Electives in action

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Creative art

No barriers

A substantial minority of Auchinleck Academy teachers felt that the costs of the changes - shorter periods and a longer school day on Mondays and Tuesdays - outweighed the benefits.

Science and maths departments, for instance, are noticeably absent from the list of new courses, which are particularly strong on expressive arts and computing.

But even the art and design department was unconvinced at first, says principal teacher Allan McMillan. "I wondered if the periods were going to be too short, and I took a bit of convincing that the new timetable would be an improvement. But, as art teachers, we did welcome an initiative that wasn't driven by assessment, and did not place barriers in the way of creativity.

Pupils on the new creative art courses are working together on several large-scale projects that take them "beyond the confines of the classroom, and into the school and wider community". These include a cross-curricular project with Scottish Opera, a ceramic frieze for the school, a public sculpture that promotes recycling, and a decorative mural in a nearby school for children with autism. "That one in particular is giving our kids a sense of purpose and a feeling that they're helping other people."

Music theatre


Auchinleck no longer pulsates to the 24-hour rhythm of the coal mines, but macho attitudes from those days are hard to dispel. There are some things that men and boys don't do, and learning to dance with a bunch of girls is one of them.

But attitudes like these are slowly changing, says music teacher Rachel Withers. "We have 20 girls but no boys in our second-year music theatre elective. But there is more of a mix in the first-year class."

Greater emphasis on performance and working as a team is the main difference between the new course and 5-14, says Ms Withers. "With this new course they work in groups, sharing ideas for a show. We get them up performing quickly, so they soon gain plenty of confidence."

Assessment is not entirely absent, but the focus is formative and peer assessment: "If something isn't working, the kids come up with constructive suggestions to fix it."

A less formal atmosphere makes these classes enjoyable for all, says music teacher Lynsey Moore.

Both teachers believe increased confidence in performing will benefit pupils in other classes. "The kids have all chosen to be here," says Ms Withers. "It is harder to get peer assessment to work as well in a 5-14 class. The atmosphere in these electives is more supportive than usual."


No tests

The age-old smell of chlorine and honest endeavour marks the entrance to the PE department, where two second-year boys in a hurry pause briefly to explain what they like about the new courses.

"There's no tests and they don't spend ages teaching you the rules," says Alan Haynes. "You play football, rugby and other games right away."

Because of this, the course is more fun than normal lessons, says Eoin Waite. "You get outside and you get to play with a lot more people."

While teachers in other departments talk about lessons learnt from the new electives, that could be applied in classes further up the school, the head of PE sees the flow of information mainly in the opposite direction. "We're doing things with these youngsters that we would normally do with our fifth and sixth years," says John Wilson. "We're encouraging them, for instance, to write to outside agencies, such as professional football teams, to ask them to come in and talk to them."

Pupils are given responsibility earlier. "We'll be getting them to take short sessions, such as warm-ups, passing practice and shooting drills. It is all about developing their confidence along with their skills.

"Formal assessment has become a burden in S1 and S2, so freedom from it is a real benefit."


Good citizens

Working across departmental boundaries is one aspect of the new courses that the Auchinleck teachers say they particularly enjoy. Youngsters playing games in PE and staging shows in music are being filmed, for example, by other pupils taking electives in the computing department.

"We are running two courses," says Elaine Dodds, principal teacher of computing. "Video production in second year and graphics and animation in first year."

As well as creativity and ICT, these courses also develop citizenship, says Ms Dodds, through animation of incidents in which pupils explore their own and other people's attitudes and responses. These include a road accident, a person taken ill in the street, and the dramatic rescue of a cat stuck up a tree.

The pupils themselves did not know what citizenship was, says computing teacher Steven Tickner. "When we told them we were going to create citizenship animations, it led immediately to a class discussion on what it meant."

Pupils are much more actively involved in their own learning.

"They come to us seventh period on a Monday," says Mr Tickner. "You might expect them to be tired and hard to handle, but they are not. They are keen to learn - and they all go home with a smile on their face."

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