Visual cues – floor marks
At the Language School last week I discovered a new visual cue, or tool. For a few weeks now we have had a line of blue sticky-tape stuck to the carpet. It was put there for a lesson some time ago, but never got pulled up, and I have noticed how the students pay attention to it without being asked, how they often sit in a line along it, or behind it, and that it gives them a sense of how to organise themselves in the space.
I have to emphasise that, because there are such limited English language skills in a class, it is not always easy to communicate things like where you want the children to sit. When there is great excitement in the room, or the children are tired, or distracted by other people, words do not always get heard! The sticky-tape line has already played a useful role – it is such a simple thing, and of such a distinctive colour, it is easy for the children to focus on.
The other day, with the Lower Primary class, we were giving them each a turn with the violin – tucking it under the chin, holding the bow, trying out the bow on the string. They were all incredibly excited and eager, and had to wait patiently for their turn.
It is often noted in the school that children who have spent a lot of time in refugee camps find some of the turn-taking routines, and other gentle behaviour, quite difficult to remember. So much of their experience in life has been that pushing to the front (and others out of the way) ensures you get food/a turn/water/seen. These are strong survival skills in the chaos and unpredictability of a refugee camp or post-conflict context. There are three children with this kind of background in the class, and when they came up to the violin they would grab it, and cling on determinedly.
The tension in their bodies made it very difficult for Mel to show them how to hold the violin properly (in order to get a satisfying sound from it). There would be one hand clutching the bow, another in a fist around the neck of the violin, meanwhile the child’s head is jutting forward (because they have all noticed how the violin sits tucked under the chin). Lots of tension in little bodies.
Then we had our brainwave. “Go and stand on the blue line,” we suggested. The boy went and stood on it, and as he stood there his body relaxed. It was as if the designated space (as it were) gave him permission to be more passive. Perhaps it also reassured him that there was order here, that he could let go of his survival reflexes because he wasn’t going to miss out. His arms went to his sides and he let Mel pass him the violin and shape his bow hand into a light hold, so that he could get a warmer sound from the strings. His breathing slowed down, he took on a look of concentration, and focussed on the violin alone.