Feline fun provides the catalyst

15th May 2009 at 01:00
David Miller reports on the gestation, labour and birth of a film in Poetry in Motion, one high school's cross-curricular project

A joint project for S1 English and art at St Ninian's High in East Dunbartonshire encouraged pupils to respond to the power of the written word to create a new "text", equally visual and powerful, which reflected the impact of an original poetic text.

Taking Don Marquis's 1922 poem The Tom-Cat as the core text of the project, pupils were invited to take a trip to the sensory world of the cat - before looking at the poem.

Working first with a series of photographic images of alleyways at night, they were split into groups to create five sensory word and phrase banks around each of the still images. Using a carousel approach, groups were then encouraged to create their own eight-line sensory verses and speed paragraphs.

A number of learning objectives were achieved during this phase, from engaging pupils in texts in different media to increasing their awareness of how language can be used creatively.

By this time, they were primed for the central text. Using a variety of multimedia resources, they were introduced to Marquis's poem in a potent merging of image, word and sound. This very visual reading of the text made for a productive next stage: the storyboards.

Pupils in pairs were given A3 sheets divided into eight boxes. In each box, they created their own pictorial representation of Marquis's imagery: "midnight in the alley"; a heart that is "black and hard"; eyes that are "coals from the middle of Hell" . Not only did the storyboards stimulate useful discussion in poetic imagery, they provided the basis of the next stage when the focus moved to the art department.

Here, the children were placed in groups and given "scenes" from the poem for which they were to create the film sets. Using their storyboards, they fashioned a series of sets which would provide the backdrop for the tom- cat, fashioned out of clay by two pupils.

During this phase, the S1s experimented with a range of media, using the understanding of their properties to make the best choices for the task at hand. By working through the design process as part of a team, they were also able to respond to the challenges of developing and communicating imaginative design solutions in response to their specific design brief.

Once sets were ready, they were given responsibility for filming each of their scenes using the stop-motion animation software I Can Animate. This was not only extremely easy to use, it was also an imaginative and motivational way of integrating digital animation into the Englishart curriculum.

The final stage of the process - the birth - involved adding sound, music, transitions and titles to give the film its final polish.

Principal teacher of art Maggie McNeil, who worked with colleague Francesca Brady, said: "The transition from the pupils' storyboards to three-dimensional sets and the stop-motion animation was achieved with a huge sense of excitement and engagement from the pupils."

Pupils have now presented the film and project to parents and to children attending associated primaries. A film of Tam o'Shanter has been produced and others are under way, with help from the council's cultural co- ordinator Chris Nelms.

David Miller teaches English at St Ninian's High in East Dunbartonshire.

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