Guest blog: Purple Candles?

Gavin Shortall is the Year 6 teacher at St James’ CE Primary School, Rusholme, which is our ‘school in residence’. I asked him to write a guest blog entry on how he feels our partnership benefits the children in his class:

Manchester Museum. Where to start? When I sit down to think about Manchester Museum, I find myself thinking of an old, big purple candle that I now use as a bookend on a shelf. I have had the thing for years and done nothing with it. Walked past it and it’s not even registered. Now I walk past it, as it sits there keeping my ever growing collection of books from spilling all over the floor, and wonder how I ever managed without it. I think about how no other object could do its job and I am thankful to whoever it was that gave me the thing those years ago.

Image, children are given their own notebooks and decide what to record

While I certainly wouldn’t want to set the Museum alight, I do however think of it in the same way as my candle. I have now been bringing a Year 6 class to the Museum for 2 years, working primarily with Neil, mainly as a way of stimulating writing. If you teach in Manchester (maybe if you teach in a primary school anywhere?) I am willing to bet that driving up writing standards is a focus for you. It certainly is for us. The Manchester Museum has been a great find for us in trying to do this.

Image, Karen Exell, our Curator of Egypt and the Sudan, shows an artefact to children

The specifics of what we have done are too many and detailed to go into here. I could talk about the day when we examined an ancient Crime Scene, using that to write a report. I could talk about the day we spent at the Museum looking at what goes on behind the scenes, using that to write a guide to the Museum. I could talk about the day we spent in the ‘Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist’ exhibition, using that to look at how biographies can be constructed. I could even talk about the video that we wrote a script to, acted, directed and shot in situ, that is now used to promote the Museum’s partner, the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Image, touching an Egyptian object from the Museum stores

But for me as a teacher, it has been a little bit more than that. It has been about giving the children an exciting, tangible, real life context in which to write. As I gear myself up for whatever task this year’s SATs is going to throw my way, I worry that when they turn the paper over and find out that they have to write a recount of a trip to the seaside, too many of them will have no idea what such a trip would be like. I worry that too many of them won’t understand exactly what’s being asked of them. Not like when we are at the Museum. Having the opportunity to give the children vivid experiences to stimulate has been great. You can’t sum it up any better than one of the children who quite happily remarked after finishing one activity – “That was great! What are we doing next?”

And the Museum’s not even purple.

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