Category Archives: Rapscallion

Orality in the Classroom

Much has happened with the Artists in Schools Project at Malmsbury Primary School since the end of second term. Specifically our work developing memory techniques to help students with their spelling, and a similar principle applied to learning the Times Tables. At the heart of all these techniques is the profoundly significant application of the Rapscallion figures to the creative exercise of learning how to spell and do multiplication.


The first step is to create characters of the alphabet itself. Students spent an entire art class devising these characters: drawing them in the guise of their newfound personality. The students had so much fun and were so imaginatively prolific that many variations for individual letters were developed. The final step needed in this process was for the students as a whole to vote for their favourite characterisation.

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Molly’s ‘w’ is ‘weird’. Isn’t it weird when they say ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’, but not in this word.

Next is the process of applying these characters to an actual spelling difficulty. An example is the word ‘does’: a conundrum for many students since the rules do not follow the pattern of sounds and letter combinations in other words. The four letters (d as deadly, o as obese, e as energetic and s as sporty), in their specific order, now give us the bones of a story, and so, the activity swaps from a spelling memorisation activity to a creative writing task.

There are many variations of the story that could be devised, so this one below is just a single possibility. Through our research we have discovered it is critical that each and every student creates their own story, for it seems the cognitive process of making narrative sense of the order of the letters is how the technique embeds itself so effectively in memory.

“It is potentially deadly to be obese so be energetic and sporty, because that is what a healthy person does.”

Times Tables:

                The same principle applies to the use of numbers. Change each number into a concrete object and transform an equation into the plot for a story.

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Emerald’s depiction of her Rapscallion Ziggy flying up to the sun (one).

In this instance the method is to devise a rhyme with the number: such as 1 with sun; 2 with shoe; 3 with tree; etc. We have found that despite the importance for students to create their own number/word associations, there is a strong enough link between the rhyming words to make it obvious which word relates to which number. The critical step is for each student to create the stories that make sense of the numerical equation being learnt.

For instance, 4 x 6 = 24 becomes door x sticks = plenty of doors. Once more the lesson changes from being an overtly mathematical focus to one of creatively devising a story about a door, some sticks and the end result of plenty of doors.

Rather than giving an example of our own it would be a wonderful exercise for you, the reader, to reply below with your story about the ‘door’, the ‘sticks’ and the resulting ‘plenty of doors’.


Central to everything explained above is the Rapscallion of each student in the school. The stories devised in maths and literacy class all use the Rapscallion as protagonist. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, the Rapscallions serve as a ‘step removed’ from the individual students themselves. For many children there is a high level of emotional baggage that they bring into a spelling or mathematics class. Previous negative experiences imprint themselves upon the student and they are lead to believe that “I can’t do maths” or “I’m lousy at spelling”. By using the Rapscallion as the central character we circumvent these preconceptions about the student’s own ability and make it about the Rapscallion instead. Thus the negative internal dialogue of the student changes into, “I’m not doing the maths my Rapscallion is doing the maths for me”. If the final answer is found to be wrong then it is the Rapscallion who failed, not the student themselves. This is a profoundly significant outcome in our work using Rapscallions in the classroom and how it relates to student self-image as learners.


Natalie’s Rapscallion “Paul”. Why is he so cranky?

Secondly, the distinct character of each individual Rapscallion, (friendly, evil, Ninja, sporting hero, bully, demon, etc.) gives the students somewhere to start when devising these number/word or letter/character associations. It is their Rapscallion who has to eat healthily, or who is doing the thing with the door and the sticks. Further still, as these many stories with the Rapscallion build up over time more qualities of the Rapscallion’s character continue to develop in tandem with the student’s learning and development as they grow themselves. In a sense, the increased sophistication of the Rapscallion’s character mirrors the increasing sophistication of the student’s own self-understanding.

Thirdly, by making the Rapscallion the central figure in all the various stories: from a literacy, second language (LOTE), history, geography or maths class, the segregated curriculum of the modern classroom becomes re-integrated through the Rapscallion itself. Thus a story devised to help a student learn a new word in French, for example, may apply to a story related to a maths or literacy lesson. These new associations that result can only serve to strengthen student learning across the curriculum, setting students up for a lifetime of seeing the interconnectedness of all areas of learning and knowledge, which then gives rise to a better understanding of the world in which they live.

Finally, the Rapscallions give students a concrete form with which to engage their internal cognitive dialogue. They legitimise this internal conversation and serve to develop the mental facility of thinking more deeply about a subject. The Rapscallions allow students to simply continue on with the pre-existing propensities they bring to school when they engage in imaginative play with their toys. In a sense, the ultimate purpose the Rapscallions serve is to teach school children how to focus their playful and creative imaginations upon the increasingly refined subject matter of their formal education.

In the few short months of experimenting with the Rapscallions in class – students playfully engaging with them as learning tools and, as teachers, carefully observing the various educational outcomes that arise – we are only just beginning to fully realise the true potential of the Rapscallions in relation to student learning, student self-image and their overall cognitive development.

CreativeVictoria_logo-printWe gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Creative Victoria in the funding of the Malmsbury Memory Trail Project.

Paul Allen

The Malmsbury Rapscallions

Our founding school in The Malmsbury Project is Malmsbury Primary School in rural Victoria. One of our first tasks was to develop rapscallions with the students. We will be dealing with two forms initially, personal rapscallions and those we are making in class for the entire school.

Personal rapscallions are any character who already exists for the student – a toy, pet, or tree. (More about the trees in another post). We have yet to find a student who doesn’t have at least one rapscallion in their imagination already. This is a natural thing to do!

As part of the art curriculum, students are learning about sculpture. But the sculptures they are creating will then form a pantheon of characters which can be used in the stories which will tell of the knowledge from all aspects of the curriculum. These rapscallions will talk about science, be the audience for persuasive text – and the creators of alternative persuasive writing. They will perform mathematics and debate spelling. We are just beginning to see the potential. But first we need our rapscallions.

Art teacher, Paul Allen, has devised a sequence of steps to create varied and animated characters. First the students draw the character they wish to create. That is all students from Preparatory year to the Grade Six. Students then use bits of small branches from the local trees. This ensure that they have strange twists which become striking characteristics.


A rapscallion ready for the next stage.


Making sure we understand the action of the rapscallion.

The skeletons are then wired into place. Paul does this for the younger students, but the older students can do it themselves.


Then they start adding the ‘flesh’. Paul has them bulking out their rapscallions with paper and tape.


The rapscallions are already gaining individual character and the students are already talking about the way they want to paint them and what their personalities will be. We have people and bears, horses and skull-headed critters. We have trees and angels and fairies and … a whole pantheon coming into being.

Unlike art projects which then head home, the rapscallions will stay at school to be learning tools. But it is only Week Two – we have to give them skin and paint them first. That will be another post.

Lynne Kelly

Rapscallions everywhere

We love rapscallions. That is the name we are using for the characters we are creating to populate our stories. All Indigenous cultures use a pantheon of characters whose stories, or ‘teachings’ as our Aboriginal Advisors have asked us to call them, tell vivid stories which are far more memorable than a list of facts.


Contemporary kachina from New Mexico and the Pueblo cultures.

We are adapting that approach to memory from Australian Aboriginal teachings of their Ancestors, the Native American Pueblo teachings of their kachina (also spelt katsina) and similar examples from across the world. The Pueblo use dolls and other representations of their Kachina to establish the characters and the knowledge they represent for children from a very young age, but these are not playthings. They are central to learning.

It would be culturally insensitive for us to use any of the terms for these sacred beings from any indigenous culture. Consequently we have decided to use the word ‘rapscallion’ for our characters. They are appearing in many different forms but the most exciting at this moment are the rapscallions being made by the students at Malmsbury Primary School. That will be the subject of the next post.


Haku, our youngest Student Advisor, discussing the concept with a crowd of potential rapscallions.

For children and adults, having characters tell the stories and create teachings will always make information more memorable. This is a key component of the work of TOC

Lynne Kelly