(Not) The Learning Rainforest Fieldbook: The Arts at St Andrews
In last week’s Newsletter, I shared a chapter from the recently published Learning Rainforest Fieldbook, which included a description of the IB Diploma Programme at St Andrews International School Bangkok and featured profiles of three Year 13 students. As I mentioned, I also wrote another Case Study of the Arts at St Andrews with a particularly relevant discussion on Dance, since we recognise the outstanding performances of our Varsity and Junior Varsity dancers (pictured above), with both teams winning 1st Place in their age groups at this year's TISAC “So You Think You Can Dance” Competition last Friday.
Here is an excerpt from this case study:
As I wrote above, the sixth subject in the IB Diploma Programme can be either an Arts subject or an additional Language, Humanities or Science course. While we do have students studying Music, Film, Theatre and Visual Arts as part of either their IB Diploma Programme or as IB Diploma Courses, in practice, these additional subjects are more common than the Arts, as many students, like Charlotte, Ilesh and Michelle, have, by this stage of their education, decided to concentrate in one type of subject.
While for many students their Creativity projects keep them involved in the Arts in some way, we believe that this makes it vital to have all of our students as involved in the Arts as possible until the age of 16.
For many years now, all Year 5 students at St Andrews have been loaned either a trumpet, a violin or a woodwind instrument (clarinets, flutes or saxophones), so that a significant proportion of Music lessons is focused on playing music together, either in single-instrument classes or with students playing different instruments working together. This is also reflected in our Primary and High School Christmas Concerts, where every student performs. Last year’s High School Christmas Concert Grand Finale was an amazing performance of Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone, with over 500 students “on stage”.
More recently, students have also spent time working in our Keyboard Studio and Music Technology rooms, with Key Stage 3 students having two-hour-long Music lessons each week. Since 2015 we have also had, through Nord Anglia Education, a relationship with Juilliard, with students participating in a Global Orchestra event in New York and, this year, in a Juilliard/Nord Anglia Education Performing Arts Festival in Hanoi and regular visits from Juilliard Alumni, with three members of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra visiting next week. As well as all of this, Music teachers have had training from Juilliard, both in New York and more locally, and we have regular visits from a Juilliard Curriculum Specialist, who has worked with our Music Teachers to enhance and supplement our existing Programmes of Study and Schemes of Work, both with the inclusion of a number of Core Works, including Bach, Monk and Senegalese folk and pedagogical support. Outside the classroom, we have students having guitar, saxophone and voice lessons as well as Choirs, a Jazz Band, a String Ensemble, a Wind Band and the Orchestra, as well as a huge number of student bands.
Last year our relationship with Juilliard expanded to support our Dance programme. Before this year, Dance had been part of PE in the Primary School and only part of our Extra-Curricular Activities Programme in the High School, but last year we employed a full-time Dance teacher in the High School, as well as a PE teacher with experience of teaching Dance so that each Key Stage 3 class can add an hour of Dance each week to their two hours of Music. Like the Juilliard Music Curriculum, the Dance Curriculum is based on Core Works, from Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham to Bharatanatyam and Rennie Harris, with our new Dance teacher spending her first week working at St Andrews at Juilliard in New York and regular visits from a Dance Curriculum Specialist supporting this. I am very pleased that this year we will have our first GCSE Dance class, with students choosing to study the subject at GCSE level after only one year of Dance lessons, and am already looking forward to timetabling our first IB Diploma Programme Dance class in another two years.
This year, our relationship with Juilliard has expanded even further to support our very successful Drama programme, and it is our Head of Performing and Visual Arts’ turn to spend a week at Juilliard in New York. Our Drama students have regularly won Best in Thailand Awards at the annual CIE Outstanding Cambridge Learners Award ceremony and our IB Theatre results are always one of our best subjects, with an average Point Score over the last three years of 6.75 on a 7-1 scale. This is reflected in the amazing performances that we see from Year 10, 11, 12 and 13 students throughout the school year as they create their various coursework pieces, with the IB Theatre students explicitly engaging with both theatre theory and world theatre traditions, and I am really looking forward to seeing how the Juilliard Drama Core Works will enhance and supplement our existing Key Stage 3 Drama Programmes of Study and Schemes of Work this year.
As well as their two hours of Music and their hour each of Dance and Drama, all Key Stage 3 students have an hour lesson each week of Art, making 5 hours in each week, in a 25-hour timetable, dedicated to the Arts. Two years ago we introduced GCSE Photography, with students taught in classes alongside GCSE Art, Craft and Design students, allowing for some really interesting conversations and cross-fertilization of ideas, as well as a number of students who have started the course thinking that they would be taking one of the subjects and changed their minds as they have progressed through the course. As with the Drama performances, exhibitions throughout students’ study of GCSE Art, Craft and Design and GCSE Photography and IB Visual Arts, culminating in the annual IB Visual Arts Exhibition, with final assessment of students also considering their curation of their own work, are highlights each school year.
GCSE Art, Craft and Design and GCSE Photography have exploded in popularity over the last two years, with almost half of next year’s Year 10 students choosing to study either GCSE Art, Craft and Design or GCSE Photography. Taken together with those students taking (I)GCSEs in Dance, Drama and Music, we are now heading towards a position where our “average” Year 10 student is taking at least one Arts subject, with a number of students taking two or three – a different world to post-Ebacc England.
Link to the Learning Rainforest:
Tom discussed the Arts in a number of places in The Learning Rainforest, beginning with a discussion of Ken Robinson, and Carl Hendrick’s response to him:
“There is certainly merit in the idea that, somewhere in the curriculum, students ought to have time and space in which they can be creative. However, rather than this being an unstructured, open-ended process, there are plenty of advocates of a more traditional approach to developing creativity. The argument is that, in order to have creative ideas, students need to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’. New ideas that are considered to have real value tend to emerge from the knowledge and understanding of what has gone before – not from a naive discovery.”
This is reflected both in Juilliard’s emphasis on “building students’ personal artistry through their own creativity and bringing them into close contact with extraordinary works of music, dance, and drama” and in the work that (I)GCSE and IB students do in each of these subjects.
Later in the book, Tom argues that “as part of a wider path toward engendering confidence with problem-solving and making creative choices, I do think students need to have these opportunities built into their curriculum. This is why art and drama are such powerful components of a curriculum; students have the space to build on their knowledge by making lots of choices and exploring very individual curriculum paths” and that “Art is the subject where I feel students have the greatest freedom to develop their own creative ideas – and, taught well, this is one of the most challenging intellectual experiences a student can have.”
Creativity, cultural capital and “the most challenging intellectual experiences a student can have”. Definitely worth five hours a week.”