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Teachers Experiences

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TITLE OF THE EXPERIENCE
Rwanda Project (a performative arts project for teachers)
NAME AND SURNAME OF THE TEACHER
Mário Cortinhas and Ana Pinho
SUBJECTS TAUGHT
Drama and Plastic Expression
YEARS OF TEACHING EXPERIENCE
6 and 24
TYPE OF SCHOOL
Higher Secondary
COUNTRY
Portugal
THEMATIC AREA
Students with learning difficulties
DESCRIPTION OF THE EXPERIENCE
The story took place 3 years ago (school year 2010-2011) at Escola Secundária Nuno Álvares, Castelo Branco, Portugal. The Main actors involved were the Drama teacher and the Plastic Expression teacher and students attending the vocational course (grade 10) on Child Studies (15 girls and 2 boys).
It was the students’ first time at this particular school and their aims to enrol in this vocational secondary course were to conclude secondary education successfully and to be able to access the world of work as soon as possible.
Drama and Plastic Expression are two technical subjects in this vocational secondary course. From the start it became clear that students would find it hard to follow the programme content because they resisted every task that was proposed. This was due to their lack of self-knowledge, responsibility, mutual trust, cooperation, sharing, friendship and decision making and initiative.
Having assessed the situtation, both teachers decided to approach the class from a humanist perspective, which claims that every individual needs to develop his/her multiple dimensions. This meant that before teaching any content, the teachers would have to create the conditions for learning. The classroom would have to become a safe environment with no preconceptions, prejudices or individual or social inhibitions. The teachers thus had to reach the social and affective dimension of students through exposing them to play and to action. Students would observe and act and thus there would be meaningful dialogue and debate.

Most of these students had learning difficulties. They lacked self-esteem and had experienced failure in previous school years. Their average age was 17 and they did not trust the school or its learning contexts. Besides, their interpersonal relations, peer to peer, were difficult.

The actions deemed effective by the arts and music teacher were to involve all students in project work. The project to be developed by them had to be interesting from their perspective and it would need to contribute to raising the students’ emotional security. Through working on the project it was expected that students would find motivation, would feel loved and thankful; and that they would feel part of a team and happy. The Plastic Expression teacher was invited to join the project, which she did, due to the interdisiplinary nature of both subjects.
The next step involved talking to the students on the pedagogic objectives of both subjects, and how this could happen through concrete tasks set by both teachers and what this would imply for student work. The students then committed to developing the Rwanda project, a performative arts for the ESNA teachers, to be held in the Teacher Room.
Plastic Expression activities:
- a poster to announce the event;
- visual signs to channel people to the event (illustrations on the floor);
- plaster maks.
Drama activities:
- Read a fictional story by Ilibagiza, I. (2009): Sobrevivi – A história de uma mulher que sobreviveu ao holocausto ruandês (Porto: Edições ASA), the story of a woman who survived the Rwanda holocausto;
- Debate the story;
- Research the Rwanda holocausto;
- Write a narrative script;
- Develop a “movement script”;
- Research images on the Rwanda genocide;
- Research songs and music to use as background for the performance.
Activities developed both in Plastic Expression and Drama:
- Prepare PowerPoint presentation;
- Write invitations and sending them out (in person);
- Book a space for the venue (with the headteacher);
- Prepare the venue room (the Teacher room)
- Perform the show.

The performance had a significant impact on the audience and was repeated during the final school event to the whole school community.
As to problems encountered, team work requires a lot of adjustment in keeping schedules and working paces.

The parents were rather supportive of the project and were available to carry their children to rehearsals and extra classes.
The results achieved were the following:
- A successful performance;
- The students felt emotionally secure; they felt loved and respected, as well as thankful to what they have. They were motivated and learned how to work in a team. While they worked on the project they were happy, active and confident;
- A second performance, included in the final school event. Its audience were parents and relatives, students and teachers.
The strength of this experience is its success with students. Teachers feel rewarded in their professional competence when students succeed and when their methods and resources work.

Comments on this Teachers Experience

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Date: 2014.06.05

Posted by Julien Lecomte, Gilles Fossion and Erika Benkö (Université de Paix) (Belgium)

Message: We have based this comment on our experience as supervisors in the pilot project “well-being units” in schools.
This pilot project is part of a project that brings together three ministries (Education, Health and Equal chances, Youth and Youth Aid): “the policy regarding well-being at school will be thought in the long-term. It will be integrated in a global well-being project modulated according to the context and needs. It will foster interactive methods built in partnership with young people” (from enseignement.be)
In this framework “Université de Paix” assisted ten schools during two years. We are recognised as a youth organisation. Our specificity is violence prevention and conflict management. Our interventions fostered dialogue between the different stakeholders at school or related to school, including the students, the teachers, the headmasters, counsellors and other professionals who work occasionally or not with the school (speech therapists, psychologists, etc.), parents, the parent association, associations to promote health and protection of environment, the municipality, etc.

Reading the experience, several factors seem to be behind the success of this project: the students’ reference framework, needs and aspirations being taken into account. Indeed, it fosters participation and a sense of security in order to achieve a group cohesion and cooperation between its members.

A second factor seems to be fruitful: project pedagogy, in which everyone feels involved and raises awareness about one’s responsibilities and skills, from its design to the final implementation of the project. It develops self-esteem and confidence, which are necessary to learning.

A participative project in which stakeholders feel involved and work in open-mindedness is more likely to succeed. They will more readily negotiate arrangements, find solutions together so that the project can succeed.

Another factor: parents are also involved in this project because they are available and give their time and resources so that students can participate. It is an important lever, because several stakeholders get together and are in favour of the project. Targeting resource people and counting on them can also help the project succeed.

Let’s not forget the headteacher’s support, which is crucial to the project. It feeds the need of acknowledgment, including that of students’ and teachers’ motivation, the driving force of the project!

Date: 2014.05.22

Posted by Mariapia Piemontese mariapia.piemotnese@libero.it (High Secondary School Country: Italy)

Message: This experience shows how sharing common goals during adolescence is a key factor in personal growth.
The author successfully describes difficulties faced by students when approaching school contents, notwithstanding the fact that the subjects involved were not directly linked to the traditional cognitive aspect of school subjects.
Portuguese fellow teachers did not stop when facing repeated refusals. On the other hand they questioned themselves and re-thought their role within the teaching/learning context, the latter being in a state of risking a series of inevitable failures.

First I would like to point out the effectiveness of experience that has made the project possible as a whole: students actively participated in the projects and they worked efficiently on easily accessible sub-goals. They proceeded step by step accepting teachers as their guides who, in more strictly educational contexts, would have been rejected by students, and they saw themselves as “creators” of their own initiatives. I think that the idea of “endorsing a cause”, although geographically distant from their own situation, has been the motivation that made them feel able to act. In order to do so, teachers had to make use tools known by students they were dealing with: thus, they moved away from content-oriented patterns and they experimented successful working methods, that can also be transferred to contexts outside school. These are extremely exemplary interventions of how to make students acquire flexible and wide skills. For example: the educational meaning of research and focused study that students carried out in order to acquire facts concerning Rwanda; the graphic and artistic planning that preceded the actual production phase ; the phase of assigning and accepting tasks within working groups.

Last, I would like to stress the key role of synergy of those who contributed to the success of this experience: first of all, the students, with all their difficulties; teachers, who drew on their creativity in order to overcome problems; the school, as an open learning context that welcomed new ways of communicating and teaching.

20 December 2014

Final Partners’ meeting

The fourth partners’ meeting took place in Florence (IT) on 15 December 2014. The meeting had the objective to check the activities carried out since the third meeting of the project and share and assess the in progress results. A special focus has been dedicated to the presentation of the strategies to solve the case scenarios.