Thursday 28 November 2013

Cross-curricular transition: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

       "Early in the summer term I was approached by Mary Campbell, Head of Year 7, to set up and collaborate on a KS2-3 transition project. Being an English teacher the first idea which came to mind was a transition book. Whilst doing some work experience in a Barnet primary school prior to starting my PGCE I had seen transition books working well. All students in year 6 across the borough studied Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo. During this time they read the novel and created a portfolio of work which they would take with them into year 7 (if they were going to a secondary school in the same borough of course). I wanted us to do something similar but, apart from the sheer amount of work it would take to get all primary schools on board and the late time in the year which we had begun to think about it, our students did not all come to us from the same borough. Instead, we decided to do something slightly different. I liaised with our librarian and we discussed the novels which students most often studied at KS2 and what texts might be appropriate for such a project. We decided on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and then we set about writing a proposal to SLT to secure the funds for buying in enough copies for every student joining in year 7. The proposal included our aims and objectives for students, parents and staff. We wanted as many subjects involved as possible on a two week project based around the novel. It would make transition into school more fluid and students would share a common experience no matter which school, borough or country they joined us from.
      A week later the proposal was accepted and we started putting things into action. An initial meeting was arranged for all Heads of Department, KS3 Co-ordinators and Year 7 tutors where we discussed the aims and objectives and talked through potential activities and any issues/questions which they had regarding the project. Most subjects attended and staff were really enthusiastic about getting on board. I set up a folder on our shared drive where we could save and share our ideas and we went away ready to plan lessons for the novel within each of our own subjects. Staff who had attended the meeting went back to their own departments and shared the project aims and the proposal was emailed out to all staff. 
      Next came sharing the project with the students. Our new cohort came into school for an induction day in the summer term. On this day each student received a copy of the novel and an instruction sheet. Their tutors read through this sheet and explained what they were expected to do. Students were asked to read the novel and complete one of two activities: write a review of the book or produce a piece of artwork/illustration based on a particular scene/chapter. An abridged version of the novel was provided for EAL students who would have difficulty reading the novel. In the evening of this induction day, students parents came in and, as Head of Year 7, Mary communicated the project, it's aims and the summer task to parents encouraging them to get as involved as possible and beginning to gain parental engagement before these students had even officially joined us. 
       When students came back to school in September nearly all of them had read the novel. Those who hadn't were honest and without having to tell them to, they quickly realised the need to get it read. It wasn't just in English where their learning was centred on the novel, it was in lots of subjects including Maths, Science, History, ICT, Textiles, MFL and Drama to name but a few. Without reading the novel students could not access the work as well and so they soon wanted to catch up. Over the course of these first two weeks, students worked on many projects based around the novel and produced some outstanding work. In the third week, parents were invited in to our usual meet the parents evening but this time with a difference. Each form set up an exhibition area to showcase their best work and share what they had done with their parents. The exhibitions were really impressive and parents and students had a great evening talking about their work and discussing their first few weeks at school with their new tutors.
       The transition project was a fantastic way to start the year and I feel that students really benefitted from the process. The novel gave them a common ground and they were able to access the novel in a range of ways and in a range of subjects. We will definitely be running this project going forward and have feedback from staff and students to allow us to amend, improve and adapt for future years."

- Athena Pitsillis, English KS3-4 Co-Ordinator.

"Any child moving from primary into secondary school would find the move quite daunting and unnerving for the first two months of the school year, especially those who are on their own with no friends from their previous school following them.  My idea behind this project was to get the children engaged in an activity during the summer holidays and involve most subject areas to plan an activity to coincide with the transition project to be delivered in the first two weeks in September. The book, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, was an excellent choice, and it worked. The departments involved delivered creative and engaging lessons that were received with excitement from the children. I talked to quite a few of the children about the project and the feedback was very positive.  The children had one thing in common because they had read the book, it was the centre of most lessons; they had something to contribute to each subject, to discuss, to argue over and to celebrate their achievements.  
      It also had helped quite a few students with their confidence, not just academically but socially, making new friends in their form and most of all reducing the fear of starting a new school. After the two weeks, the students had to display their work to be on show for the parents' 'Meet the Tutor' evening. The task was for the students to develop visual communication skills, by working in teams to display their work on a 170cm x 200cm display board. The best displays were rewarded with Vivos.  The day of the parents meeting the students were buzzing with excitement, organising themselves and planning their work. The atmosphere was electric.  The children were instructed to do the work on their own, but form tutors were deeply involved, leading to a fierce competition.  The outcome was stunning. Parents and the school staff were extremely impressed with what the children had achieved and positively commented on the standard of the work. 
      As Year 7's HOY I believe that the summer project was a success. It supported the children in the first month of secondary school. It helped the forms bond together and helped the children to settle comfortably and with ease. Behaviour has been excellent.  The project was a focus for all: children, parents, teachers and the school staff. I just want to say thank you to Athena, for seeing through my vision and thinking in the same path." 

- Mary Campbell, Head of Year 7.

"When Athena first asked me about my thoughts for this project my initial thoughts were ‘Wow, how are we going to teach the Holocaust to year 7 students?!’  How to teach such a sensitive and moving historical subject to 11 year olds was a hot topic of conversation amongst the humanities teachers.  We debated over how to teach this to students and what depth we should teach it in. However, once planning began my fears as KS3 humanities co-ordinator decreased immensely.  It became apparent very early on in the planning stages that the priority in the humanities lessons would be giving the students the contextual knowledge they needed to be able to understand the novel at a deeper level as well as providing some deeply important historical knowledge at KS3. The department planned 2 lessons following Canons pedagogy which centred on the question of ‘why was there a boy in stripped pyjamas? The lessons culminated in the students responding to the key question in an extended style response and thus acted as a baseline assessment for our year 7s.  
      As a department we were so surprised and thrilled with the level of enthusiasm that was displayed amongst year 7 students in their humanities lessons, so surprised that some teachers ended up spending 4-5 lessons on the project (mainly due to the vast number of questions students had about the Holocaust and the Nazi influence in Europe).  Not only did the transition project evoke a huge amount of enthusiasm, historical curiosity and empathy from our students, it also seemed to act as a calming influence on them in their first few weeks at secondary school.  It is certainly something we are planning to do again and striving to make the project an even more successful venture next year."

- Lexi Mawson, Humanities KS3 Co-Ordinator. 

"On the whole, Year 7 students thoroughly enjoyed reading the story over the summer holidays. A handful of students felt that the project became a bit repetitive across different subjects, but the vast majority enjoyed the cross-curricular nature of the project, and liked learning about broader themes of the story from different perspectives. In particular, students appreciated how different subject areas were working together, and it helped them to grasp the relevance of the story across the wider curriculum.
History, English and Maths were the subject areas in which students seemed to enjoy exploring the themes of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ the most. Other subjects where they enjoyed learning about the story also included Technology, ICT, Drama, Art, Science, Textiles and Spanish.
      Our students have provided us with some great ideas of how we can improve the project for next year’s cohort:
  • more practical activities in lessons (making models, painting, designing);
  • repeat the project but with a different story;
  • more options for home learning activities;
  • activities to be even more challenging;
  • open-ended tasks to allow students to be more creative.
From the staff’s point of view, most teachers found it easy to plan and deliver a lesson/mini-project focused on the story (particularly English, Technology, Drama and Maths). It was more of a challenge to deliver lessons about the story in other subject areas, particularly right at the start of KS3 Schemes of Learning.  However these subject areas are planning to find opportunities later in the year to make links back to the story.
Staff, much like the students, saw the benefit of establishing clear links between different subject areas across the curriculum. They felt that students were enthusiastic and engaged throughout the duration of the project, and thought that it was good for students to see that different departments are working together towards a common goal. It gave students a sense of consistency and unity, providing them with a common shared experience to speak about to help settle in to high school.
Our next steps will involve seeking out feedback from parents, and subject leaders from across the school will reconvene and share experiences of project, which we hope will lead to setting in motion plans for more cross-curricular projects in the future."

- Tom Megit, MFL KS3 Co-Ordinator. 

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