Embedding Creative Courage in teachers and students using a child-empowered approach to Literacy

Read about Grimm & Co's peer mentoring programme, Chapter & Verse, building confidence in creative ways to improve literacy.

Chapter & Verse is a creative peer mentoring programme, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Teacher Development Fund. Over the 2020-2022 academic years, Grimm & Co (a literacy charity based in Rotherham, South Yorkshire) and Astrea Academy Trust delivered the project across eight primary schools, working with 12 teachers and reached 376 Year 4 pupils. We used the Literacy Tree – a book-based teaching framework - alongside a toolkit designed to incorporate Grimm & Co’s signature pedagogy into the National Curriculum. The toolkit enhanced the teaching and learning experience for teachers and pupils, enabling more creative, imaginative and courageous exploration to take place in the Literacy lesson.

Greengate Lane Primary Academy

"I feel like way, way more confident and it’s made me love writing even more."

- Pupil, Greengate Lane Primary Academy

The Toolkit

We chose The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and The Iron Man by Ted Hughes from the Year 4 reading list for the project and created a toolkit that both teachers and artists interacted with when planning sessions. The toolkit was established to introduce new literacies, and unthink or reimagine through the experimentation of the stimulus.

All Grimm & Co activities within the toolkit were skill/writing focused or process driven, enabling the pupils to explore the text through their own lens, immersing themselves in their imagination. Using the toolkit in this dual-purpose way allowed for the development of children and young people’s socio-cultural skills (learning readiness, increase in self-confidence, self-esteem, etc.) and offered insightful moments of revelation when teachers witnessed the impact of this. The toolkit continues to be a live document, that the artist and teachers have developed and extended.

Grimm does it in a different way and it’s more fun and you don’t know [if] you’re learning or not.
- Pupil, Greengate Lane Primary Academy

The example below highlights how the Grimm & Co approach opens a wealth of possibilities in terms of creative exploration. During this session at Greengate Lane Primary Academy, in Sheffield, pupils were placed in groups and given a different piece of punctuation from an extract of The Iron Man. They became official representatives of this punctuation community and were required to write a speech on behalf of them. When Child M delivered her speech on behalf of all exclamation marks, she used the analogy of sprinkles and ice-cream: “I love sprinkles on my ice-cream, but if I had it all the time it wouldn’t be as special.” Child M personalised her learning journey and drew on her own experiences to make sense of the author’s intentions. A significant amount of time was given to the personification of punctuation, developing a backstory as well as establishing physical and emotional character traits. This was done to empower pupils and allow them to feel ownership over a literary technique that once appeared very much set in stone.

Illustration demonstrating how the Toolkit is applied to National Curriculum objectives in The Literacy Tree

The Bridge Between

Grimm & Co incorporates immersive and multi-sensory spaces into our signature pedagogy to unleash children and young people’s imaginations. The artist worked with each class for a full day, weekly, for six weeks. In week three, the Bridge Between landed in the school. The Bridge Between was a portal, a bridge, connecting the mortal world with the world of the story. Two of these spaces have been gifted to Astrea Academy Trust and they are permanently constructed in two primary schools in Doncaster, playing a key role in the dissemination of Chapter & Verse.

We were inspired by the notion of a place of learning where the learner interprets the learning. As the Bridge Between was filled with props and stimuli directly linked to the studied text, teachers were able to relinquish a certain level of control, trusting in the pupils to continue the learning narrative through interaction with the space.

When [the children] know they are going in the Bridge Between, they are ecstatic… Ecstatic.
- Miss D, Hartley Brook Primary Academy

Invitation to Play

One of the most significant outcomes has been the time given to teachers to play and experiment. Throughout our teacher/artist reflection sample, we identified 35 different examples of teachers demonstrating an invitation to play or expressing how they felt they had been given permission to be more creative.

By demonstrating creative courage through play and exploration, teachers were placing themselves in a state of vulnerability. This was significant because learning is a vulnerable action. There is a sense of risk attached to arts-based learning pedagogies and this cannot be avoided. Our teachers may not have embraced the risk without the gentle push of the artist’s support and encouragement, but by doing so, they were able to empathise with their pupils.

Conclusion: Phase 2

Phase 2 of the project is focused on its legacy within Astrea schools. It is being driven by Chapter & Verse Ambassadors- teachers who were part of the initial project. A core aspect of the legacy phase aims to disseminate the learning within the schools that were part of Phase 1. The outcomes from this project continues to be woven into the trust’s shared practices, running alongside the needs and contexts of each school and their improvement journey.

Gemma Thornton is Creative Learning Manager (Schools), for Grimm & Co. Watch the full video of the project here: Chapter & Verse - YouTube

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