‘speaking out’ support pupils in extending their vocabulary and understanding situation appropriate language, and support the understanding of body and facial expression?” They particularly wanted pupils to be able to better understand the range of appropriate language forms that exist and to be able to modulate between them successfully – thus extending their speaking skills to benefit both their literacy skills and to support them through life.

One of the joys of working as an Agent on the Creative Partnerships Change School programme is it giving me a three year relationship, assisting schools to build enquiry based creative programmes (supported by creative practitioners) which aim to respond to key objectives within their school development plan. My knowledge of the pupils and staff grew and with that an understanding of approaches that would challenge everyone but also energise them and stand a good chance of being deliverable. But there are never any certainties in a process which encourages appropriate risk taking.

In Spring 2010 I had the opportunity to see Ewan McIntosh speak at a conference. I was inspired by his emphasis on learning for purpose and willingness to challenge school leaders about their fears of new technology. I immediately applied for a bursary to secure some mentoring support from him – around building knowledge of use of social media and wider technology (It was successful – hurrah!!). In spending time with him I came to learn that language was something Ewan was passionate about so it occurred to me that he might have an interest in the school’s  enquiry. The response he came up with was a brave one, and he enthused to me (on my mobile phone at a service station carpark!) “wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when you offer young children a format like TED, what would they make of it? How far would they take it? How might they respond to it?”

I hope you can see that right from the start it was a curiosity about the pupils response and actions – it wasn’t ‘lets organise a TEDx’ but ‘lets see what the pupils want to do with this.’ This pupil led approach was perfect for the ethos of Creative Partnerships, and taking it back to the school it was greeted with enthusiasm from the Head, who turned out to be a TED lover already, and with a deep breath, and some intrepidation,  we were off…

40 seconds of attention

This week I heard documentary filmmaker Emily Barber telling Longbenton College that TV soap opera writer guidelines are to construct 40 second scenes, that being the current ideal for maintaining attention.  They also have to vary sound levels, so that it draws the attention of the ‘viewer’ away from their laptop or mobile phone app, which thay are likely to be using at the same time as having the TV on.

Pupils are going to be making 1 – 3 minute films , it suddenly seemed a long time….

We can hear You

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?