Immersive learning with the School of Wax

Ben James Connor

Ben Connor is a Year 5 teacher at St. Michael’s Church of England Primary School. He has been teaching ...

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The most dreaded date in the diary: the Class Assembly. When I see a note in my diary (underlined three times) reminding me ‘Two weeks until Class Assembly’, something inside me dies. 30 children stood in rows, performing songs or poetry or skits. Parents sat on rickety chairs, transfixed as their darlings (each one a future Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling) perform their two painstakingly memorised lines. Each assembly on a different topic: with a different year group, different group of children. Each assembly however feels very similar. 30 children stood in rows, benches, songs, poetry, skits, etc etc.

My main issue with Class Assemblies lies with the fact that it removes children from their learning for two weeks, with the result being a 20 minute performance at the end. Whilst I am a firm believer in the impact of the Arts and performance, I was sure there was a better way of doing this.


When it came to my Class Assembly this year I decided “How could I give my pupils the opportunity to perform throughout the rest of the curriculum?”to avoid benches at all costs. It was time to break the mould. However, I didn’t want to lose the baby with the bench-shaped bathwater. What were the benefits of a Class Assembly to my pupils? What did I want to retain? How could I give my pupils the same opportunity to perform whilst removing the barrier to the rest of the curriculum? I decided to move away from the bench-based extravaganza and look for something different. That ‘something different’ had to give my pupils a chance to perform (which most of them enjoy), a performance for our dewy-eyed parents to watch and a way for my pupils to apply their knowledge of our Topic.


I, predictably, turned to Twitter. Searching through performances I noticed something that I had never heard of before: Wax Museums. Primarily used in America, a Wax Museum is an event where children dress as their chosen Historical figure and present a short monologue as their figure. Here’s an example from Spring Branch Elementary School:

YouTube link


I had stumbled across something that I thought would fit the bill.


Preparation


Our Topic being Victorians, I chose 30 Victorian ‘Celebrities’: mainly explorers and philanthropists. Each child chose a name from the hat and spent their half-term holiday researching their chosen Celebrity and returned with a few paragraphs about their life. We spent a number of lessons focussing on writing in the First Person, and edited their research until each child had a suitable monologue in character, extolling their Celebrity’s exploits and achievements. Each child performed their monologue to the class and their classmates peer-reviewed their speech and the performance in order to help them make improvements.


The Practice


The children were placed throughout the school, in position with props and a ‘button’ placed around their necks. The Waxworks ‘froze’ and children from other classes wandered around the school pressing buttons. When the button was pressed, the Waxworks would come alive briefly to deliver their speech. A few children in Key Stage One were convinced that the magic Waxworks were real, but most of our visitors were simply impressed by the speeches and the costumes the children had bought (or made). Our main problem was getting the visitors around the Museum quickly, with some of our more popular ‘exhibits’ performing their monologue 30+ times.


On the Day


The Wax Museum was a big secret; the parents turned up on the morning expected a bench-based epic. When they were gathered outside, I went out to break the bad news. I had lost their children, and the Assembly couldn’t go ahead. Whilst I was locating their children, however, they could wander around the exhibits “I gave each parent a Map of the Museum and advised them to head to their child’s ‘exhibit'.”of our Wax Museum. I gave each parent a Map of the Museum and advised them to head straight to their child’s ‘exhibit’. The gasps of shock when the parents encountered their first Waxworks were worth the whole venture. The visitors spread out, located their child and hear their Waxwork’s monologue. For the next 45 minutes we couldn’t get rid of them. So impressed were they by the quality of the speeches, most parents insisted on hearing every single one. The verdict: they loved the performances, the idea and the fact that it was something different.


The Aftermath


On speaking to parents, staff, pupils and the ‘Waxworks’ themselves, the Museum was a big hit. Pupils who would usually stumble over their two lines in a traditional assembly had confidently performed their monologue hundreds of times over the two performances. Pupils who would usually shy away from public speaking enjoyed speaking ‘in role’: being someone else is often easier. Parents had been able to intimately enjoy their own child’s performance, whilst taking in each individual performance. The Wax Museum had worked better than I had hoped, especially in providing each child their own stage on which to shine. Would I do it again? Certainly, although next time the surprise element would now be gone. My problem: our second Class Assembly is in June. Can I go back to the old way of doing things now that I’ve tried something new? What can I do to better the pupil’s brilliant performances in the Wax Museum?


What activities do you run to immerse pupils? Let us know below!

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