Reflecting on Chapter & Verse

Published: 16 November 2022 
Author: Gemma Thornton 
A group of children are sitting in a circular classroom, with a few adults facilitating each small group in the class. A woman at the front is kneeling with an accordion, in front of a whiteboard that has suspense written on it
Byron Wood Grimm and Co Astrea Academy Trust. Photo credit: Gemma Thornton

Gem Thornton, Creative Learning Manager from Grimm & Co, reflects on their Teacher Development Fund learning journey alongside ten Astrea Trust primary schools in Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield. Their project, Chapter & Verse, aimed to support teachers to develop and embed multi-disciplinary arts approaches to teaching and learning, including immersive drama, music, poetry and storytelling.

In October, I was asked to speak at the Cohort 5 Learning Session to present key findings and the impact of the Chapter & Verse project over the last two years. In all honesty, it was strange to experience an in-person event and a buzz of excitement was in the atmosphere, surrounding participants as they began their TDF journey.

During the presentation, I highlighted Grimm & Co’s signature pedagogy, how we champion the writer in every child; the child is the expert, and we aim to build the capacity of those who have influence over children and young people. It is this last statement that drew us, as an arts organisation, to Paul Hamlyn’s Teacher Development Fund and our collaboration with Astrea Academy Trust.

I worked closely with Hannah Baker, the Primary Literacy Lead at Astrea Academy Trust (whose blog post can be found here) to create a toolkit that aimed to empower teachers to explore creative courage in the classroom. The toolkit, used by both the teacher and artist together, explored unthinking and reimagining techniques to reinvigorate the learning journey.

Young woman in a yellow cardigan stands in front of a screen on a wall. She is holding a turquoise translucent umbrella and standing by a glass table.
Gem Thronton shares learning from Chapter & Verse at a TDF Cohort Learning Session.

The Chapter & Verse project aimed to explore how Grimm & Co’s approach enhanced learning and supported teacher experimentation and creativity. From the very beginning, we made it clear to the 15 teachers we worked with that this was a 50/50 project, this was not something that was going to be done to the teachers, but rather an invitation to play alongside the artist and learn from each other using a peer mentoring structure.

Chapter & Verse applied the toolkit to two texts: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, and we delivered this to Year 4 pupils over six weeks in eight schools over the two years, reaching 499 pupils in total. At this point in the presentation, it was important for participants to experience an activity from the toolkit and just at that moment, who should call and interrupt me but Mr Tumnus himself. It turned out that Aslan had done a runner and there needed to be a new protector of Narnia. Luckily, I was in a room filled with educators and creative practitioners, so I turned to them and a variety of small, plastic animals to help. They became the animal’s campaign manager and were required to write a persuasive speech. This is just one example of unthinking that could be applied in the classroom. The way all participants enthusiastically jumped at the task was super inspiring, and I am a firm believer that you should not ask a child to do something you would not attempt yourself.

The impact of Chapter & Verse is evident in the pupils’ desire and confidence to write and an excitement and enthusiasm for Literacy, which was missing before. Teachers have expressed how the Grimm & Co approaches have re-inspired their practice and how incorporating creative play in the classroom builds stronger relationships between themselves and the pupils.

Not only that, but artists have also expanded their own knowledge — thanks to the teachers’ expertise — and can now apply their artistic work more effectively in a National Curriculum environment.

To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting representatives from the Cohort 5 organisations, and I hope I was able to highlight what could be achieved in schools with an opportunity such as this. Participants showed passion, enthusiasm and were invested in supporting children and young people. It was inspiring to observe them galvanising and shaping what is to come.

No headshot
Head of Learning and Impact for Grimm & Co