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Process notes: Músaem na Scéalta

Sessions in Scoil Lorcáin, Baile na Mánach

This was part of active research towards a film making project funded by an arts council Young People and Education Bursary award. Materials were all supplied by the school to my specifications. It is a Gael Scoil so the work was conducted in irish. 

I began with Senior Infants, working with the two classes separately but on the same day, having met with each teacher individually and discussed with them what I intended.

Day 1 The puppet Mamó na Scéalta (a table-top puppet - I was visible operating her beside her) visited and asked them would they help her create a museum of stories, by working in threes to choose ten important stories for it from each class. She told them she would come back the following week.

In the week in between the teachers did some work around the idea of museums and collecting and showing something of importance, and around stories. In one class the teacher recorded on the lap top / white board the children’s verbatim telling of stories. These were mostly of things that happened to them or of wild life programs they had seen on television.

Day 2 I returned to collect the stories. The group who had already worked on them told them to me - it was interesting that they used almost identical vocabulary that they had originally, perhaps the seriousness of the teacher’s note taking had impressed them on their memory or it was that they were stories they had told before. The group who hadn’t stories prepared yet suggested stories and then formed groups according to them. these were mostly fairytales that the children already knew, although there were some more general things "story about dinosaurs" and "the easter bunny" for example. In most cases one child told or suggested a story and then two others elected to work with them on it. 

Once the stories and groups had been chosen I introduced them to the idea of making a diorama in which to play and then display their story. I had photocopied a template of this to make it easy to construct, and in their groups of threes we prepared them together with my doing it with them stage by stage and encouraging them to share the jobs. We did not complete making them into boxes however until after the next stage to allow for ease of drawing. 

Then one child, in discussion with their group, created the setting most important to the story onto the opened-out box, thinking of the sides, sky or roof and ground or floor of it as well as the background. While the other two undertook to make the three most important characters in the story, leaving a card handle on the base of each so they could first be operated like a puppet and later bent to make a stand for the character when it became an exhibit. If someone was finished their task early they helped the others or made additional props or characters. When they were ready we added split pins to assemble the boxes and photographed them.

Day 3 Mamó visited again and thanked them for their contributions and asked them could they show the most important part of their stories to the film camera to record them for the museum. Mamó went off then and I took the groups out one by one to do this, but I think what I later did with first class might have been better also with this group, as some groups were shy and or giddy with me alone.

First Class adaptation 

Advance and Day 1 I agreed with the teacher that she do some work around story with them in advance, and then I visited with Mamó to introduce the concept of the museum of stories to them and then she went off for a cup of tea while they made their exhibits as above. Before they started they also visited the museum assembled by the other two groups downstairs to see what had already been included. In this class there was more of a mix of stories, but again a lot that featured animals, and some awareness or morals. The easter bunny and santa claus were important enough to be included again, and Jesus also featured. A Spooky story had to be included and a story about the school itself.

Day 2 They discussed the most important parts of their story and practiced playing it out in their dioramas. Then they performed / played it in their groups in front of the whiteboard ’ladybug’ camera so that the class could easily watch it projected and I filmed them on my own camera also. This worked better as the performances were more focussed as they had an awareness of audience and I also had the support of the teacher who knew them well. As with the infants each scene was then made into an exhibit with the children choosing where to blu-tak each character and folding the handles to become stands, and then they were exhibited in the school. I photographed each exhibit on its own and with the children.

Wrap up visit Mamó visited each class one last time to give each child who participated a postcard with a photo of herself, thanking them for their contribution to the museum. She told them she would keep the photos and films of their work so the school could keep the ’museum’ created. I gave the teachers and headmaster copies of the photos and edited films.

The puppet also visited one junior infant class and invited them to visit the museum the other children had created. Their teacher felt that their Irish language fluency was not developed enough for them to participate like the others but used the museum to introduce ideas and vocabulary of stories to them.

Concluding notes I could have spent longer on each different stage of this process, and gone into it in more depth but unfortunately came only to a slow realization that the teachers would also have welcomed this as they were enthusiastic about it and were satisfied that it met a lot of their requirements also. By then I was already well over my scheduled time with them. It was great that my having approached them with the idea and the generosity of the teachers meant that we could be relaxed about the sessions and let them, within the normal perimeters of the school timetable, take as long as they needed to unfold. But I do find it hard to work with these numbers at once. One of the senior infant teachers commented that she thought the dioramas and puppets too small for them and felt A2 would have been a better size.


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