A Musical Overture

Purpose

Comprehension occurs when children connect their background knowledge and prior experience to what they read.

Music is central to Traveller culture, and in this lesson, children respond to traditional music, which provides a background for the story. The lesson helps children understand that a community can have a tradition of customs, music and lifestyle passed on through the generations.

A homework task is suggested as preparation for this lesson.

Teacher’s note: discussions about family and cultural background are subject to the usual sensitivities. Children should not be compelled to share but may be invited to.

Preparation

  • Set a home task before the lesson. This can be sent home with a suggestion for the children to talk to family members. 
Is music important in your home? Who listens to music? What do they listen to? What did they listen to when they were younger?

What music do you like? 

Is there any special or traditional music that is important to your family?

Can you bring a favourite piece of music to school? Either digitally or the title of the music so we can find it.

If possible, prepare some of these pieces of music so the class can share them.

Before the lesson: Download some traditional Irish Traveller music. A great example is Patrick Pecker Dunne’s, “Jigs” from his album “The Tinkerman”, on Spotify. 

Dunne descended from a line of traditional Traveller entertainers and musicians, and was fiercely proud of the Irish Traveller culture and had great knowledge of the Romany tradition and circus and show folk. His father taught him the fiddle to earn his keep, but Dunne taught himself to play the banjo, which he preferred, saying one should always play from the heart and follow one’s instincts in music.

Process

Allow the children to sit and listen to Jigs in its entirety. 

  • Listen with concentration and understanding to a range of high-quality live and recorded music.

Play the music again and allow the children to move and dance freely. Gather the class.

How did this music make them feel? 

  • How did this music make you feel?
  • Have you heard any music like this before? 
  • What instruments could you hear? 

You can explain that this music comes from an Irish Traveller tradition. Traditional music has been passed down from generation to generation within a community. Use this session to gauge how familiar the children are with the Traveller community. Where you take this discussion will depend on your class constituency.

A class with a strong Traveller community could share their knowledge. A class with little knowledge of this community might need it explained with a session on travelling life. Do the children have experience of traditional music from their own culture?

Final reflection

Share the music the children have brought in from home. 

  • What can the children tell you about their choices?

Caravans

Purpose

Comprehension occurs when children connect their background knowledge and prior experience to what they read.

This lesson gives the children some understanding of the Traveller community. 

Background knowledge of the travelling life will help the children access the story and comprehend why certain things happen, such as Ossiri moving to the hills where the Bala Menro lives.

Teacher’s note: If you have Traveller children in your class, they may not want to be the centre of attention. Take the cue from them as to whether they want to volunteer information.

Preparation

  • Download the slideshow Travelling Homes. This can be used as a slideshow, or the images can be printed for group work.

Process

Show the children the images. Talk about them. Opening questions:

  • What do you know about this type of home?
  • Has anyone stayed or lived in any of these types of homes? 

Slide 1:

An old Romani caravan (there’s a picture of one of these in Ossiri). This is a traditional caravan. Traditional means it is how things used to be done in the past. Very few travellers live in a traditional caravan today but you may see them at fairs and other festivities.

Slide 2:

A camper van from the 1970s (for holidays). These vans have become popular again. You can drive your holiday home around without the need for a trailer.

Slide 3:

A caravan on tow. You can tell this one is for holidays from the bikes and stickers, but many Travellers live in towing caravans.  Travellers come from different cultural backgrounds. Irish travellers, fairground people and Romani.

Slide 4

Static caravans. Static means that although they are caravans they do not move around. Some Traveller sites have static caravans, but they are often used as retirement or holiday homes. You might have stayed in a static caravan on holiday.

Slide 5

A Yurt Nomads, travelling people in Mongolia, traditionally live in Yurts. They are also fashionable for glamping holidays. Nomads around the world have different kinds of homes that they carry with them/ Why might people choose to move their homes rather than stay in one place?

Slide 6

Narrowboat. People live on narrowboats on canals, which are also popular for holidays and leisure. Originally, narrowboats were used for transportation until the roads and lorries took over. For a time canals were a less popular for of transport but people have started using them again. Would you like to live on a canal? Would there by any disadvantages?

Slide 7

Traditional circus wagon This one is from Denmark. Most travelling circus and fairground people have modern caravans.

Share experiences.

Make explicit the difference between the static caravan (that stays on site) and the others. Explain that some families live in communities that travel regularly. The children might be familiar with the circus or fair that comes to town for a week, then moves on. They might have seen Traveller sites where the families arrive seasonally to work on the farms or the roads. Explain that when the work is done or the fair is over, the children in these families move to another part of the country with their families, taking their homes with them. Ensure that children who have stayed in caravans on holiday understand that Traveller children are not on holiday; the caravan is their home, and moving is a way of life.

 

Final reflection

  • Would you like to live a travelling lifestyle? 

Some children may have moved house or country. Think about the similarities and differences to the Traveller children moving their actual home to a new place.

Read Aloud

Purpose

Reading aloud to your class is one of the most important reading lessons you can provide. There are many advantages, such as building story schema, which aids recall and comprehension. In order to maximise this benefit, read simply for enjoyment on a first read through. Stopping too frequently to ask interrogative questions interferes with this process. Occasionally, you may want to stop at a key point to enjoy predicting what will happen next but do this sparingly. Reserve stopping for when it is necessary to clarify something to avoid potential miscomprehension. There will be opportunities to talk about the details later. Reading a book or passage for a second time allows you to check understanding at both literal and inferential levels and to discuss themes and ideas.

Reading aloud also enables children to hear the rhythms of the text to internalise the voice when they read to themselves.

Preparation

  • Copies of Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, at least one between two.

Process

Before starting the book, show the children the cover. Ask:

What questions do you think of when you see this cover? 

If the children make a statement, ask them if they can turn their statement into a question. Allow the children to answer each other. A common question might be

  • What is a Bala Mengro?
  • Who are the characters on the cover?
  • What are they doing?

Move on to the endpapers. If you have looked at the slideshow of caravans and mobile homes, they may recognise the traditional decorative painting style from the traditional caravan. Allow time for the children to spot the musical instruments and notes hidden in the pattern.

Read the story. Try not to lose the thread of the story by stopping continually , but some good pausing places might be:

  • Pg 5 ‘an idea came to her.’ What do the children think her idea might be? (She is going to make her own instrument).
  • Pg 11 ‘But we think you should leave your Tattin Django here.’ Why does Father say this? (Nobody enjoys the music).
  • Pg 16 ‘You don’t want to know!” said the girl, and walked away.’ What do the children think the Bala Mengro would have done? (He would have hurt or eaten the farmer).

A longer stopping point is suggested after the stranger appears at the fireside. End at this point: ‘That night as Ossiri drifted off to sleep, she heard the dogs bark, but she thought nothing of it.’ 

  • What do you predict will happen next?
  • How will the story end? 

Encourage the children to explain their predictions by referring to what has happened so far.

The stranger is suitably suspicious to make this a wonderful predicting opportunity. You might want to allow the children time to discuss and write their own predictions before continuing the story. When you return to the book, restart from the beginning so the meaning flows cohesively.

  • Pg 27…alongside the stranger’s boots. What has happened to the stranger? (The Bala Mengro has eaten him).

There is a glossary at the front of the book, translating Romani words. Don’t labour this point, but translate as you go if needed. Children are unlikely to misunderstand the word Daddo, and the Tattin Django is introduced by name as it is made, so is unlikely to need to be literally translated.

Final reflection

Return to the first double spread of the book, and ask the children what they can see. Ask them if they would enjoy a travelling life.

Notes

Next lesson revisit predictions, read to the end. Copy of the first double spread to annotate as a class with what they can see. Revisit their answers to whether they would enjoy a travelling life- Do you still feel the same? Why?