Taking the Fear out of Teaching Poetry

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Creativity in the curriculum

Over the past several years there has been a real push for schools to work with artists and bring them into their classrooms. 'Creative Partnerships', the government's initiative for schools, run by the Arts Council, had a massive impact on the schools that took part and has highlighted the importance of the relationship between schools and artists. Similarly, from 2001--2007 'Writing Together', an initiative involving Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), both the Primary and Secondary National Strategies together with the Arts Council, Booktrust, the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) and The Poetry Society, highlighted the purpose of creativity in the classroom through numerous educational projects working with writers.

Poets in schools

Ofsted's recent report on poetry, Poetry in Schools--A Survey of Practice 2006--2007, published in December 2007, highlighted the importance of working with writers and involving pupils with competitions and festivals, as well as keeping teachers up to date with a broad range of poetry.

'Good quality writing had often been produced as a result of effective residencies by poets in school. These events provided a good opportunity for pupils to discover their own voices as writers.' (Ofsted's Poetry in Schools--A Survey of Practice 2006-2007)

The Poetry Society has been placing poets in schools for over 30 years and has an extensive database of poets from all over the UK, as well as expert advice about how to make the most from the visit or residency.

We don't want the experience to be an 'add on' to pupils' experience of poetry, but are keen to embed residencies within schemes of work and programmes for learning.

Language laboratory case study

Taking just one example of an area-specific project we have delivered in schools, we devised a programme targeting EAL pupils which was used as part of Ofsted's report in December 2007, highlighting the importance of bringing writers into schools.

In 2005, The Poetry Society ran a 'Language Laboratory' at Thomas Buxton Junior School in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where the majority of pupils speak English as an additional language. Bangla poet and storyteller Shamim Azad, together with poet and translator Stephen Watts, spent a five day residency with pupils at the school. The idea behind the residency was to build confidence in these pupils during the difficult transitional period between primary and secondary school, and to celebrate diversity, exploring issues of language communication and self-identity. Twelve Year 6 pupils spent time with the poets looking at the importance of translation in all aspects of their lives.

Stephen Watts and Shamim Azad began by discussing with the pupils the impact of different languages in their lives, focusing on Bangla and English. The group discussed which participants' families used Bangla, who, why and when. Where might we see Bangla written in our daily lives? What were the advantages of being able to read both languages? When might we use Bangla rather than English, and vice versa? What language do we dream in?

Through the Bangla tradition of storytelling, the pupils were invited to retell stories that had been passed down through their family, and went on to compile and capture their history and cultural tradition within short poems, which they had the opportunity to translate into their mother tongue. By drawing on their own family experiences, the pupils were able to feel a real sense of their history. The poets then placed this history in a modern day context, looking at the impact that their culture has on this country through the writing of Bangla poets. The pupils were able to build an understanding of the implications and significance of translation, and in doing so, also demonstrated how poetry is relevant to their every day lives. …