Creativity with Control: Holding On Whilst Letting Go.

by Hywel Roberts

We are delighted to be welcoming the inspirational Hywel Roberts back to Newcastle tomorrow, where he will be discussing ideas on Creativity with Control: Holding On Whilst Letting Go. Hywel works both nationally and internationally with mainstream and special schools helping leaders and teachers design the sort of creative classroom experiences that make learning fun, relevant, active and real - for all learners.

Here he gives us a flavour of what’s to come:
Hywel Roberts Curriculum Sherpa

I’m not a proper teacher because I don’t work full or part time in one institution. I don’t have the long-lasting relationships with a GCSE class anymore and I miss that camaraderie of treacle-stepping through the English Anthology in the hope that we’ll get through it and get it covered. I miss the team-talk at the end of the day with my Drama colleagues, the smiling at small triumphs and the despair with Year Eight. I miss the Sundays spent rehearsing Oliver/Little Shop of Horrors/Return to Forbidden Planet/Grease/The Rocky Monster Show.

I don’t miss the static. That awful invisible force field of stress, negativity and despair that surrounds the profession; that sneaks up and attacks like the mysterious creature from the Id in the 1950’s Leslie Nielsen movie Forbidden Planet. Like every teacher I meet, I just want to get on with it. Give me stuff that works, useful CPD that I can filter and make my own and the space and tools to apply it.

This piece isn’t about the static. It’s not about the brilliant engagement we are getting as educators with research and theory. It’s not about Twitter. Or being a progressive teacher, a traditional teacher, a veteran or a teacher in training. It’s about finding what works for you.

I frame myself up as a travelling teacher now. I do training events, consultations and I work closely with a number of schools around the UK. More importantly, I still teach and practice what I talk about at these other events. Last week I taught Year 1 and 2 in a mainstream Primary school. Next week, it’s Year 6 in a SEBD special school in my spiritual home of Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

This teaching often takes the form of laboratory teaching where I lead the learning following email and face-to-face conversations with class teachers. The class teacher, and other staff who have been made available, observe and participate in the lesson. They are not there to be shown how to teach - I would never be so bold – rather, I am offering strategies to add to their repertoire of constantly developing practice. At the moment I’m being asked to share Drama strategies that support great writing, and I’m loving it. It goes down well with the staff because it’s credible and useful.

Drama for Writing approaches I’ll use in Primary and Special:

Setting the context

This is where the curriculum sherpa-ing comes in. Curriculum begins its life as a document. As teachers, we have to turn it into something that will resonate with us and the children in our class. If we don’t like it, it’s quite a tough sell to the children. It can also be a little soul-destroying for us as professionals. So let’s say we’re doing a piece of curriculum topic work about THE BEACH. It might be Key Stage One.


We map out a beach in groups on a sheet after we have thought about the beach and what we might find there. Recently, a Year 2 boy suggested we might find an abandoned VW camper van with its wheels missing. And it’s rusting. After the lesson, the little boy revealed his Dad was doing up a camper van and doing his Mum’s head in. This is what I mean by resonance. What a beautiful, haunting image he had created!

Sound tracking and Scene painting

When we stand on the beach, what do we hear? When we stand on the beach, what do we see?

Signing the space

Using post-it notes, we label up the beach (the classroom). It’s a nightmare for cleaning up, but supports the children in their investment in the topic. Their labels include:

Starfish Footprints Rocks A stream The cave – we have a lot of caves The castle – we have a lot of castles

Teacher in Role and introducing the dilemma

This isn’t amateur dramatics, or an opportunity for the failed actor-turned-teacher. It’s providing a human element to the work. I never dress up although I know some teachers like to. I simply protect the children in by saying:

“I’ll speak as the Beach owner. Is that okay?”

I’ve never had a kid say no.

And now a dilemma, a tension.

“Thanks for coming to my beach. I need your help. There is something I can’t explain in the cave.”

Then, as Mr Roberts, I may say, “If we are going to help the beach owner, what do we need to do first?”

A healthy dose of learning tension. And lots of questions from the children.

Low tech/High tech

I use paper and fat pens a lot.

This is all very nice, but we need to ensure there is genuine integrity to the learning. I test this in the laboratory situation by asking

“Where does the curriculum lie in this work?”

When we identify that, we can talk about coverage. The children may go then and work on their own or they may continue to work as one big group. What’s great is that the work has purpose for them because they emotionally hooked in; they want to help the beach owner. And this is where we can place ourselves as Sherpa. We hold children’s hands and walk them through the curriculum whether it’s with our youngest children, as in the example here, with our older children or with those who just need that extra support. The curriculum should be an extension of us.

What was in the cave?

Well, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be safe for me to tell you.

@hywel_roberts Teacher, author, imagineer. Associate director @itlworldwide

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