From HEAD to TOE – Checking in after our first year
Over the last year we have been busy working on the From HEAD to TOE project, funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, collaborating with five Primary Schools across Lancashire with the aim to explore the role of the creative, moving body in the teaching of English and Maths to attempt to increase concentration, engagement, recall and produce memorable experiences.
As we embark on the start of our second and final year, we wanted to take a moment to recap what we have done so far, what we are learning and where we might go next.
The main priorities explored to date are for pupils to improve their skills in retaining and recalling key vocabulary and subject knowledge and gain autonomy and independence over their learning, for teachers to gain a stronger understanding of arts-based learning and articulate and advocate for the practice, for education settings to explore how dance and movement based strategies can be embedded across the curriculum, beyond PE, and for dance artists to develop a range of strategies and better understanding of how dance can support memory and knowledge acquisition and discover the potential impact of arts-based practice on supporting children in overcoming barriers to learning.
What we’ve done so far
It has been a really exciting and eye-opening first year, with us working in new ways and, very quickly, transforming our practice and how we approach dance teaching in schools. To date we have explored a range of topics within the English and Maths curricula including word class, descriptive, narrative and report writing, poetry, place value, spellings and times tables. Our research has resulted in a range of full lesson plans (one hour up to one day), short tasks and games to support recall and memory (for topics like spelling and times tables) and movement interventions, supporting pupils to maintain or regain focus throughout the learning day and before and after key transitions. The practical delivery has been planned in partnership between Teachers and Artists, uniting the expertise from both areas, and, through live collaboration in the moment, the content has been refined and is taken back to the classroom for further exploration. This approach is beginning to support strategies to be embedded for both pupils and teachers and begin to shift towards a new way of learning. We are really loving seeing how this work is not only valuable but also becoming a part of the everyday approach in schools!
We are discovering that the need for being physical and using the whole body for learning is more apparent than ever post-pandemic. We also noticed a dip in self-confidence and independence in learning after spending a lot of time 1:1 at home during lockdown, or after not accessing much support or response at all when learning. These discoveries appear to be remaining for lower KS2 pupils despite returning to a more regular school life and appear to have a direct relation to concentration and engagement, therefore we have chosen to continue to navigate two routes of enquiry for our final year of research; physical, creative strategies for learning AND interventions to support the nervous system and regulation of the body.
As you will know if you engage with our work, our creative approach and participant-led ethos is the main reason we do what we do. Dance is how we work with people but the people (YOU!) themselves are the reason why! However, this way of working has had a bigger impact than we first realised, for both pupils and teachers. Pupils are independently recalling rhythms, patterns, movements and visualisations from our sessions to support their application of the learning in written tasks. For teachers, they are identifying methods of assessment that utilise physical, creative strategies, opening up a new avenue for assessing retainment and recall of key subject knowledge whilst allowing pupils to be more engaged and interested in these moments and meet their ranging physical needs in the process.
As we shift into the 2nd year of this two-year project we aim to further refine our strategies and approaches and empower teachers to take on this practice as a regular part of their delivery. We are in talks with schools to embed these approaches into future curriculum design and are planning to meet with Governors, Local Authority School Advisers and the wider arts and education sectors to share our findings and advocate for this practice further.
Meet the Team
From HEAD to TOE brings together a team of Artists, Teachers, Evaluators and experts in the field including:
Sarah Hall and Sarah Gough (Dance Artists, Blue Moose Dance Company)
Laura Broome (Project Manager)
Dr Fiona Bannon (Evaluator and Critical Friend)
Justine Watkins Fife (Marketing Consultant)
Paul Hamlyn Foundation (Funders)
Pat Cochrane (Evaluation support)
Images by Claire Griffiths