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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Colour of Joined Up Learning

As a mother of two children of primary school age I've been following the debates and news stories about the new Curriculum for Excellence with interest and occasionally confusion.
But last week, in the unlikely setting of the Milngavie Bookshop, I got a glimpse of how this so-called 'joined-up learning' can work with life-affirming results.
At Susan Frize's fantastic wee independent bookshop with its cosy coffee shop at the back, a book launch was held for nine illustrated books of poetry produced by nine East Dunbartonshire secondary schools.
The inspiration for the books was acclaimed Scottish writer Liz Lochhead's poetry collection The Colour of Black and White, which is illustrated by my favourite artist, the master printmaker, Willie Rodger.
(If you haven't clapped eyes on Willie's linocuts yet, I urge you to seek them out as, with a few wee bits of lino and a firm hand, he creates magical portrayals of the human condition...)
Willie was present last week at the bookshop, but unfortunately Liz couldn't attend.
This was an online project facilitated by the educational dynamo that is Angela McEwan of Media Matters, an education consultancy.
I first met Angela when I covered an online project she managed last year which hooked Willie Rodger up through the Scottish schools' intranet site GLOW with a host of primary and secondary schools from the Islands of Scotland to the Borders.
I was initially quite bemused as I know from talking to him that Willie has never so much as written an email, but at the launch of the project, the enthusiasm of the pupils (conveyed vividly online) about the experience of working with him to create their own original prints, was infectious.
His friend Liz Lochhead officially 'opened' the online exhibition and was vividly moved as she spoke about her own affection for Willie.
Out of this project, the Colour of Black & White books initiative was born and for six weeks last Oct/Dec, Liz worked with nine English classes in nine secondary schools across East Dunbartonshire.
Her initial online talk to the pupils was shown to the assembled guests last week in the bookshop and focused on whether this word or that word was exactly right for the impression intended, or whether this line length or that line length was the most effective.
Liz, in her direct way, communicated her enthusiasm for poetry as a means to reach out to people and she read one of her poems, Kidspoem, Bairnssang which I never tire of, describing in Scots and then in 'proper' English a child's first day at school.
There's a line in it, 'pu’ed oan ma pixie an’ ma pawkies' (translates as 'pulled on my bobble-hat and mittens') which always makes me smile as for years, I thought I must have made up the word 'pawkies' as no-one understood me when I said it...
The pupils then worked for six weeks (October - December 2009) developing their poems, changing them, explaining them and commenting in each other’s online ‘jotter’. Liz tried the writing tasks and commented too - on their work and on her own.
Some of the writers were in first year: some were in sixth year but they worked together to improve the writing, theirs and everyone else’s...
writing, reading, talking, listening, connected to each other by the internet.
Six weeks on, the nine English classes each met with an Art & Design
class from their own school, and all eighteen classes linked online with both Liz and Willie Rodger as they explained how he illustrated The Colour of Black & White. Each Art & Design class then worked with Willie Rodger for six weeks (January - March 2010) refining and refining their prints which would illustrate each of the poems. They have learned the importance of their sketchbook and how to cut images in lino.
Six weeks on, the production of nine anthologies featuring the poems and prints is now underway for each school. Business Education classes - and in one of the schools an Enterprise group - have just met publisher, Birlinn Books and independent bookseller, The Milngavie Bookshop in an online link to learn about the marketing and selling of books. These classes now have the job of selling the paperback illustrated anthologies to independent bookshops and major book sellers, such as Waterstone’s, as well as running book events in their schools and creating an online presence. All profits will go to a range of charities chosen by the schools to benefit from these ‘Social Enterprises’.
At Milngavie, pupil artists, writers and those involved in the marketing and business side of producing the nine books, all spoke.
This is a fantastic project which illustrates how good leadership can pull an inspirational idea together and make it work.
The potential to roll it out to other areas, pulling in literary, artistic, scientific, mathematical, business or musical excellence from our wider society is endless.
Ms McEwan, take a bow...

The books are:

From the Den of the Bear, Bearden Academy

Animals, Abtrsacts & Allsorts, Bishopbriggs Academy

Write Out of Our Heads, Boclair Academy

Cutting Verse, Lenzie Academy

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words, Kirkintilloch High School

Fruitful Thoughts of Adolescents, St Ninian’s High School

Colour in Shadows, Douglas Academy

Time Flies..., Merkland School

Picture Perfect Poems, Turnbull High School

All nine books are now available from each school, as well as from leading bookshops and online retailers.

All net proceeds are going to charities chosen by the youngsters.

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