School & Library Visits
I’ve been showing children (and adults) how to draw my characters for some time now. Some times I wonder why, because it seems so obvious to me how to draw them and everyone does such lovely drawings, I often think we could have spent the time doing some thing else.
I’ve often been puzzled by comments made by teachers which are generally something like, “It’s amazing, these children are following the instructions.” I smile politely and feel confused. Isn’t that how it is done?
Well last week it all became clear at Whitchurch Primary school, where I’m working with the year five group at the moment. I’ve mentioned them before. They are unusual in that they only have four girls in the class. Their teacher, Mrs Stevens, said that my drawing instructions worked because I gave the instructions one at a time and waited until everyone was ready before I gave the next.
She says that often she will give a group of instructions like: “Put your water bottle back in the crate at the back of the class, get your book and sit down at your desk.”
She says she often ends up with a few boys sitting at their desks with their water bottles! It seems that boys who don’t multi-task need need simple one-step instructions to get it right. It is so obvious you would never think about it. And that is why all the children and adults when I do drawing lessons draw what I show them, pretty much without fail – even the most chaotic scrawls are decipherable.
I do remember being very frustrated at art college, that our lecturers would not teach us how to draw. “We do’t want to interfere with your natural style,” they would say. Long ago, art education was all about instruction. The fact is that not everyone is going to be an artist nor wants to be. But the skill of drawing is invaluable. If drawing is not taught because teachers don’t want to spoil natural talent, then no drawing gets done.
Most students become despondent and give up, whereas, with some formal training, they may not become great artists, but they may discover another language with which they can express ideas they may find difficult to express in words.
Drawing should not be seen as something strange the arty types do in the art room. It is amazing that we all can read the language of drawing fluently, almost from birth without any formal instruction – in fact the language of words itself is expressed by drawing marks on paper – and yet so few of us feel capable of picking up a pencil and joining in the conversation.
What is going on here? I think, as ever in the field of formal education, there is a mismatch between the talents of the left and right brains. The product of right brain work cannot be tick-boxed and yet, the sequencing work of the left-brain, which is what we teach in schools, is meaningless without the original input of the right brain.
For while I became a bit Right-brainist as right brained people do not get a good deal from school. But I’ve now come to realise that left-brained people do not get a good deal either. Skills for both sides of the brain should be taught and, more importantly, skills that marry up the two sides. An all round education should strengthen both sides of the brain.
Drawing before writing works for me. My sketchbooks are half and half, words and pictures, the ideas grow as words and pictures. The two feed off each other. I’m sure this approach would help many who find going straight to the words difficult.
I’ve already learned what I think is an really important lesson for me after only one session at the school. What more have I to learn? Exciting! And I’m suppose to be the one that’s imparting information.
I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about the project we are working on and realise I need to break it down into easy manageable bits with simple step-by-step instruction. It’ll be interesting to see If I can do it and if it works. Watch this space.
I had a great time this morning with year five at Whitchurch Primary School near Ross on Wye. I’ll be working with them over the next few weeks.
I’ve decided to make Dark Claw available under the creative commons. We are going to do some extended work writing, illustrating and possibly animating stories based on the characters and scenarios from the Dark Claw stories, which are now out of print.
You can read the stories online here. I’ve made the books available as flick the page ebooks for free. It’s also an experiment to see what can be done with a different publishing model. Times are changing and authors are going to have to find new ways of exploiting their work. Like musicians we may have to rely more on tshirt sales that the books themselves!
At eleven o’clock the school made a huge circle and held hands in the playground. I had a year six girl on one hand and a year one girl on the other. I realised how much I work on my own. When I do meet people it is only for the day, and then I move on. It was good to feel part of a larger community on this day.
I’m looking forward to getting to know year five a lot better too. There are some interesting characters! Not being a teacher, I probably approach the job in hand differently. We made some interesting observations which I’ll think about a blog about later.
I’ve got some lovely pictures of drawings we did today. We are just checking that everyone is okay about me posting the,. As soon as I know I’ll put them up here.
I went to visit the lower school at Tettenhall College near Wolverhampton, yesterday. I gave myself a lot of time to get there but, as there was the first fog of the year, the roads were terrible. I came to a standstill on the M5 following and earlier crash. It was slow on the way home too for the same reason.
I had a great time telling stories and many children seemed to like my drawings. I’ve stopped using flipchart pens – they are so unsubtle. Now I use a graphite stick. I think they respond to the pencil drawings much better. Shading with the side of the stick fills in areas very quickly.
I was very taken by the dining hall, the roof of which looked as though it were part of the Eifel Tower or had been built under a bridge. One would normally expect wooden beams in the roof. presumably the closeness to Ironbridge explains why the beams are made of cast iron.
Thanks for a great day and those are lovely trees you are surrounded by too!
On Friday, I was asked to cut the ribbon at the River Children’s Centre in Lydney, just down the road. I’m not quite sure how writing and drawing in a shed all day long qualifies me to do the job, but it was great fun. I started with a bit of painting and storytelling for the children, who were mostly 3,4 and 5. Then we went outside to cut the ribbon, flanked by loads of balloons.
Afterwards we retired to the kitchen for nibbles, where I cheekily asked when the ageing primary school might get rebuilt. I was treated to a in depth view of the national and local politics involved in the making of such a decision. Demographics alter all the time, which means that obvious solutions one year may not be so obvious the next.
Much more simple to understand was the fabulous cake made in the shape of the River Centre. Good luck to you all and thanks for having me!
I’ve been over to Whitchurch C of E School this week, to discuss a project we’ll be working on together. They have an unusual year five – there are only four girls in the class! This cohort has moved through the school years.
I met them recently when we did a story planning session. I’m going to work with them on how I can release Dark Claw as a Creative Commons project. I hope that we will produce a body of work that will be of interest and a template to inspire other schools and groups around the world to have a go themselves. I think there is a lot to be explored – a whole alternative universe in fact. It is a writing project, but we’ll be using all sorts of modelling and technology to make it more interesting and relevant.
I’m really looking forward to it. I normally meet groups of 30 to 600 for an hour and talk about me! This time I’ll get to see how individuals and a class work on something over time and will get to know the students too. Planning things with their teacher, Beth Stevens, I realised how much I don’t know about what goes on in the classroom over the week. I’m sure it will all come out in the wash and I’ll learn to pace myself and my expectations. Either way I think it’s going to be fun and VERY interesting!
Today I visitednnsworth Junior School in Gloucester.
We did lots of drawing as well as storytelling. I should heave taken some pictures of the drawings. I love the way everyone draws the same thing and yet all the pictures are so different according to the way each child sees what I show them to do.
sometimes little mistakes or misreading of my instructions can be really creatively interesting. The best bit is when We’ve finished and go on to Q&As. some children carry on drawing – adding stuff and expanding their drawings.
I encourage a light touch for the planning and underdrawing. Then I show how to press harder for the finished drawing on top. If this was ink then the under drawing can be rubbed out afterwards,
What’s interesting is that at the beginning there are lots of calls for erasers. I tell them they don’t need them – just keep drawing.. By the end everyone is drawing and erasers and rubbing out are forgotten.
One or two teachers joined in and seemed more pleased with their efforts that the children were with their own!
Thanks for a great Day, Innsworth.
I had a wonderful day yesterday, at the Hadley Learning Centre in Telford. It is an extraordinary Cathedral of Learning, comprising both Secondary and Primary Schools with Nurseries, Children’s Centre, Library, and Arts and Leisure centre, all built in a huge, circular donut of a building.
The Library is fab, with a huge wall of glass facing the inner circle. I was looked after by a fantastcalyy enthusiastic team who had been working hard to promote the day, which was part of The Big Draw. It was such a busy day, I forgot to take photos.
I gave a couple of talks. One about Viking Vik and the other about Monster Boy. After reading a story I showed how to draw the characters. I was particularly pleased that so many of the adults joined in and had a go too. I got to talk to all sorts of people about drawing. Some brought artwork in to show me too.
There were lots of other things going on, lots of sticking and glueing. The Dance studio was converted into a forest full of furious activity where wild creatures were drawn and created to populate the woodland scene. Great fun.
A wonderful success – due, as ever, to brilliant organisation and enthusiasm from the Telford Library Crew. Many thanks to you all.
Frustrated that the Summer Reading Challenge fades out at the start of the new school year, he wanted something more permanent and continuing and so has adapted the Read a Million Words idea, that started in the US and was then transferred to Bristol and Wales (where I was also involved).
Children are encouraged to read a million words, (that’s like the entire Harry Potter collection) and get prizes and encouragement along the way at significant marker points. Words can be read anywhere – in books on posters on the back of cereal packets – and can be added to with special offers like 500 words for bringing Dad to the Library. It builds a deeper and more long lasting relationship with the Library than a quick summer scheme.
RAMW has been used mostly in schools so far, so John is experimenting with its use in a Library situation. Children seemed very aware of the scheme and there are already quite a few millionaires. By the time they reach that status they are pretty much in the habit of reading, but the brilliant children’s team in Pool are working hard to find ways to go beyond the million words with millionaire’s clubs and events.
When you talk to John, you soon find out how passionate he is about the scheme and the need to keep children reading as well as watching TV and Playing computer games. Learning to read powers up the language part of the brain like nothing else and promoting a love of reading is key to a successful education.
Good luck to all working on RAMW in Poole and more power to your elbow. I hope that your hard work will be noticed by other Libraries who will build upon it and give children elsewhere the opportunity of becoming RAMW millionaires too.
This morning I visited Branksome Library, where I met children from Branksome Heath Middle School.
Wendy, the library manager, didn’t want to be pictured a d i’m not allowed to take pictures of the children without permission, so I made them turn around and took a picture of the back of their heads!
Only two sessions today, to let me get my breath back.