What is History? Our first workshop with Year 6 and Lisa O’Donnell

Wednesday saw our very first workshop with the new Year 6 pupils. Our collaborative theme this semester is ‘History’. Challenging in the breath of its scope, yet rich in its variety, history may not be the easiest of subjects to tackle, but it certainly makes for an interesting one. The aim is to encourage the pupils to think about the word itself: its etymology, how we define history–and indeed who defines it–, how history can sometimes repeat itself, and how the perception of an event can change with time. All this through the prism of art–from using the current artist exhibition Cyclical Narratives by Lisa O’Donnell as a starting point and inspiration to the pupils, to the final outcome of a pupil exhibition on different historical perceptions of the London 2012 Olympics.

There were three elements to Tuesday’s workshop: a warm-up to get the pupils in the right frame of mind; Lisa taking the pupils through her exhibition at the Art Shed Gallery, followed by a Q&A; the pupils being presented with various newspaper clippings of the Olympics written before, during or after the event, and from which they produced a collage based on the subject of their article.

We began the class with a light and entertaining warm up of Chinese Whispers. Some of the pupils looked visibly baffled (what does history and art have to do with Chinese Whispers?), but all were delighted. We pitted two groups against each other giving them  the same sentence. Neither of them got the sentence right. We used the the example to demonstrate how history changes according to the identity and nature of the teller, and with each successive retelling, and how sometimes, which was indeed the case with one of the groups, it is deliberately distorted.

Lisa then took the children through her exhibition. She explained how it was inspired by articles from the Irish Post from the 1970s/80s, and how, as an Irish national living in London today, she was interested in the history of the Irish diaspora in London. There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’; the story of two 80 year olds who married after being friends for over 40 years drew much interest, as did the sound of the on-screen animation. Lisa’s work was indeed a hit with the children!

Then, it was the children’s turn themselves. Visibly inspired after Lisa’s work, they set off with gusto producing their collages in groups. The room was hive of activity until the end of the class when 5 beautiful collages were presented. 

Coming up next week: the children produce their very own animation.

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