Case Study: Grange Lane Infant Academy
darts is passionate about collaborating with schools, education experts and families to enhance practice in education, leading to improved attainment in Doncaster’s children and young people.
Grange Lane Infant Academy identified a desire to explore the effect of the drama technique of teaching in role on pupils’ attainment in literacy. They collaborated with darts to develop a project that aimed to support and enhance pupil learning, whilst at the same time ensuring a legacy of learning for all staff beyond the life of the project.
Drama practitioner Layne Harrod worked with the school over four half terms, spending one day per week with two classes from each year group. She took the part of dragon hunter Tatsu, encouraging the children to become investigators whose job it was to explain the mysterious appearance of an unusual egg in the school. All topic work was approached from this specific point of view and the children were also set a specific linked writing activity to follow on from Layne’s weekly sessions.
Teachers were able to observe Layne modelling techniques for teaching in role, before gradually taking a more active part in sessions and leading lessons in role themselves. Each session was followed by reflection and planning time to ensure teachers had the opportunity to discuss and develop their own practice. Two training sessions, jointly led by Layne and the teachers involved, allowed learning to be shared with all teachers and supported them to plan how teaching in role could be applied to future topics.
Teaching in role had a dramatic impact on pupils’ learning. Key to this was the way in which teaching in role increased pupils’ engagement. Imagining themselves as investigators brought topic work to life and made it real to pupils. It gave them special responsibilities, which in turn led to a willingness to undertake tasks. They were motivated by the challenge and actively enjoyed the work they were being asked to do. Once pupils were enthused about the work, teachers noted they were then better placed to begin refining their writing technique, spelling and grammar:
It has given them much more of a purpose therefore their willingness to get on with it is a lot better – as soon as you’ve got that the quality starts to improve.
Pupils’ writing assessments carried out before embarking on the project were compared with their assessments at the end of darts’ involvement. Upon completion of the project 72% of pupils in Year One achieved expected or greater than expected attainment in writing; of these almost two thirds achieved greater than expected attainment.
In Year Two, 84% of pupils are meeting their age related expectations in writing and teachers are confident that that by the end of the summer term this number will increase. Both boys and girls engaged equally in the project and evidence suggests that both genders’ learning was equally enhanced.
Teachers told us of individual children for whom the project made a real difference:
Her levels of engagement were not great but she has come on massively. She has become almost a model pupil. She works incredibly hard, takes a great deal of pride in what she does and the improvement in what she is writing is fantastic. Because her attitude is so improved, even her maths work has improved. She was quite lazy before and couldn’t be bothered to offer any ideas and from the very first session with Layne she was instantly really interested. That was the impetus to give her some confidence and make her think ‘I can do this.’ Now she is writing a lengthy piece for a Year One child independently. It is a dramatic change.
Another pupil who was particularly quiet and struggled to speak in class flourished in his role as investigator:
He absolutely loved it. Every time either of the characters were in you would see him asking questions that he wouldn’t usually. He always had his hand up, which was not normally the case for him. It helped him to build his confidence and realise that nothing terrible happened if he answered a question.
As well as the positive impacts on pupils, teachers themselves also reported numerous benefits to teaching in role, including increased levels of enjoyment. Teachers have the confidence to plan and deliver lessons using the techniques they have learned and teaching in role is now embedded across the whole school:
Teaching Assistants have also been different characters in class and really loved it. The children had no clue.
Teachers asserted that the strong structure underpinning the project, observing Layne before participating themselves, worked very well. The fact that their ideas were not only listened to but implemented meant that they felt that the project was a true collaboration. They also described the evaluation time as invaluable:
Layne makes you feel very comfortable. With darts you feel within your comfort zone even though you’re probably out of your comfort zone.
We are currently exploring this modelled approach in other schools across Doncaster, using drama in the classroom to achieve school-specific outcomes and improve attainment in pupils. Castle Hills Primary School has commissioned darts to deliver this project with two year groups over the course of one term, alongside extensive teacher training. We will also continue to work with Grange Lane Academy on another yearlong project, this time exploring the link between music and communication. Our ambition is to meet the needs of schools, training staff alongside artists to ensure that a legacy of learning continues beyond the life of projects.