Having agency and control over things that affect us is key to our sense of wellbeing. For children and young people feeling they are listened to and seeing things change as a result of them taking part is powerful. When students help shape their learning and feel agency in their learning, behaviour and outcomes improve.
It helps that bond between the teacher and children and how to work together.Pupil, Banister Primary
Using arts and culture is a route to empowering students to voice their opinions and proactively contribute to shaping school curriculums.
What students want from education
Students know what they want to get out of education. The most recent Pearson School Report found that:
- 94% of students say being happy and mentally and physically healthy is important to them.
- 86% of students say being prepared for their future in a global world i.e. understanding and learning about different cultures is important to them.
Building pupil voice into curriculums
In the Better Lives Through Culture project we worked with four schools in Southampton to give students and teachers the tools to work together on shaping curriculums in Geography, History, English and Art. One outcome was students feeling more ownership of their curriculum and school.
In each school the process was shaped by the school needs and involved teachers working with an artist who then helped students to create schemes of work that fitted into existing curriculums.
When we gave students the chance to shape their schemes of work and how the curriculum would be taught they embraced it.
At Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill a whole class worked with the artist to share their ideas on how to teach parts of the art scheme of work using poetry and writing. Susmita, the artist then created activities to use in class. The students were given an idea of what they needed to learn and then they came back with suggestions and solutions to turn it into activities. This included tasting foods like olives, which some children had never tried, and describing how colours made them feel.
My practice has changed as a result of doing this. Having the confidence in students to take ownership, create something and come up with something amazing.Susmita Bhattacharya, ArtfulScribe, Better Lives Through Culture project artist
Confidence, ownership and belonging
At Woodlands Community College the students had lots of ideas about how they wanted to be taught in their lessons and were excited by the idea that they could use drama and music when learning about history. Students talked about how they valued the opportunity to come up with ideas for how they would learn about the history curriculum. They felt taking part in the work also increased the feeling of belonging in the school where before they had felt unnoticed.
One of the most wonderful things was when the students thought about all the ways they wanted to be taught in their lessons.Abi Thommes, Arts2Educate, Better Lives Through Culture project artist
Pupils reported it was important to them to have a voice in designing the curriculum and the young people valued the opportunity to make a mark on the school by contributing to the curriculum. Teachers reported that the students also become more confident at speaking up and taking part in class.
At Primary level students were told they would be helping plan lessons and at the end of each session they provided suggestions about how the lesson could be improved for the next time. Natalie, the artist who worked with Banister Primary School noticed how pleased the children were when they saw she had taken on board their comments and changed elements of sessions.
What would children do?
When asked at the end of the project the students had clear ideas about how they wanted to learn about Geography, different cultures and literature and how Dance could help them to do this.
I think we could do Geography because different countries have different cultures and different ways of living so we could show that through dancing.Pupil, Banister Primary School
I think we could also do literacy because we learn a lot of books and things… to help remember it, it might help to make a dance out of the books that we’ve been reading.Pupil, Banister Primary School
I think science goes really well with dance because you can see how the different creatures can move through their lives.Pupil, Banister Primary School
Ownership and understanding
By the end of the project students at Banister Primary were planning a whole lesson. Their teachers noticed they had much greater ownership and understanding of the work they were doing as a result. Like the secondary students, teachers also found that students’ confidence increased across the curriculum to speak up and answer questions in class and take part.
Most importantly, the children are enjoying the sessions. They are excited to be having an input in the planning process and those who are usually reluctant to answer and share are more willing since these sessions, which is fantastic!Sarah Golden, Teacher, Banister Primary School