Magic and Mystery on Storyteller island was a drama project for Foundation Phase pupils with speech, language and communication needs, which supported the schools’ focused language teaching/therapy.
This project initially involved eight learners aged 4 to 7 in Ysgol Deganwy’s Speech Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) resource base. It was subsequently delivered in nine different resource bases/schools to approximately 120 children.
In general, the project aimed to: encourage good attention span; encourage listening and responding; exercise speech/sound production muscles; consolidate the use of common verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions; assist memory, sequencing and understanding of narrative structure.
More specifically at Ysgol Deganwy, the project was devised in accordance with targets identified in pupils’ Individual Communication Plans (ICPs) and focused closely on the development of specific skills, including:
using and understanding everyday, familiar verbs in simple sentences;
understanding prepositions – particularly ‘in’, ‘on’ and ‘under’ and following instructions using prepositions;
answering simple questions relating to a story and telling a story using ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘what happened’.
The project incorporated these elements from the Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF):
Storyteller was instigated by Afasic Cymru (the charity which supports children with speech, communication and language needs) and Julie Meehan, the Expressive Arts Officer for Conwy Education Services). It was developed by Pigtown Theatre Company and also involved Cathy Webster (Educational Psychologist), and the Class teacher at Ysgol Deganwy.
At the first meeting with the school, the artist gathered as much information as possible about each individual learner, and the wide-range of abilities and linguistic capabilities within the class. She was able to learn some of the signs that the class teacher and assistants use. She also learnt and used some Welsh words and phrases in these sessions, because some of the learners are taught through the medium of Welsh. The pre-project meeting was also an opportunity to find out about behavioural problems and the needs of individual children.
The class teacher described Storyteller as ‘taking the eight learners to a fantasy land’ in which they were eager to participate in different forms of language (and some numerical) development. The involvement of the theatre company also meant that learners listened to and communicated with another adult from outside the school environment – an adult that they got to know and to trust.
Storyteller unfolds during one-hour weekly sessions delivered over a five week period by Pigtown Theatre Company. It starts with a daily routine of mime and sound effects. Learners make preparations for a journey, visit a zoo and are given a mysterious letter, an incomplete map and a magic parachute. Singing activates the parachute and starts their adventure to the mysterious Storyteller Island. The children encounter a cold, wet cave, a high rickety bridge and a frog-protected river. However, the torn map eventually leads to a disappointing dead end. After meeting the wise woman and answering her questions, the children receive a clue to climb the mountain. From here, the ancient key is spotted, a stepping stone path followed and the adventure eventually ends happily.
At the end of each of the five sessions, the class teacher would organise specific follow-up work based on the session contents. Such work might include: sequencing pictures in a specific way; painting different creatures linked to the story; using Numicon shapes to develop number work based on the coins found in the treasure chest from the story.
The project was evaluated through: observational visits to individual sessions, class teacher evaluation forms/project report, and through the Educational Psychologist’s report including a review of the pupil’s Individual Communication Plans in the term following the project
Apart from developing communication skills through speech exercises and tongue movements, and using Makaton for signing sessions, the project developed skills in:
Numeracy: counting and grouping coins (using Numicon);
Literacy: sequencing daily events using pictures and writing;
ICT: using Bee Bot to learn about directions; painting pictures of animals and singing a song using signs.
The learners’ self-esteem and confidence, their attention span and ability to listen and respond all improved. Their ability to sequence and understand a narrative structure, as well as their understanding of and ability to follow instructions using the prepositions‘in’, ‘on’ and ‘under’ also improved.
Pupils developed their ability to answer simple questions and to be able to tell a story using ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘what happened’.
For Vickie Fleming of Pigtown Theatre Company, the project transformed her work and the way in which she views herself as an artist. “My intention had been to create a project which would allow pupils to experience the words they were using, play with sounds and enjoy the story. The reality was that and so much more. To observe quiet, withdrawn children’s eyes gleam as they excitedly tell me how many dragons are living in the cave, what colour they are and that they were chased through the cave to the other side is priceless. To see louder, less focused children listen, connect with an idea and be desperate to share it with the group is amazing.”
Pigtown Theatre Company worked with Afasic Cymru, Contact a Family and Hijinx Theatre Company to deliver workshops and performances which support creative arts projects which engage and inspire.
Magic and Mystery on Storyteller Island is a prime example of a project in which a national organisation such as Afasic Cymru, a local authority arts service, high quality arts practitioners, teachers and schools worked together as partners to deliver successful projects.
Pigtown Theatre Company provide drama based workshop to support pupils’ learning experience.