Transcript of Episode 8

[upbeat music]

Julia Brennan

Hi, everybody and welcome back to Chatting creative arts podcasts. And this is the first in a series of podcasts all about assessment and creative arts obviously. So, my name is Julia Brennan and today I am with the wonderful Jan Warhurst, who's an incredibly experienced teacher across the board in all key learning areas, but particularly in the creative arts and is currently deputy principal at Woollahra Public School. So welcome. Jan, thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Jan Warhurst

Thank you, Julia, for having me. I'm really looking forward to it.

Julia Brennan

Great, and we cannot wait to hear about all of your wonderful years of experience and all the things that you've got to offer to help us. So, thank you again. All right, so Jan, I thought we might just start with perhaps you sharing a little bit with our audience about you and your journey and how, you know, how you got so heavily involved in arts education.

Jan Warhurst

Okay, so first of all, I was going to also mention, how I initially crossed paths with you… One of the ways that I've actually, as a classroom teacher since 1978, I found in teaching that contributes to my longevity in the profession is by using and embracing the exciting opportunities provided by the Department of Education and one of those was working with the choral teachers in the Department of Education. And that's when I first met you as a teacher and you were conducting and leading some of those activities. And then I went to a workshop with John, Dr John Saunders and you were actually sitting next to me. So, it was really exciting to cross paths at that time.

Julia Brennan

Big blast from the past. That must have been a while ago, Jan. [Julia laughs]

Jan Warhurst

Yeah, I was in the city at that time. So, my arts education started as a young child and in a family where the arts were really, really revered and just we did a lot of fun things with the arts. So my mother, immersed us in drama lessons and ballet lessons, and I was privileged to have piano lessons and to be accompanying my father when he sang at home who used to have a beautiful baritone voice [inaudible] and he often sang when his friends visited and I would be instructed to play the piano, which I guess I didn't realise at the time how special that was. But it was pretty phenomenal.

Julia Brennan

That is so phenomenal. Do you do that now yourself?

Jan Warhurst

I do. I sit down and play. I've got a grand piano and a pianola, and we've also got a keyboard and these instruments were bought for my children mostly, to play and which they all do at different times.

Julia Brennan

That's fantastic. Good on you.

Jan Warhurst

So, in terms of, um, my journey starting my arts education started like that. And then when I became a teacher, gradually, I started to embed the arts into my own teaching. As you know, a young novice teacher. I was the one who could play the piano for kindergarten while they sat while I stood there and sang, you know, many, many songs, one after the other, but it was really wonderful to hear them, and then we used to go and sing for parents and sing in shopping centres and that sort of thing.

Julia Brennan

That’s fantastic! I bet you they all remember those days too. [Julia laughs]

Jan Warhurst

Yes. So, that was how my arts education journey started and then as the time went on, I, you know, adapted and reinvented myself through different programmes and projects which I'll talk about a bit later. But it was in a career that has spanned such a long time, I have felt that the creative arts has been a constant and it's also helped me to improve my practice every time, you know, every year, with different various things that we did.

Julia Brennan

[Inaudible] Thank you for sharing with us that story. So, I mean, you really filled in a little bit of my next question which is how has the arts influenced your life, you know, professionally and personally. And I love that personal story that you've given to us and yeah, that's actually the same with me. It was the thing that converted me over to the arts so much was having it just in my household. My dad was an artist, but he would sing along with that record player on Saturday and, you know, he'd be belting out a bit of Dolly Parton and Burl Ives. [Julia laughs] And it's such a beautiful, fond memory that I have.

Jan Warhurst

Oh my goodness, so he was a visual artist?

Julia Brennan

Yeah, yeah, he was a visual artist, well he was actually a draughtsman, but would sit there and draw and paint on the weekend as well as singing. I don’t know how good a singer he was, but he thought he was pretty good. [Julia laughs] I thought he was pretty good too, actually. But anyway…

Jan Warhurst

Well, I didn't realise how much my dad loved it, I guess until my sister, my younger sister, was going into a lot of musicals over at the boy's high school, at Manly Boys High and they needed a father figure in Oklahoma. So, my dad went and auditioned and got the part. So then he was in Oklahoma, he would have been probably 45 or something like that. And so all of my friends were in this musical with my sister and my dad. [both laugh] So that was where I realised he was very confident, which, ironically, is more like my daughter Sam who's got that confidence to, you know, to engage in the arts that way.

Julia Brennan

So, why do the arts mean so much to you, Jan?

Jan Warhurst

So, personally, they influenced my ability and my whole wellbeing in a sense. I feel that my family and my extended family loved the arts, and my children have interpreted their own experience with the arts as children and young adults and they've done different things with the arts now that they're older. And for me, for leisure time, I will go to the theatre or to the opera, or I will, um, and I have met many, many friends, I mean, some really good friends I've met through the arts. They might be, they might have crossed over from professional work that I've done or it might be through, you know, I’ve met some authors and one particularly, Nadia Wheatley, she has become a good friend.

Julia Brennan

Wow!

Jan Warhurst

[inaudible] She just inspires me every time. You know, she's just incredible. So she came to my school last year and she did the whole ‘My Place’ workshop. She did workshops with the children. She did the whole Papunya model and she taught the children all about the circle stories. So when we have our festival of creativity next term, we're going to ask Nadia to come and do another workshop for some other children. But she’s really wonderful, working with professional learning, with teachers as well.

So, going back to my, in terms of why I'm so passionate and how it's influenced my life. Um, I suppose that it's contributed significantly to my connections, which, whether it be social or emotional, wellbeing or professional and cognitive wellbeing. Professionally, I've worked with the Department of Education and the University of Sydney and music, drama and visual arts in schools. And these colleagues and critical friends have been mentors and coaches for me, and so my career has been heavily influenced by that.

Through those partnerships, I've engaged in academic research with the Australian Literacy Educators Association. Initially, the money provided through the arts in northern Sydney through college Jenny Gregory provided us money, and also then ALEA [Australian Literacy Educators Association] provided us with an inaugural grant so that we could have our work published and present at a conference. And some of the projects that we’ve worked on have been improving literacy outcomes, motivation and engagement through the creative arts. That one is the one that was one of the scholarly articles that was published.

We did a, we did one, which we'll talk about a bit later, which was future directions in the arts through readers theatre. And that was a very powerful project because that was across three schools with three different groups of children. And again, that was with, um, teacher colleagues who were, um, is passionate about the arts, as I am. And then there was another project which we did with Luke Carriage, an actor and that then led me to present at drama Australia in Western Australia a few years back. And then they went on to build that into a play, and that was like a rough drought. So the students at Curl Curl in year five and year six actually looked at what Luke was coming up with and gave him input, and then he went away and developed the play. So that was a puppet play. So yes, so professionally, it's helped me to make links with colleagues all over northern Sydney.

Julia Brennan

Like Me! [laughs] Yes, that's where we first met when you were a Curl Curl North.

Jan Warhurst

That's right, that’s right. [inaudible] That's where I feel very privileged to do, to have done that, and then, and more recently, so there were lots of projects at Curl Curl, and that was, that was mainly because there was a really fertile ground for it there with the, with the Arts Unit, the regional people like Jenny Gregory and yourself. But you were state, weren't you, at that point?

Julia Brennan

I honestly can't remember. [laughs] I do remember that we had the chat the other day that the last time I sort of worked with you was when I was very large and about to give birth and she's now just about 15. So, it's a long time ago. That's all I know. I'm definitely now, you know, curriculum. So that's the big focus. [inaudible]

Jan Warhurst

So, curriculum with the arts is, you know, about that pedagogy, and it's about how you teaching.

Julia Brennan

Absolutely. So let's have a little chat, speaking of pedagogy, and talking about creative arts curriculum because that's why we’re here, you’re super passionate, as am I, about embedding and connecting the arts authentically into your students learning. And I've heard you comment, and this is, you know, what's really drawn me to having a chat with you today, I've heard you talking about putting the arts into your English lessons, for example, making it relevant, making it really real for your students learning. So can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by that sort of a statement about, you know, authentically embedding the arts into your English and how teachers out there listening, you know, regardless of their level of confidence and experience in the arts, and they might want to even incorporate a bit more arts into their classrooms, how could they go about it? How can they do this sort of things that you're talking about here?

Jan Warhurst

Okay, so what I thought, first of all, is definitely using literature. So starting with literature as an art form. But it's also a way that accelerates the learning in regards to literacy. So I wanted to share with you something that we did yesterday. Well, the day before it was, with this book called The Wolf’s Secret.

Julia Brennan

And who's that by, Jan?

Jan Warhurst

The book is by Myriam Dahman and Nicolas Digard, illustrated by Julia Sarda.

And what I found about this book was that it really, it was a year six class, and the initial attraction for the students was to the illustrations. So the wolf has a secret. And as we went through the story, we found the spaces. So we don't read the book all at once. We predict what may be happening in the story so we’ve, and we’ve documented this with the teacher. So predictions about what the story might be about. And then a real study of the illustrations as we went through. And the language in the story is really quite amazing. For example, “the talisman bell jingled softly like an echo of the music that had guided him before,” and students chose their favourite part to draw. And then they also chose the language that sort of reached out to touch them.

So what we found was that the students and the students said this themselves, so we've actually written this down, is that it was doing that, that’s helped them to observe more carefully what's happening in the story. It's helped them, to understand what the author's purpose is. And we culminated it a little bit on Tuesday and on Monday, and we said, okay, what are the main concepts in this story. And so they were incredibly sophisticated, what they said about how you can't judge a book by its cover and you need to, you know, not all people are bad. No one is all bad. So there was a lot of really, um, looking at different perspectives in this story.

Julia Brennan

Beautiful.

Jan Warhurst

On this page here where the wolf says to, says, he's telling the woman stories because her father has just died and she didn't turn around and she says “I will sing for you, but I am so sad and so lonely”. And he says “you never need to be lonely again. I will tell you the tales of the forest, the mysteries of the trees and the beasts.” And he says “only promise me you will never turn around.”

So what was interesting, there was a special needs student in the class and students had to pick out by the time we'd read the whole story they had to pick out what the critical points in this story were. And this one, this boy never participates in the class. In fact, he’s always standing at the back, sitting at the back. Gradually listen to the whole story and he wanted, and so they all, they all came up with a critical point in the story and they produced that for the class like a frozen image. And they had, one of them had to come out of the image and to explain what was happening in that part of the story. So he led that part with his group and it was quite, it was quite moving because you could see how much that had touched him.

So there are other, there are other wonderful parts of the story that really obviously reached the children. But I think what I'm saying is start out with the literature then you’re obviously preparing your outcomes that you want to achieve. You're looking at your syllabus. You might be your learning intentions that you want children to work on, looking at success criteria. But one thing that I notice is when teachers use this approach, is that they, the pedagogy is the curriculum and it really, really influences the way the children engage. It also influences the depth of the work you get from the programme. It provides, the arts provides structure and a scaffold and a clear example, clear examples to demonstrate their understanding and then the formative assessment comes from that.

Julia Brennan

Okay, so you just picked up on some wonderful points there. Always going back to the syllabus. Fantastic. Always bringing out those outcomes. Being really clear on where you're heading, making sure you know exactly what you're trying to achieve. And taking it back to the syllabus and getting all of that from that document. Fantastic. And I think a lot of us forget about that. We get carried away in the moment, and I have to always draw it back into the syllabus, don't we? Um, and I love the way that you just pulled out, you're using that text to make predictions, the way that you're getting the students to illustrate finding that critical moment and that child, you’ve just changed that child's life forever. It's just fantastic. So thank you so much for sharing that story with us.

Um, Jan, I was going to ask you now, just to talk a little bit if you wouldn't mind, a little bit more about formative assessment. So you just started to touch on it there now. So can we go a little bit further now, about why you think formative assessment is so important?

Jan Warhurst

Okay, so I believe that, um, it's really important to have in your planning with the children what, you know, what things you want to achieve in that lesson. So a more specific example would be with the younger children where I've been looking at a book, a story, the story of The Selfish Giant. So one thing that we needed to focus on with the children was their critical literacy. You know, obviously, they're in for eventual comprehension but specifically vocabulary. So we worked together and we created mind maps around vocabulary that the children were predicting would be in the story of The Selfish Giant. Again, we haven't even read the book yet, but it's, so this was all from the children's imagination. So when all the children produced their own, first of all, we did it together and then they produce their own and I could immediately see. But there was a high level of success in that because everyone had had the scaffolding and everyone had been able to make their own mind map. And so then I was able to analyse those during the lesson and at the end of the lesson and to see what children had grasped that vocabulary. I also, throughout the lesson, I was taking note of who was really able to articulate what sort of a character he is and to project into that character. So I think that's so important because then that leads me to my planning for the next lesson and then for the children to actually have that success with that particular story.


I also have thought that where it's creative arts and you are using formative assessment, the children are collaborating, so straight away they're achieving together and they're sharing and they're the owners of their own learning. So they're using their own imaginations. The feedback that then I can give them is real and authentic and connected. And it's not superficial. And it's not, um, it's not narrow. It's, you know, we were able to really engage in that story together and to look at what they had come up with. So I see the teacher as the catalyst leading the questioning, acknowledging the students work samples all the time. I always, it's very important to look at their work samples, to have several work samples over a period of time to, for them to, the students to value the perspective of others. I think when they're producing work in the creative arts and using formative assessment, they can all see what they're doing when sharing those. In the, during that lesson, we have a support teacher who was in the room, who's actually Francis Berry the actor. And she was able to then show the children how to do, um, really great, strong, evocative, critical moments around The Selfish Giant and what they projected was going to happen in the story. So that in itself was an assessment because that then enabled me to see, and all of us to see, and the class teacher and Francis to see what the children were able to do.

Julia Brennan

So Jan, you've actually just prompted well, made me really think about something that teachers quite often will say to me. Do I have to always have a work sample, as in a written work sample or a product or something like that. So let's just unpack that phrase “work sample” because it doesn't have to always be the final performance item or the drawing that they've done at the end of it. It can be something that they're doing throughout, correct? So just even the process or where they're at in the process of doing things, not just the product.

Jan Warhurst

That's actually a really good point, Julia, because there's one student in the class that at the beginning of the year seemed a little bit disengaged. And when I said to them, you know, as you do at the end of the lesson, okay, we'll go out to recess one at a time, and I said, “look at your mind map, look at the one that we all created together. Spell one of the words that describes the giant.” And one of the students that I had no idea how clever he was, he said, “forgivable.” And then he spelt it. And this is an eight-year-old, so he spelt forgivable correctly, and, um, he went on his way. And his teacher said, “Yes, I have been noticing that he's.” So in a sense, that was a work sample. Or even if it's articulating a question or answering a question, it could be, you know all those things.

Julia Brennan

Great. Okay, thank you, Jen. That's absolutely fantastic and I think, you know, if nothing else comes out of this, that realisation that it doesn't have to be the end product that we're assessing here, it's an ongoing process. Thank you for really highlighting that.

So, you recently described to me some incredible changes that you'd seen in your students results over time through intervention with drama and I'm assuming that's connected to the fantastic way in which you've described that you formatively assess, and you use your consistent teacher judgement along the way with that. So can you describe to us a little bit about those changes that you've noticed in your students?

Jan Warhurst

So, one thing I've used over the time as a teacher and also as a leader is that concept of pre and post-testing. So it could be the pre-testing could be, you know, a piece of writing where you've looked at, it could be a NAPLAN result that you've seen, it could be the Neale analysis which we actually used in one intervention. We had some students in the group that had, you know, had really struggled with learning to read and particularly in that, you know, learning to read phonetically and using letters and sounds and all of that.

So this particular group of students were assessed using the Neale analysis before we engaged in a programme around readers theatre. So we used the text ‘Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book.’ Children learned how to write their own readers theatres, and the whole school really focused on readers theatre at that time. And we, um, which was very, very powerful, So I wasn't actually, my own class wasn't in the study, but there were two classes at my school, two at North Sydney Dem (North Sydney Demonstration School) and there were two at Manly West. So what we did was we analysed or we tested everyone in the Neale analysis at the beginning in the classes that were involved in the study and then we tested them again at the end after it was actually two terms, the programme. So, what the Children would do would be each week, they would work on their reader's theatres. They studied the book in literature circles to start with. Then they worked on their reader's theatres and then they would stand at the front of the class and they would present their reader's theatres and they would use, they would wear glasses so that they were the actors. They wore wigs and then they ended up presenting that to a festival at the end of the whole project.

But there was many students went up several years in that programme. One particular child that had really struggled right through, and then what was interesting with her was that she went up three years in her reading through that reader's theatre. But then when I taught her in year six, she needed to, with her writing, she needed to draw pictures to tell the story before she wrote the story. And over the year, and she really improved her reading. But then she also became one of the main characters in our play about Skellig by David Almond, which, when we got into the state drama festival doing that play well done.

Julia Brennan

Well done, and I think you just hit the nail on the head there with to action a change like you're talking about and really see significant change that we need to look at a whole school approach as the best option to do it and then pulling out, as you've described there, drama forms, such as readers theatre is a great way to do it to action change across the whole school. And it’s something that's really accessible to everybody, isn't it?

Jan Warhurst

Yes. And we had a critical friend in that and, you know, she was an academic partner. That was Professor Robin Ewing. So she was working with us, as teachers and helping to guide us. And I really believe, firmly believe, that it's great to have those partnerships with universities and with, you know bodies such as the Sydney Theatre Company because then that helps to, it really inspires everyone. And I said to one of my colleagues, said to Gretal, what did we actually do in some of these projects? She said we inspired each other, so yeah.

Julia Brennan

Magical. Again, that's coming back to what you said about your students earlier collaborating and all owning their learning. Well, you’ve just modelled that yourselves haven’t you, so that's fantastic, you’re practising what you’re preaching.

Look Jan, we're running out of time and I'm really loving talking to you. I always do every time I talk to you. But I know that one of your great loves is the power of storytelling. And you know, your eyes light up every time you talk about storytelling through drama and to me my mind instantly goes to dance as well. Um, a lot of teachers out there are really afraid to let loose with storytelling. So I'm just wondering, I can't, it would be remiss of me to let you go without talking a little bit about storytelling and how teachers out there, I often hear, you know, particularly in stage three, teachers are a little bit worried about doing storytelling with the boys particularly. So fill us in on some of the gaps and how, you know, how it's worked for you and how maybe other teachers out there could go about taking on storytelling.

Jan Warhurst

Great, so in a few different ways. I had a great mentor in storytelling and that’s been Victoria Campbell, Dr Victoria Campbell. So, she, I met her and we, she would come to my class every week and tell the children stories. So they fell in love with story. Then through our literature programme, we introduced stories such as myths and legends and they really particularly grabbed the older students. So we did something for example Persephone and the Pomegranate and the children would, um we would read the story, we would hear the story, we would tell the story and then the children would write their own myths and legends and then they were able to tell the story. But in terms of learning how to tell a story, I believe that you do need at least one teacher who can do it well and then they can teach others and then they can teach the children to do it. And then it carries over into their writing and you'll notice that there will be improvements in their writing.

Um, there was also a project I did about the book Blueback, where I asked the children to listen to a piece of music from, um, it was the music from Deep Sea Dreaming from the Olympic Games in 2000 and the children listened to the music and created a deep-sea drama about it. And they used all of the sea life that they read about in the book Blueback by Tim Winton. And this was actually really exciting because they told a story of, you know, packs, it was the shark and the krill and Blueback himself and so on. And then they moved during telling the story, and then it became a dance and then we videoed them all. And then they came back and they wrote down the movements that their sea creatures had done. And it was amazing the power of the language that they used. So that was because they had embodied, first of all, I think the music really helped them. I think the book really helped them, the literature again, because they were inspired by Tin Winton's language. And then they were given the time and opportunity to work in groups and create their own undersea stories.

Julia Brennan

And then you could turn that into a beautiful visual artwork as well, couldn't you?

Jan Warhurst

Well, we did and we made a lot. We made a wall-sized mural where everybody sewed their own favourite moment from the story and I think that, in that, that beautiful mural is still back at the school.

Julia Brennan

Talk about a cross-arts experience. That’s gold, just there. Thank you, Jan.

Jan Warhurst

All of the students calico squares were actually sewed into the mural, and they [inaudible] various media.

Julia Brennan

Well, I don't actually think I need to ask the last question because you have completely answered it throughout our entire conversation today, Jan, which is, you know, why are the arts, in general, important to our students. Do you think you can sum it up in one sentence? No pressure.

Jan Warhurst

Particularly. I was thinking about this Julia. I was thinking it really helps you to differentiate seamlessly as well. And every child feels included. It's real inclusion when you're assessing in the creative arts because everyone can achieve success. Obviously, the teacher has to put a lot of time and effort into the planning, but it's proven to engage and motivate children and, you know, young adults and it also yes, it improves, all of the research that I've done, and I know other academics have done, it shows that it is evidence that it improves learning outcomes.

Julia Brennan

Ah, well, well, well done. That was very succinct. Well done. Thank you, Jan. I couldn't have said it better myself. That was amazing. Look Jan, thank you so much for your time speaking to me today. I'm super inspired, and I'm now thinking about all the things that I need to go back and work on to support our teachers further in this journey because gee there’s some fantastic ideas in there. Thank you so, so much. And I believe you're heading off to New Zealand in the morning for the birth of a grandchild, so it doesn't get more exciting than that, so all the best with your journey. And thank you again for your time talking to us today. Really appreciate it.

Jan Warhurst

Thank you for inviting me.

Julia Brennan

Pleasure. And people listening, if you're looking forward to hearing more about the creative arts and in particular as I mentioned in this series on assessment, there will be more coming up. So make sure you subscribe and keep listening for more engaging conversations like the one we’ve just heard with the incredible Jan Warhurst. So thank you so much, Jan.

Jan Warhurst

It's a pleasure to see you again. Bye

Julia Brennan

Bye.

[upbeat music]

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