I’m a huge fan of interdisciplinary learning. Making links between subjects makes sense to me. One of the things I love most about being a primary school teacher is seeing the inter-connectedness of things – the way links are made between what we learn about and our experiences: when we’ve learned and explored a new word which suddenly appears in many places; when we’re studying a project and stories in the news relate to it; when we begin to understand that we’re really not so different from one another, no matter what our backgrounds are. These aren’t just coincidences, it’s how the world works, and I see my job as a teacher as helping children to try to make sense of the world and to understand and enjoy our place in it.
It’s well recognised that simply asking children if they’re understanding and making these links isn’t always the most effective way to assess – that’s why Building the Curriculum 5 asks us to consider how to capture what our pupils say, write, make or do. We have to provide and teach children how to use tools to be able to do this though, and vocabulary will always be part of this. Many of us will be familiar with the child who says “I just can” or “I just can’t”. Building vocabulary is a huge part of my job, not just in teaching children to talk about their transferable skills (very big in my education authority just now) but also in terms of vocabulary to describe and understand emotions, to empathise and consider situations from different points of view.
I’m increasingly finding that animation is an incredibly compelling way for children to express themselves – to show their understanding, knowledge, and skills in a way that is challenging at whatever level they’re at. Filming a story is just a different way of telling a story than verbally, writing or drawing. It can involve all of these though, and I’ve found is most effective if it does. Working in co-operative groups allows the children to draw on their individual strengths, and collectively benefit. I’ve found that using a collage technique and animating it means that there are plenty of roles to be shared, and there will always be one that suits every child. The picture below shows some of the characters and backgrounds from my class who are currently making films on the subject of the Clydebank blitz during World War Two. The children shared out roles and some busied themselves with drawing if they wished, or searched online for images to print. Others set up the camera and experimented with the software before they all got together and shared what they’d done.
So other than covering lots of bases, why animate a story? I’ve found that the children are more readily willing to adapt and change their stories as they go along than it is with a written story, and in fact that they want to experiment with the order of scenes, and add in different angles and camera shots. (Not that I’m suggesting for a minute that animation is more beneficial than writing a story, because if they didn’t have experience of writing and understanding stories, they certainly couldn’t do this). As the children animate their characters, they consider how they are feeling and how they show this feeling in their movements and expressions. I’ve been hugely impressed with how children can be inventive with story lines: my current P7 class are using flashback, time travel and different narrative view points. I sometimes use storyboards, and sometimes don’t. Some of the most successful animated films I’ve worked on were made up as they went along! You can see one of these here.
Stop frame animation isn’t easy, it’s fiddly and takes effort and time – another reason why I like it! To persevere and get through all the process is worth it, because at the end there’s a film. Of course, the process is incredibly important too. As we film and edit, we encounter problems and have to address these. Some classes and groups I’ve worked with have had to spend some time looking at communication and conflict resolution skills. Before my current job, I taught excluded children and children at risk of exclusion to make animated films, and for them to see these films through to completion was a tremendous achievement, boosting self-esteem while allowing them to explore issues they were experiencing through their films.
This exploration of an issue or story through animation has been incredibly worthwhile. I think it’s very important that children have the freedom to explore this issue in a way that they want to. The learning intention for the film above was to make a film about choices. That was all. The group of 4 children decided to make it about good and bad choices, and what happened when you made them. Another group I worked with were told their learning intention was to make a film about friendship. You can see what they came up with here.
My current class are considering life before, during and after the Clydebank Blitz. They’re demonstrating their knowledge of historical sequence through the eyes of Clydebank residents while describing life during the war in terms of rationing, housing, daily life and coping with air raids.
So how did we do this? I know I said it was an effort and fiddle – it is – but it’s actually fairly straightforward. I use a computer, a webcam, I Can Animate and iMovie software. I’ve also made animated films entirely on an iPad using the same software. There are other ways too. I went on a short course to learn how to use the software. If you’re a teacher and know of anyone in your school with knowledge of animating, ask to watch them as they teach, or if they’d share their practise with some of the school team. If not, take a course. Anything I didn’t pick up on the course I’ve learned by using the help menus within the programs. If I can do this, any teacher can.
Animation is just an alternative way to tell a story, and there are many stories to be told. I really hope you’ll try this engaging way to help your pupils to tell theirs.