Shakespeare's magical drama The Tempest sets the scene for every subject at one tiny school on Yorkshire's wild dales. Elaine Williams reports
The air breathes upon us here most sweetly." Colsterdale may not be Prospero's island, but when you journey up the rugged sweep of the dale towards Kell Bank primary, Adrian's words to Gonzalo in Shakespeare's The Tempest seem appropriate.
To the school's pupils, who have covered just about every curriculum subject through their work on the play, such a description is wholly natural. The 39 pupils, who travel up to Kell Bank from the surrounding Yorkshire dales and the nearby market town of Masham, are undaunted by the language of the bard.
Perched on an isolated hillside, this tiny two class-room school constructed from Victorian stone seems as open to the elements as Alonso's ship. Inside, paintings, batik prints, linocuts, clay models, rag rugs, boxes of fabric and theatre costumes, children's poems, letters and stories,c many based on themes from The Tempest, fight for space.
Sheila Wilkins, the headteacher, has written plays for BBC Radio 3 and 4. She believes all children are capable of responding to the "very best" our cultural heritage has to offer, and that all subjects can - at times - benefit from being taught through the creative arts. For example, a science topic on space is enlivened by studies pupils made of Paul Nash's Equinox paintings.
School lunch is eaten in silence as pupils listen to a range of classical, jazz and blues music. "They just accept it, it's what they've grown up with,'' Mrs Wilkins says. "It's a peaceful interlude in the day.'' From the beginning, she introduces her junior pupils to classical and Norse myths, and to Shakespeare's plays, so that in time they become familiar with the stories.
They have seen the BBC's Animated Tales versions of The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Twelfth Night and last year they performed an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. "We learn a lot of things off by heart,'' says Mrs Wilkins. "It's part of giving children a feel for language. Once you have learnt a passage as a child, you never lose it."
Year 6 is taught Latin as a way of investigating the roots of English and the art of creative writing is a priority for all pupils. Many can write in iambic pentameter - "Getting the stresses in the right places is something they enjoy" - and their poems have been published on the London Underground. Kell Bank fielded a first-prize winner in the National Trust's Centenary Poetry Competition and six poems made last year's WH Smith Inky Foot Awards. Two of its pupils are among this year's winners. They are all proud of their poetry, and are happy, confident storytellers.
"We have a huge literary input here," Mrs Wilkins says. "I read to the children at least once every day. Every child can relate to story, whatever their ability. A lot of the writing is very structured. In poetry we start with a brainstorming session until we build up a glossary of words. Pupils then move to a careful consideration of what they want to say.
"Most of my Year 6 pupils can sustain an argument in their writing from beginning to end and, if they can do that aged 11, I think I have done a good job. Some children obviously have a greater facility for language, but everyone works in this way here. I do expect good results. I encourage them to work at something until they themselves are satisfied. Getting them to see quality in their own work is the key thing.
"When they perform Shakespeare we will have done a lot of groundwork. They really think about the piece, they are not just precocious, stage-aware children, they are genuinely involved. I don't compromise. Whatever we are doing, art, music, literature, I choose the best, but it is presented in a way that is joyful, so they can grow from it."
WORK FROM THE TEMPEST
The Tempest is used over several days as part of a two-week topic on the Tudors. Pupils divide into groups, and there may be five or six different activities going on at any one time. Because there are four year groups, the play lends added stimulus to a topic they meet more than once. It is also a way of giving variety to other subjects- pupils have already learnt parts of The Tempest from a previous science topic on water.
Mrs Wilkins says, "I start by telling them the story in my own words. Then we watch the BBC Animated Tales version and look at the abridged text by Leon Garfield that accompanies the film. We next revisited sections already known by heart:
"Full fathom five..."
"come unto these yellow sands..."; and learnt two new passages:
"This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother..."
"But this rough magic I abjure..."
First session: starts with the people of Milan talking about the shameful act of Prospero and his child being cast out on to the open sea. Movements are kept simple: the sailors on the boat; walking like Caliban; flitting like Ariel; Ferdinand carrying logs; moving like Miranda.
Some pupils make a frieze of a scene from the play as a point of discussion on composition, costumes and character relationships.
The whole class looks at the story of The Tempest as retold by Ian Serraillier in The Enchanted Island (Heinemann, New Windmill pound;6.25). Some older pupils and younger ones in the accel- erated learning group read Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare (Puffin, pound;4.99)independently.
Second session:Characters are put in the hot-seat: someone plays Prospero and the others grill him about his actions. ("On this occasion, the children felt that Caliban, as former lord of the island, had been maltreated"). It is a good opportunity to develop language.
Pupils are split into three groups: 1 Year 6 with accelerated learners from years 3,4 and 5; 2 Years 5, 4 and some year 3s; 3 Year 3 with special needs.
First task: write a love letter from Caliban to Miranda.
Activities: Year 6 explores blank verse, the writing of iambic pentameter, alliteration, sibilance, assonance, parts of speech, onomatopoeia, spoof, acronyms. All children make a Shakespeare glossary of favourite words and terms. They look at the Arden Shakespeare edition of the play to learn about the flora and fauna of the island. Younger children write Tudor charms to ward off evil.
Second task: older children write poems from the point of view of one of the characters, while the younger children write a Tudor charm. c TECHNOLOGY
Devise a tourist leaflet for the Enchanted Island. Older children include a map over four quadrants.
FOOD - MAKE AND BAKE
Ferdinand's Fancies Miranda's Munchies Use recipes involving a variety of methods (blending, crumbling) and ingredients (butter and sugar).
Make a rag rug of a scene from the play, designed by pupils.
Maps (some in the tourist leaflet): Year 6 use co-ordinates in four quadrants, younger children co-ordinates in the first quadrant.
Follow a maths trail around Prospero's island - the playground (they can find a sign by the gate, count the bars of the gate, multiply by a certain prime number under 10, take 5 X3 steps, turn 45 degrees, measure five metres to Caliban's cave, and so on).
The Tempest is used to extend a topic on materials. Pupils devise costumes tested for strength, flame resistance and waterproofing (pouring water on to them, covering them in lard, and so on).
Make a clay tablet based on the play. Look at Turner's Snowstorm; Ben Nicholson's Porthmeor Beach; Hockusi's The Hollow of the Deep Sea Waves; draw storm pictures.
Listen to: Music of the Tudor Age, Music Treasury Series CD pound;10.99, tape pound;6.99 (from Past Times shops); Learn: Now Oh Now by John Dowland (two parts for recorders) in Tudor England, Music from the Past by Alison and Michael Bagenal, Cambridge University Press pound;4.75; Also; Tallis's Canon in two parts for recorders, in Firsts and Seconds, An Introduction to Two-Part Singing by William Appleby and Frederick Fowler, Oxford University Press pound;3.95; Listen to: Tallis's Spem in Alium (in 40 parts), Classics of Pleasure CD pound;6.99; Sing: 'Where the bee sucks' and 'Full fathom five' from Shakespeare's The Tempest; Make: a soundscape for the island with "twangling'' instruments for years 3,4 and 5. Year 6 compose in pentatonic scales.
AND FOR THE FINALE...
Mrs Wilkins says, "On the last afternoon of this topic, we have a celebration as we end all our topics - with dressing up, food, music, dancing and entertaining visitors, parents, friends of the school and governors."