When I get older
I developed this scheme as a KS3 unit on age and status, after colleagues commented that whenever our students were asked to play an elderly character, the usual response was ‘Have you got a walking stick I can borrow, Miss?’ followed by some enthusiastic and entirely unconvincing hobbling and groaning. At GCSE, it is important that students can understand age and status, and convey these aspects of a character without using stereotyped or pantomimic acting, and we felt that our curriculum didn’t offer opportunities to refine these skills at KS3.
The scheme provides a structure within which students can explore the difficulties faced by the older population, learn to empathise with older people and develop their ability to depict a character’s age and status through the use of movement, posture, voice and facial expression. The term ‘elderly’ comes up quite a bit when teaching this scheme, and it can be problematic, because it is not very politically correct; likewise ‘geriatric’, ‘senior citizen’ and ‘old’. We try to use ‘older people’ but this is a bit ambiguous, and students can think we’re talking about the Year 11s! I’ve stuck to ‘older people’ in the scheme, but I do not always manage that in my studio.
We have used this scheme with Year 8, but it could be adapted for Year 9, and we’ve also tried it at the end of Year 7. Our students really enjoy it, and hearing their ideas and opinions about older people is a joy; one student described his grandmother at length; how lonely and isolated she gets, how her mobility isn’t so good now she’s older, but how brave she is in the face of all this adversity. When asked how old this aged paragon was, he solemnly answered that she was nearly fifty ….
One of the lessons uses Trestle masks. We have sixteen of these, and students have to take turns using them. The Trestle masks are absolutely brilliant for making students use movement in a much more skillful way. They are quite expensive, and if you don’t have some, you could use ordinary white masks, widely available for around a pound each (try Amazon), or just do the work without masks.