An Easter Update on the year 8 Mask and Masquerade Inquiry
As we have reached the Easter holidays, I thought that I would provide an update on how the year 8 Mask and Masquerade inquiry has been going, including a few reflections and observations on each phase of the FOSIL framework that we have covered so far.
I have created a ‘Mask and Masquerade’ student resource booklet for the year 8 students to work from over the inquiry, including a number of the worksheet documents freely available to download from the FOSIL resources area (very useful, thank you). I have adapted a number of these for our inquiry, whilst also adding a few additional ideas that I have discovered whilst researching mask projects on the web (specifically, designing a superhero mask). In this resource booklet, I included a resource list for students to use whilst investigating masks and masquerade, which I spent quite a bit of time researching and compiling. As with a lot of free resources available on the open web, ensuring these are at the correct academic level and accessible for year 8 students has been a real challenge. I have provided mask molds for the year 8 students for them to take away and create their masks over the Easter holidays (more on this below in the Express section).
Whilst this inquiry is for one year 8 English class (18 students), I decided to extend the mask theme to coincide with Shakespeare Week, 21-27th March 2022, inviting all students in the school to ‘Design a Shakespearean mask to represent a play, character or theme’ competition in St Benedict’s Library. This was a good way of ensuring students outside the inquiry had a chance to explore the themes of mask and masquerade further and create their own mask. During lunchtimes in the library, we provided mask templates and materials to decorate their masks, including feathers, ribbons, sequins and paints etc. We had many lovely student entries; the winners can be viewed here on Twitter.
Time management and Planning
I agreed with the collaborative inquiry teacher, Dr Julie Greenhough that we would schedule the inquiry over four English Library lessons, which are 50 minutes each. During this time there have also been three inquiry homework’s, which have helped move the students’ inquiry projects forward and cover activities that we didn’t have time to complete in lesson. My key take away from this is that four lessons are not enough to thoroughly cover all the inquiry phases or to do them justice. I have also not had time to explain the phases clearly to the students (and wondered if the terminology of each phase would confuse them further).
I have also found that there has not been enough time to cover the huge topic of masks and masquerade suitably. This has required numerous adjustments and the narrowing down of what I have been able to teach and the student activities in each lesson. From this, I think in future inquiries it is important to focus what you’re teaching and the range and depth of skills you can impart in this time. It is important to not be too ambitious with what you try and achieve in each lesson, both subject content and practical activities.
I have taken on the role of teaching both the subject content and the practical skills needed for this inquiry project, which has been novel for me, and made feel like a ‘real’ teacher (a classroom teacher etc!). It has taken me out of my comfort zone and made me question, can I really do this / am I qualified to teach this (the subject content anyway). Luckily, English teacher Julie Greenhough who I am collaborating with has been encouraging and supportive throughout the process, reflecting on what she likes about each lesson and providing advice on what students do/don’t already know about Shakespeare and curriculum content. Julie has also advised on where to share documents with the class and how to set homework on Microsoft Teams etc (which I rarely, if ever do in my role as librarian). I am hoping for overall feedback from Julie at the end of the process of what can be improved for the next inquiry.
Julie, as the class’s English teacher for the last two years, knows the students very well, which has helped provide me with an insight into their strengths and weaknesses and where more support is needed in terms of subject and skills. During the lessons, Julie has supported the students when they have been carrying out the various activities I have set, which has been of great help to both me and the students and almost felt like a role reversal from the normal dynamic of teacher – librarian in the classroom or library. The knowledge and understanding of the students in the class is something that I, as the School Librarian, don’t necessarily possess and is consequently a vital ingredient to the successful running of the inquiry – to have a collaborative partnership with the subject teacher. The inquiry lessons have demanded that I reflect with Julie repeatedly both before, during and after the lessons, discussing how much longer we should we spend on a certain activity and whether it can be given as homework etc. It has required a flexibility and adaption on the spot, which I have found challenging, but also a dynamic and exciting way of teaching and interacting with students.
Reflections on each of the FOSIL phases:
Connect – In the first lesson, I provided students time to write down what they already knew about masks. During this lesson we focussed on superhero masks as a more accessible way of understanding masks and I was impressed by the knowledge they already held (they introduced their own cultural knowledge, such as the masked character in the most recent Bond film etc). I found it harder to draw out the themes of why people wear masks, resulting in responses from the students that were mostly limited to ‘to hide identity’. This revealed that closer teacher support and scaffolding was needed in this area to get a more nuanced student response and understanding.
Wonder – As helpfully suggested in the above post, I centred the inquiry around an initial essential question ‘What’s behind the mask’? This prompted students to think about the question from the start of the inquiry, but I found the wider ‘Wonder’ phase difficult to communicate and elicit from the students. Asking students to wonder about masks and masquerade seemed perhaps too abstract a concept. I found that the questioning phase needed close scaffolding; providing students with a set of questions or prompts for ideas for the students to pick out themselves helped. This may because the students have not followed an inquiry model before and are not used to having this freer form of exploration and questioning (though they have all completed an HPQ this year).
Investigate – I introduced the investigative stage by spending one lesson looking at a source that I had selected for them – the V&A collections website – identifying images and objects of masks and masquerade that they hold in their collection. I first showed the class an object I had discovered on this website and summarised what I’d learnt about it as an example. Whilst providing just one source limited what students could investigate, it ensured that they did not all search and select the same thing from Google images, whilst also opening out to them this valuable online resource and museum collection. The students found a wide array of objects and paintings, summarising them well to the rest of the class (filling in an adapted ‘Investigative Journal Years 6-8’ document, as found under the FOSIL resources). For their homework, students were directed to look at the ‘mask and masquerade’ resource list I had put together at the back of their booklet and identify 3 sources, filling in more of the ‘Investigative journal’ sheets in the booklet.
Construct – In the third inquiry lesson, I provided students time to feedback to the class the useful sources that they had identified and researched for their homework. This was then used as a foundation for the students to start constructing their own ideas around their mask design during this lesson. The students had the opportunity to brainstorm what their designed mask would look like etc….
Express – The students have been provided mask molds to create their masks over the Easter holidays, including half face, full faced and cat shaped masks (bought from Hobbycraft). They have also been asked to write 250–300-word paragraph to explain their decisions around their mask, including at least one source from their research. I have asked student to think about the following when creating their mask and writing their paragraph:
What is the style of your mask? (Venetian, Shakespearean, Elizabethan, Superhero, Mexican, Japanese, Halloween etc)
Where will you wear your mask? (Masquerade ball, festival, carnival, theatre, wedding, medical, battle)
Why are you wearing the mask? (Disguise, hide identity, freedom of speech, medical or war protection, rituals or religious ceremonies)
What is the design and materials used to create your mask? (half or full faced, facial expressions, colours symbols, images, quotes or music, accessories)
Reflect – To do after Easter holidays. I am planning for this to be an informal, peer-on-peer assessment and then class feedback.
As this is my first inquiry project, I feel I have learnt a lot, but still have much to learn! Any help with understanding a number of the inquiry phases and how to best communicate and model these in practice to the students would be really helpful for future inquiries.