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Wellbeing through the expressive arts: Supporting both student teachers and pupils in the classroom

Karen Fox, Primary English Lecturer at St. Marys University Carolyn Hopkins, Lecturer in Expressive Arts and Master’s (Primary Education) at St. Marys University

During the Covid-19 pandemic emerging evidence showed the toll that the pandemic was having on the mental health of children (Anna Freud, 2020). We developed a module for our primary student teachers in south-west London on supporting wellbeing through the expressive arts. We wanted to explore how to support children and student teacher wellbeing and how the two are linked.

We could not have foreseen how artificial intelligence (AI) would develop as the module was being delivered. We quickly realised, however, that we were mitigating against the risk of AI use, in both the design of the module and the method of assessment.

Module aims:

  • support student subject knowledge and teaching confidence in the expressive arts
  • build knowledge and understanding of pupil wellbeing
  • support students with strategies for their own wellbeing.

‘We quickly realized that we were mitigating against the risk of AI use, in both the design of the module and the method of assessment.’

To support the wellbeing of the student teachers both module design and assessment needed to be authentic and purposeful (O’Neill, 2015). The students on this module are also teaching assistants in school, so after each session we exploited a wonderful window where the students could try out their in-session learning in their settings. Student feedback reflected high levels of pupil engagement with opportunities such as using body percussion with a group of children or sharing a therapeutic writing activity.

Both learning and assessment were securely rooted in practice. Students used their learning from the sessions to create a resource pack of activities to support pupil wellbeing for a key stage of their choice, underpinned by the relevant theory and reflection. Activities included:

  • drama games to support social and emotional learning
  • drawing emotions
  • free writing to unload feelings.

They presented their work at an assessed exhibition where they were required to articulate their justifications for the activities in their packs.

Evidence suggests that oral assessment at undergraduate level is underused but very effective (Gardener & Giordano, 2023). The requirement for demonstration of original thought, personal experience, criticality and creative thinking tapped into all the areas where AI, by its own admission, cannot replicate ‘the expertise and real-world experience that human teachers bring to the classroom’ (Illingworth, 2023). Module outcomes reflected a 100 per cent pass rate with no referrals for academic misconduct, demonstrating how successful this approach was.

Consideration of student wellbeing in module design is vital in a world where students are under increasing pressure. Some students may turn to cheating when they feel academic overload and stress (OfS, 2023). In considering the wellbeing of the students in the design of the module we mitigated against this. The activities were designed to create a culture of wellbeing for the students. The activities were completed in the session and a direct link made to the purpose of the activity in the classroom. For example, through the session on art therapy students learned that the ability to regulate emotions affects pupils’ ability to learn, an activity such as drawing your emotions provides pupils with a tool to self-regulate. Student agency in activity choice and adaptation created a flexible, vibrant approach that was both student, and pupil, centered (SMU, 2021).

Overwhelmingly the students reported that the module, the assessment process and the learning had supported and focused them on their own wellbeing as this student comment from the exhibition highlights:

‘It is hard to explain how much I enjoyed the process of putting my resource pack together. It was creative, therapeutic and actually filled me with joy!’

The dialogue with students at the exhibition was inspiring and gave us deeper insight into their reflections and wider understandings. Each pack was unique because the students had adapted their activities to suit their setting, and their children.

Student feedback consistently reflected the benefit of their learning both for the children and also for themselves. When AI exploded into all our lives it was satisfying that, in the process of module and assessment design, we had also successfully mitigated against its use.


References

Anna Freud National Centre for Children & Families. (2022). Mentally healthy primary schools. https://www.mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk/getting-started/primary/  

Gardner, D., & Giordano, A. (2023). The challenges and value of undergraduate oral exams in the physical chemistry classroom: A useful tool in the assessment toolbox. Journal of Chemical Education, 100(5), 1705–1709. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.3c00011 

Illingworth, S. (2023, January 19). ChatGPT:Sstudents could use AI to cheat, but it’s a chance to rethink assessment altogether. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/chatgpt-students-could-use-ai-to-cheat-but-its-a-chance-to-rethink-assessment-altogether-198019

Office for Students. [OfS]. (2023). Trouble at mill: Protecting students from contract cheating. https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/news-blog-and-events/blog/trouble-at-mill-protecting-students-from-contract-cheating/

O’Neill, G. (2015). Curriculum design in higher education: Theory to practice. University College Dublin. http://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/UCDTLP0068.pdf

St Mary’s University [SMU]. (2021). Graduate attributes. https://www.stmarys.ac.uk/ctess/Learning-and-Teaching/curriculum-framework/graduate-attributes.aspx

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