Malmsbury Project

The following was written by Deputy Director, Paul Allen, in the successful application for the Creative Victoria Artists in Schools grant. This is the founding project for The Orality Centre. However, we will be using the term ‘The Malmsbury Project’ for all our education research in a range of organisations. Posts in News will cover all that we do, and be linked here.

Artists in Schools – A Victorian Government Initiative

See also:

Orality in the Classroom
Rapscallions Everywhere.
The Malmsbury Rapscallions.

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The Project

The Malmsbury Project aims to teach the traditional memory technology of ancient societies through the formation of a physical memory trail throughout the school that literally embeds student learning within the school landscape itself. Through the unique lens of Arts education the trail will become a physical timeline that marks the history, geography and environment of Malmsbury over two centuries, upon which students can ‘store’ their knowledge and continually expand their learning.

The School

Malmsbury Primary School is a small rural school in Central Victoria. At present the enrolment numbers are 67, ranging from Foundation year to Grade 6, with a similar number of students expected next year.

The 2017 new Prep class

The school’s current Strategic Plan has a strong emphasis on building connections with our community and building our students’ connectedness to school. This project presents many opportunities for our students to interview their peers, teachers, parents and other community members so they can ‘build’ their stories in to our memory trail. Through the process of interviewing and recording people’s memories we build more connections with each other, our school and community. We envision that both the school community and the wider Malmsbury community, will walk our memory trail, recalling significant historical events that happened locally and worldwide.

The Arts is an important part of community life in Malmsbury with many artists and musicians living in the town. The school also places great emphasis on its Arts programme, employing a professional artist and musician to teach within their respective domains. The school’s Arts program strives to integrate itself as fully as possible within the broader curriculum framework. The opportunity to work with Lynne however hopes to embed the creative processes and learning of the arts as a central feature of all learning. The centrality of the Arts in traditional cultures and appreciating the fundamental role it plays in education is one outcome of Lynne’s research and yet in the modern world Arts education seems to be a peripheral focus in learning. Even more importantly the Arts are often considered as diametrically opposed to the types of knowledge and learning engendered within the realms of science and mathematics. The Malmsbury Memory Trail Project hopes to demonstrate that all students’ learning can be radically improved using the creative capacities derived from learning in the Arts.

Project details

Lynne Kelly’s research has resurrected the ancient memory systems of traditional non-literate societies from all around the world. The essential component in the process of this memory technology is provided by the creative capacities learnt in the Arts. The human propensity for telling stories, which are then evoked by such artistic media as dances, songs and art objects, is how the information is processed and then stored in the various ‘memory spaces’. This project intends to teach students how to use these artistic media as a means to expanding their knowledge and learning in realms as diverse as science, history and geography.

Initially students will learn how to use small ‘mythical’ figurines (Rapscallions) they have crafted as a means to embody stories that relate to specific pieces of information. Through varied interactions between students, their figurines and their associated stories, the detail and complexity of their knowledge can increase. These creative skills which utilise story and art making to aid in memorising increasingly detailed information will then be applied to the creation of a physical Memory Trail within the grounds of Malmsbury Primary school itself, delineating in chronological order the time period of 1800 to the present.

Upon this trail, various ‘markers’ will represent the individual decades. Some of these ‘markers’ may be pre-existing and specific in their representation, such as the school’s foundation stone which would embody the 1870’s, or the tree planted last year in commemoration of WW1 which would embody the 1910’s. At other sites along the trail where pre-existing markers are absent students will imbue ‘significance’ using various creative means – a small dance or musical performance, sculptural totems, cairns built from personally significant objects, etc. Once established the Memory Trail will serve as an ongoing ‘storehouse’ for all students’ learning in increasingly greater and more refined detail now and into the future.

The Artist

Lynne Kelly is an Honorary Research Associate at La Trobe University in the School of Arts, Communication and Critical Enquiry. After a career as a secondary Maths and Science teacher, Lynne completed her PhD at La Trobe University, Melbourne, in the English Program as a nonfiction writer. Her field of research is in primary orality – the way cultures memorise and transmit masses of information when they have no contact with writing. She has published 16 books to date, most of which relate directly to education. Her most recent book, The Memory Code, published by Allen and Unwin, 2016, explores the memory technologies of ancient cultures from around the world, serving as the underlying rationale behind the Malmsbury Memory Trail Project.

Lynne’s writing expertise relates directly to how the project will harness the creative story telling propensities of young students as a means to applying the memory technology to their schooling. With Lynne’s guidance classroom teachers will learn the techniques of using the fundamental oral literacy skills of students to help advance, not only the teacher’s own pedagogical skills but to deepen student learning itself.

Working closely with the Specialist Art and Music teachers Lynne will produce artworks – sculptures, pictures, songs and dance – that embody the learning derived from these stories, thereby ‘storing’ the knowledge in art objects and the natural environment around the school.

Learning

Malmsbury Primary School uses Inquiry learning as the basis for classroom learning. We plan to have our students investigate and research ‘big questions’ and do something practical with their learning that will make a difference in their own lives and/or the lives of others. Our planning has strong connections with the following Victorian Curriculum Learning areas and capabilities-

  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Ethical
  • Personal and Social
  • Intercultural
  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Humanities
  • Technologies

As well as building our students understandings in the Cross Curriculum priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Asian cultures and histories.

Walking towards the famous Malmsbury Viaduct

This project will complement the Inquiry unit we have planned for 2017. The inquiry unit will have our students recording their own memories about our school and Malmsbury and researching the school’s history. Over Term 2 our students will work with Lynne to learn the memory techniques and start the process of building the memory trail. Term 3 will widen our student’s focus to the community and they will interview their parents and other community members to collate community history, facts and memories. Over Term 4 these stories and memories will become part of a town memory trail. We hope to develop an app that can be downloaded by visitors to the town and, as they walk the memory trail, they can listen to the stories and memories recorded on the app.

The memory technology Lynne has resurrected serves as a means to learn and memorise any field of knowledge in great detail. This method of memorising and ‘storing’ knowledge in the landscape can be utilised by teachers and students in the study and research of any particular subject of interest. Broadly speaking the Memory Trail lends itself to the topic of history, however from this baseline layer of learning can be superimposed all sorts of other relevant knowledge such as scientific and geographic information.

Integration into Assessment and Reporting

This project will involve the whole student cohort, projected as 67 students at this stage.

Malmsbury Primary School formally reports on student progress twice a year. Each report contains a detailed self-assessment format where the student and teacher report on the student’s social, emotional, physical, academic and creative development. How our students interact with Lynne, community members and each other over the length of the project will be an important consideration in each student’s social and emotional development. How students’ interact with this memory technology will be part of their creative self-assessment.

Twice a year we hold learning showcases where our students share with their parents work they are proud of, that they have worked hard to complete or displays a new skill they worked hard to learn. Our Artists in Schools project will be part of these learning showcases where students will have an opportunity to share their memory devices with their parents and how they are used. Each classroom has a blog where students and teachers report on classroom learning and share photos of their school day. These blogs will be an important part of sharing the work that Lynne is doing with each classroom so our parents and community members can see the development of the project over each school day and week.

The Arts based learning is the fundamental pedagogical method with this project, as the various artworks and songs will encapsulate the knowledge itself. However it is the oral literacy skills of story telling and the ‘poetic sensibility’ of using metaphor and word play that acts as the ‘transferral method’ into memory itself. Once stored this knowledge can then be manipulated in the cognitive process of seeing patterns and connections between disparate realms of knowledge, thereby giving rise to the true insights of wisdom. The most important of which is the intercultural understanding of how ancient cultures have much to offer the modern world.

Learning opportunities for the project coordinator and other teachers

The learning opportunities for staff and the broader community are manifold. For myself as the project coordinator and the school Visual Arts teacher I have already learnt an enormous amount about the potential depth that learning in, through and from the arts can achieve. More formally it is expected that myself and the other staff will learn Lynne’s methods of using the various memory devices at our disposal throughout the project. It is expected that Lynne will need to come to the school and run a workshop to introduce these techniques to staff early in term 2. However the bulk of the learning will happen with both students and teachers as they work with Lynne during the school day. After all, watching the teachers ‘doing the learning’ themselves is a highly effective teaching method for students.

The critical insight this project engenders in relation to the Artists in Schools Program is demonstrating how the unique capacities of artistic creative thinking can be used to assist student learning in any field of study. This is a profoundly important learning experience for every teacher and student involved, and has implications for educational practice far beyond Malmsbury PS.

Another intended aim of this project is to include as much community input as possible. Once the memory trail itself is established it is intended that students will invite community ‘elder’ members, teaching them about the memory technology (thereby transforming students into teachers themselves) and inviting the elders to share their knowledge and memories and ‘store’ them within the memory trail, thus making this ‘elder knowledge’ accessible to all. Not only will this enrich the knowledge and memories stored within the trail itself it will also introduce the memory techniques to the broader community, thereby creating a ‘sacred knowledge space’ of the school grounds themselves, that can be utilised by the whole Malmsbury community.

Project Management

Lynne will begin the project in second term until year’s end, working within the school grounds and classrooms over the equivalent of 20 days. Initially she will work with students and teachers one day per week, then as the project progresses, her time will become more focused upon working with community ‘elder’ involvement.

Term 1: Students record their memories of our school and learn about our school’s history. Students create their individual ‘mythic’ figures as part of the Visual Arts curriculum. Class sets of figurines housed and used in the classroom as props to help students exercise their story telling creativity during literacy classes.

Term 2: Lynne working in the classrooms with teachers, workshopping techniques of using these storytelling methods to help memorise and store specific knowledge within the figurines themselves. Older students will create mobile memory devises called ‘lukasa’. Preliminary ‘mapping out’ the memory trail itself throughout the school grounds begins.

Term 3: Individual student interests determine which part of the memory trail they become ‘custodians’ of, transferring their knowledge into the physical memory trail itself. Students begin to interview community members and learn about our community’s history through ‘elder’ stories.

Term 4: The broader community of ‘elders’ come and walk our school memory trail adding their stories to it (e.g. a grandfather shares his life story as he walks the memory trail, starting in the year he was born and stopping at the significant moments in his life). Students continue to build upon their learning by mixing their knowledge with other students and the broader community. We develop a larger town memory trail in conjunction with an app that collates and shares all student learning with a potentially much wider audience.

Project Planning

So far the planning process has included many discussions and clarifications with Lynne as we determine what her memory technology might look like in a modern classroom. Carolyn Tavener, school principal, has also had input into how the school might adopt these ideas and incorporate them into the broader school focus for next year. As yet classroom teachers have only been informed about the broad scope of the project. If successful they will meet with Lynne and myself in order to start planning for student learning in the light of Lynne’s research.

Due to the highly innovative nature of this project many thoughts, ideas and potential issues have arisen as to the practicalities and best pedagogical models to use. This will be an ongoing process leading up to, during and certainly after the whole Malmsbury Memory Trail Project is complete. Lynne has expressed her commitment to this project in terms of lending us her valuable time and insights into making this project as successful as possible.

The school resource, Google Drive, is a collaborative planning tool and allows access to all staff, including Lynne, to provide input to all planning documents and track the project on the school’s Google Calendar. Thereby ensuring that all teachers are kept abreast of important dates and schedules related to the project as it unfolds over the year.

Our overall approach is a collaborative one, which is a critical element in the running of any successful project in the education sector. As teachers, including Lynne herself, we are well practiced in working with colleagues to conceive, revise, enact and review each phase of the project as it occurs. Effective pedagogy relies on the agility of any planning and subsequent teaching to follow the lead of the learning outcomes with the students. In relation to this issue it will be an important part of Lynne’s input to help teachers adapt lesson planning in the light of unforeseen obstacles or opportunities that arise as the project unfolds.

The project co-ordinator

As the Visual Arts Specialist I work one full day per week, with time to be dedicated to supporting the project. As a small school we have a high degree of flexibility with our timetable and student groupings. When needed, we can work two grades together to allow for my time release or two grades working together with their teachers, Lynne and myself. Carolyn’s pivotal role as school leader means she is best qualified to support the project and myself. During the briefing sessions she will have the ultimate responsibility in shaping how the project unfolds and how teaching and learning issues are addressed.

It is expected the bulk of the planning work will occur in the earlier stages of the project, with minor changes and alterations made in response to the directions taken by the students. I expect that I may be required to come to the school on several extra occasions in order to observe, plan and liaise with classroom teachers and interested community members. Hence the 5 days of Casual Relief Teaching assigned in the budget document.

Regular staff meetings (2 per week) will play an important role in helping to appraise the project as it is implemented. These meetings will also serve as opportunities for the broader community members who express their interest to meet with the school and Lynne herself. Outside of school hours regular contact will be made via email between myself, Lynne and other interested parties.

Staff members also access a staff Google site to record what is happening on a staff bulletin and school calendar. Dropbox is used to store documents that we can all access and add to, so collaborative planning can continue outside of working hours.
Our classroom and school blogs provide another avenue for parents, community members, Lynne and anyone interested, to read about what we are doing and see photos of the project as it happens. The school publishes a newsletter each week that can inform parents and community members about the project’s progress.