[Finally, the start of a series of post’s I’ve been promising to post for a while but not got round too!]

During my last teaching practice I had the amazing opportunity to plan and deliver a cross curricular scheme of work, based around a painting.   During this time I experienced first hand the amazing opportunities that ‘true’ cross curricular work can provide in general as well as the potential of using paintings, images and objects as a ‘stimulus’ in the classroom.

There is so much to say and reflect on that I am going to split it into a few blog posts.  In this post I will focus on the background to the work and what we did.  The next blog post will focus on what I have learnt and my reflections on the experience (although, of course, my description of what we did will contain some reflections!)

I had the amazing opportunity to develop and deliver this scheme of work as part of the National Galleries ITE Cultural placement programme which links into the galleries extremely successful Take One Picture scheme.  I spent a week at the end of my Christmas holidays at the National Gallery where I had a (intense) introduction to working and planning cross curriculum, the humongous benefits using paintings can have in the classroom and the multitude of ways which paintings can be used.  (For more on this week see my posts when I first started blogging!) and the next stage of this scheme was to use the skills we had learnt at the gallery to plan and deliver a significant cross curricular scheme in our placement schools.

Our regional partner in the cultural placement scheme (Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery in my case) selected 4 paintings for us to choose one to base our scheme of work around.    We also got funding from the National Gallery to take my class to the castle to see the panting in real life (more on this later!).

The painting I chose was called the Paston Treasure (which if your interested was painted by the Dutch School in the 1670’s).  My first thoughts when I saw the painting were ‘interesting’ and whilst it isn’t a painting I’d want hanging on my wall, it was such a rich ‘resource’ to work with in the classroom and had so many avenues for us to explore.

The National gallery encouraged us to use the painting to create a ‘ladder’ cross curricular scheme, rather than a ‘scatter diagram’ approach.  Basically this means that each part of the cross curricular scheme links into each other- so that we have a coherent path through the scheme, rather than just delivering different subjects that happen to be linked in some way to the painting.  We were also encouraged to double check that our cross curricular links were ‘real’ and not tenuous in any way. For instance just because the painting had an item from India in it, didn’t mean that we necessarily had the ‘excuse’ to go off and spend lots of time exploring the geography of India! After delivering the scheme, I can defiantly see that this is very important- the more ‘removed’ the link is, the less ‘value’ it has and you can run the risk of making the whole project ‘fake’ and lose many of the benefits of cross curricular working in this way.

A exciting element of the scheme is that all the work the children did around the painting has the potential to be selected to form part of a major public exhibition in Norwich Castle- something which proved highly motivating for the children and which I will reflect further on in my next blog post.

Before I give a brief  run down of what we did during the scheme of work, it’ll probably help if I gave you a bit of background about the painting.  It’s important to note however that I didn’t tell the children all of this at the start- there was a big emphasis on exploring and discovering the painting together- something which I think really added to the project and again something which I’ll reflect more on in my next blog post.

First- here’s a fairly large picture of the painting…

Paston Final Framed cropped

The painting was commissioned by the Paston family, a very famous family in Norfolk.  The Paston family have a long history, including writing the (I now know famous) Paston Letters in the 13-1400’s.   The painting  however relates to a generation of the Pastons quite a while after the letters.  The Paston family was very wealthy, and collected items, artefacts and natural history specimens from around the world (their ‘Treasure’) and the painting shows only a small proportion of their Treasure.  In the painting are loads of items (you can spend ages exploring!) but of particular note are the man to the left of the painting and the girl in the centre right.  The man was an African slave, and was the first African slave to be noted in Norfolk by nearly 150 years- this was a real demonstration of the Pastons wealth!   The girl is Mary Paston, the daughter of William Paston, who sadly died whilst the painting was being painted, aged between 10-12 of smallpox.  She was added to the painting  (and the painting took on a whole new meaning) as one of the Pastons most valuable ‘treasure’s’ (but in a different way obviously to most of the items) and lots of references to death were added to the painting.    Behind the clock in the painting hides a mystery woman, who is faintly visible (in the actual painting) but who had been painted out (she was revealed by x-raying the painting) who is either Williams wife or his mistress! Why she was painted out is quite a mystery (and something the children loved discussing!)   Now the Pastons were v.friendly with Charles the Second, and they were exiled with him in France after and supported him financially.  When Charles the second gained the throne he made Robert Paston the first Earl of Yarmouth, a title which was passed onto William Paston on Roberts death.  Charles decided he wanted to visit the Pastons at Oxneed hall (which co-incidentally is only a few miles away from my placement school where I delivered this scheme), and the Pastons were delighted and spent lots of money extending the hall and aquiring lots of treasures.  Charles turned up, but only stayed for one night!   The Pastons were now in serious debt, and faced bankruptcy. The Pastons were faced with having to auction most of their treasures and this makes the painting take on a different meaning- that of a catalogue or demonstration/reminder of wealth, as William Paston would have known during the latter part of the painting being painted that he was going to have to sell many of the treasures which were being painted!

Right- history lesson over!  Here’s a brief run down of what we did during the scheme.  It’s important to say that as well as the ‘centre pieces’ below we spent a lot of time on PSHCE related discussions- especially around treasure and values as well as exploring the painting together, discussing it and developing lots of visual literacy skills.  These were arguably some of the most valuable elements of the scheme, but ones which we couldn’t ‘display’.   We had a working wall going through the scheme, on which the children wrote their questions and what they knew and through the two weeks the children were encouraged to try and answer the questions on the wall and (of course!) to pose new ones!.   But anyway here what we got up to…

  • Mystery history detective homework- Before half term I set the children a rather cryptic homework task of researching (and presenting in some way) information about the Paston Family and life in Norfolk in the 1550-1700.  I didn’t tell them anything about the forthcoming project, apart from that there was the chance that their work could be on display in a very public place in Norwich.   The children (and parents!) were very intrigued and produced some outstanding pieces of work which really showed their research skills!
  • Personal Treasures- after exploring the notion of a Treasure, the children were asked to think about and bring in their own and their families Treasure. It was very interesting to see what the children had chosen and the thought and consideration that had very clearly gone into what to bring in.  We created a powerful display out of the children’s treasures and had some really powerful discussions around what treasures were.  Readers of this blog were also amazing and shared their own treasures, which we discussed and created a luggage tag board of treasures from.     I may try and blog in more detail about this later!
  • Personification Poems- a theme that emerged quite quickly from our exploration was the objects and the stories that they could tell.  We explored using personification to give objects human qualities and extending this to make the objects ‘speak’.  The children particularly enjoyed hot seating an object and building up the objects character!  The children really grasped the concept well and were given the choice of which form to use make one of the objects speak- most of the children chose to write poetry and we had some amazing quality work produced- some of which was easily of level 4 standard. It was beautiful presented using some gold paint pens we had brought for the project, which also provided a great motivation for neat handwriting and presentation.  This piece deserves more explanation- so a dedicated blog post will follow over the next few weeks!
  • Shopping Channel adverts- The children were ‘sent’ a letter from William Paston asking for their help in selling his treasures!  We decided it’d be good to give it a modern twist and try and sell them on TV!  The children explored features of persuasive speech and how to make someone want to buy something on TV and then wrote and recorded their own shopping channel ‘pitch’ selling an item from the painting-  this was great fun and I think some of the children found their true vocation ;-)
  • Mixed Media Collages- This was the ‘centre piece’ of the project (and luckily I was allowed to delve into the ESPO catalogue and order lots of art materials!). The children were asked to use the Paston Treasure to inspire their own collage, using as many different art mediums/medias as possible!  The children liked the idea of merging old and new so many of the pieces have modern treasures ( including IPOD’s, DSI’s, and many football strips!) mixed in with the original treasures from the painting!  These were fantastic and really personal and individual to each group.  We then got VERY messy and used Modroc and cardboard frames to make antique gold frames (we put modroc on large cardboard frames cut from massive cardboard boxes, added texture to it, and then they were spray painted gold!)- this really finished the collages well and made them look great!
  • Paint making- In our science lessons, we explored how paint was made in the 1600’s.  We looked at properties of paints and materials and spent one 2 hour session exploring what would make the best ‘base’ for the paint (using food colourings to check it held pigment) using all natural ingredients (egg yolk, milk, milk powder, quark, etc) and then the children ‘ordered’ the base from us.  The next session the children were given some of their base made up to their own recipe and then had to explore how to get colour into the paint- again using natural ingredients.  This was a great activity, and it really got the children thinking and working systematically.  It’s also another session which I hope to write up on this blog in more detail!
  • Norwich Castle Trip- The children had a great time at the castle, and this was a great experience for me- both in organising the visit and in delivering all the sessions whilst we were at the castle (on that note, I was pleased that I was noted looking confident teaching in front of a painting- obviously the National Gallery experience paid off!)  It was wonderful to see the children’s eyes and reaction when they saw the painting in real life  for the first time and they were really keen to explore it!  I also had an auction of the treasures, some super fun speed sketching activities and we also explored the rest of the castle and some other paintings in the collection.
  • My Favourite things- The children had lots of fun writing new words for the Sound of Music’s My Favourite things (thanks to @missbrownsword for the suggestion as to the song to use!).  They wrote one version about their modern day treasures and another about the Paston treasure.  This was great fun and we had some fantastic songs written!
  • Outline Art Collages- we used the speed sketching skills from the Castle to create some quick, but visually fantastic pieces.  The children had to choose 3 items from the painting and sketch each of them (outline only, but showing depth and light using shading) in 3 different sizes on white paper.  They then cut them out and arranged them on black paper.  These took about an hour to make, but I think they look great!
  • Newspaper Reporting- We spent some time exploring the features of newspaper reporting.  The children were then tasked as homework to report the Paston Treasure story (either all of it or part of it) in a Newspaper.  This was a great way of getting the children to consolidate and demonstrate their knowledge! We had some awesome pieces of writing- many of which using perfect paragraphs and all the features of a news report!  The children had clearly learnt loads!

And that’s about ‘it’- all in 2 weeks!  (We did our Maths, RE etc as ‘normal’).  It was an AMAZING experience and the children were engaged and captivated throughout!

We also turned our school hall into an art gallery for an evening and had all of the parents and family in to see all of the wonderful work- this was a great evening!

I also produced animoto video showcasing the ‘behind the scenes’ of all of the different pieces- this was received incredibly well and I hope I’ll be able to share this soon (just awaiting a few final permissions for us to use the video in the exhibition and online)

Reflections and what I’ve learnt from the experience will be blogged in a few days time, but I’d welcome any comments on the above!

I’ll leave you with a slide show of a selection of the work from the two weeks!

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Just a quick reminder about TeachMeet East which is being held on June 19th in Norwich- see http://teachmeet.pbworks.con/TeachMeetEast for more info.  Please sign up to attend or present- it’s looking like it’ll be a great event.

Also remember we are encouraging people to make a weekend out of the event and attend TeachMeet East from further afield- so why not treat yourself to a lovely weekend break in Norwich and Norfolk with some great CPD and social event to boot!

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