Unearth culture at every turn

21st August 2015 at 01:00
Living far away from a big city is no problem - just get creative

I grew up in a city where trips to museums, galleries and theatres were a part of school life. When I talk to friends who teach in cities now, this still seems to be the norm: a multitude of schemes are designed to encourage inner-city pupils into theatres, so even if their parents don't take them, their school will. And a lot of galleries and museums are free to visit, anyway.

Things are different where I teach. Moving to rural Devon has been amazing and the benefits of living and growing up here are obvious: space, freedom and plenty of outdoor activities. But we are without the huge variety of cultural opportunities that you get in big cities.

As a teacher, I want to get children out of the classroom and into more tangible learning environments: what better accompaniment to reading Macbeth than watching it being performed at Shakespeare's Globe theatre, where it began its life. The problem is that this would mean 12 hours on a coach in one day, and a fairly hefty price tag for parents. It's just not practical, or realistic.

Our closest city is an hour away, so how can we overcome this to give our students the experience without the cost?

Befriend your local cinema manager

Live-streaming of theatre has changed my life. I am now able to ask the manager of the local cinema to screen live productions from major theatres in big cities. It's cheap, and 90 per cent as good as watching the show live. It's also 100 per cent better than sitting on a coach for six hours each way, only to spend the entire performance in the toilet watching over vomiting children who have eaten too many Haribo sweets (an unfortunate true story).

Take virtual tours

Less relevant to me as a secondary teacher, but an amazing resource for primary teachers, is the fact that a lot of big museums now do virtual tours of exhibitions, which look at artefacts and then explain what they are in fast-paced segments. These screenings can actually be more exciting than walking around the real building.

They tend to be listed on museum websites, but are sometimes advertised in cinemas, too. If your local independent cinema has not listed something you wish to take a class to see, the manager should be able to arrange a screening at a time that is convenient for you. I have also heard a rumour that galleries will soon be following suit.

Don't be afraid to ask

Be proactive: ask local galleries to allow you and your students to visit; ask libraries for induction sessions; approach nearby universities and ask for tours. It can be enriching just to be in a different location. The university nearest to my school is about an hour away. Every year, I take my Year 12 students to its library for a tour and to undertake some research for their AS-level course. They love going to the university (even if it is just to the library). They find some interesting material for their studies and are inspired to apply to university, too. Best of all, the entire trip is free.

Work with local businesses

As an English teacher, I was keen to establish a "writing for real purposes" club. I contacted the local paper and negotiated that a group of our students would write a double-page spread of news once a month. Not only are the students dealing with real-life writing but they are also dealing with a real-life business. Numerous other opportunities, local and national, have come about as a result. And several students have created impressive portfolios of published articles that have led to paid work.

Invite guest speakers to school

If you read a fascinating book, watch an interesting television show or listen to an amazing talk that relates to your subject, get in touch with the people who created it and ask them to visit your school. A few years ago, I heard a man named Jason Lewis talk about how he circumnavigated the globe by human power only. My Year 8 pupils now begin their travel-writing module with a talk from Lewis and by reading his book. The results are phenomenal: 75 per cent of these children have never left their villages, let alone shaken hands with someone who has pedaloed across the Atlantic.

Katie White teaches at a secondary school in Devon

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