Where pupils prepare for war

An Anderson shelter in a classroom? A wartime living room? A P7 group finds out what it was like to live from 1939-1945
14th November 2008, 12:00am
Paul Tennant


Where pupils prepare for war


Is it enterprise, A Curriculum for Excellence, or a cross-curricular project? That's what I wondered when I heard about the P7 World War Two project at Priorsford Primary in Peebles.

I had been invited to see how teachers Dianne Allinson and Iain Whyte had gone about motivating and inspiring their class to create a remarkable learning experience. It started when they were approached by local drama expert Mandy Durkin. Together, they looked at the proposed topic and it was decided to use some of the war poets to introduce the theme to the class.

Next was the opportunity to involve some of the sixth-year pupils from the high school. Their enthusiasm for art was also to play a big part in the project.

Then the creative minds and the freedom to work "outside the box" led to the transformation of the classrooms and the modes of working for the class.

One classroom was turned into a set-cum-museum-cum-immersion area. The other became the muster point and the place for the more formal aspects of the project.

Each day began with pupils consulting the timetable to see what they were doing, where it was to take place, and who the facilitating staff were to be. Some lessons were more traditional, taking place at desks with jotters and pencils. Others were conducted in the "museum" with propaganda posters, wartime games and furniture - even a tank surrounding them.

Here, inspiration was easy, a flavour of what life might have been like. A wartime living room with fireplace and ornaments adorns one wall. An Anderson shelter is hidden in another. Around the room props and clothes are strategically placed. Role-play, drama, investigation and discovery cries out to all who pass by. Other classes are desperate to visit the "war room".

The project was planned by the children for the children. There was a mixture of teacher and pupil-led learning and discovery. The drama, the creation of the set, and the poems inspired a performance for parents to see and hear some moving performances of the war poems and also some striking poems written by the pupils themselves.

The response was powerful. Not only did the audience fully appreciate the performance, many moved to tears by the sensitivity of the words, but they were also motivated to get involved. Offers of support flooded in. A local "squaddie" volunteered to tell them what it's like nowadays to be in the army. A couple of grandparents came in to talk about life in the blitz in Clydebank. One told of how he was evacuated from Glasgow to Peebles and the larks he got up to in the gardens and fields where the school stands.

The quality of work inspired was incredible. It wasn't so much the knowledge of facts about the war, more an appreciation and empathy for how it must have been. It was a sense of the human side to events, a connection with the emotion of the war rather than, as can sometimes be the case, a celebration of all the guns and explosions.

This project has made great connections between the school and the community. It has given power and responsibility to the pupils for their own learning, both about what they learn and how they learn.

In terms of ACfE, it will develop successful learners and confident individuals. In terms of enterprise, the whole evolution of the learning experience has demonstrated a creative enterprising approach.

Pupils will look back on this project with a greater empathy and understanding about Armistice day. Their attempts to create their own poppies and their messages to the war dead will stay with them. The process of constructing their own learning from investigating their curiosity and key questions will stand them in good stead for any future learning.

The project's success was dependent on the way the teachers were trusted and given the autonomy to develop this creative approach without having to worry about ticking boxes. While many are still waiting for some glossy documents to point the way to excellence, here is a project that does it already.

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