One teacher's reflection on how using RSC approaches and working with the New Vic Theatre has increased pupils' cultural capital.
Children typically join our nursery or reception class with limited vocabulary, a lack of general knowledge and a poor literary heritage. As a school, we have tried several initiatives including involvement with Creative Partnerships and attempting to increase parental involvement but nothing seemed to enable those children who lacked cultural capital when they joined our school to catch up with others by the time they left in year six.
In recent years, however, our staff have spoken about the noticeable progress which our children, including the most vulnerable, are making during their time at our school and comments from teachers in our partner schools reflect our findings; this progress is not only noticeable in test and assessment data but also in confidence, social skills with peers and adults, aspirations, conversational and presentation skills and good behaviour. We attribute many of these improvements to our work with the RSC.
We have been involved in the Learning Performance Network since 2013 and have been a Lead Associate School since 2016. Progress in areas which I would equate with cultural capital has not only been commented on by staff but also by children. This year’s leavers asked to record a ‘Shakespeare conversation’ as they felt that it was important to leave a record of the work which they had done with Shakespeare and the rehearsal room techniques, as their class was the first to be involved in the work right through their primary education.
The nature of rehearsal room techniques means that all of this complexity, which would normally be far too difficult for primary aged children, becomes accessible for them by layering the learning gradually in order to decrease cognitive load, by working as an ensemble and by using the whole body and all the senses to experience the text.
Drama and the rehearsal room techniques give children the opportunity to reimagine themselves again and again; our work with the RSC, therefore, has not only given children the knowledge, experiences and tools to increase their cultural capital but also the ambition to use those things in order to achieve more than they would otherwise have believed, both in their next stage of learning and their future lives.
“In Shakespeare you have a choice about what you are to do – you could make the character angry, sad, and scared. In a lot of learning you cannot do this – there’s one right answer which the teacher knows and this is different.” Year six child
“When I read books and get stuck on words, I relate it to what we have done in class – it helps me work out the meaning of the words. I use the techniques I use to unpick Shakespeare, to unpick other texts.” Year six child
“…when I’m reading now – other texts and stories – I try to visualise it in the same way – see the setting and characters and how they would stand together and look at each other and how the words would look.” Year six child
This is an edited version of the full case study. You can read the full version here: Springhead Primary School Case Study