Every picture tells a story…

Published: 14 March 2022 
Collage image with a close up of a young boy's eye. There are images of bubbles and the words 'confused' and 'deadly' and 'childhood'.
Bubble Life – a Year 6 student’s perspective on lockdown from The Forge’s Teaching Things Differently programme. Photo credit: St Joseph’s Catholic Primary, Stanley

Supported by the Teacher Development Fund, The Forge’s Teaching Things Differently project set out to explore whether photography can support children’s progress in creative writing. Find out what they learned through this innovative programme, partnering with artist practitioners and teachers across seven schools in the North East. 

The Forge’s Teaching Things Differently programme can be summarised in eight words: Can photographs help children to read and write?” and what we’ve learned from our work with teachers and artist practitioners is that they can.

Combining photography and poetry helps teachers to reach the pupils that other interventions can’t reach. And, by focusing our visual literacy work on identity-based activities, we were able to connect with everyone, including some of the least engaged children. Since no one in your class (not even your teacher) knows more about your life than you – then you become the class expert. That’s a powerful thing for a child to feel.

We also learned that identity-focused work is the magic porridge pot that just keeps on giving. Our original poet-and-photographer-led Museum of Me” scheme of work (produced by photographer Madeleine Waller and poet Katharine Goda) soon bubbled into two new schemes, co-created by artist practitioners and teachers: Museum of Me in the Past” (exploring culture, heritage, community) and Museum of Me in the Future” (dreams, ambitions and the environment). We learned, in this collaborative process, that teachers and artist practitioners are very similar. Teachers can be as divergent and imaginative as artist practitioners, but too much school stuff” gets in their way. We found that artist practitioners and teachers both focus equally on progression, but for some the journey is the important bit while for others, it’s the final destination that matters most.

For me, the most significant growth has been participating in the fizz of creativity and expertise, offering an idea and being part of it spinning in exciting and unexpected directions. Working collaboratively to develop nurturing, challenging, accessible experiences – seeing individual difference as a chance to create something richer for *everyone* – has fundamentally changed the way I work, as a creative practitioner, a poet and a person.”

Katharine Goda, Poet 

We also discovered that the DfE (and the lovely Paul Hamlyn Foundation team) really, really know their stuff when it comes to delivering effective teacher continuing professional development. We needed that fixed schedule of regularly-spaced, objective-focused training slots to give us time to develop relationships, build skills and reflect on our learning. Paradoxically, the rigid structure also gave us the freedom to be wildly creative. In each session, we’d share ideas, troubleshoot problems, and pool our expertise, until finally – within the cramped and inhospitable confines of Zoom rooms – we gave birth to our beautiful schemes of work.

We also learned that things don’t always go according to plan. But when that happens, just contact your PHF Grants Manager and agree a better one.