Magazine article NATE Classroom

A Group of Writings

Magazine article NATE Classroom

A Group of Writings

Article excerpt

More creative writing by members of teachers' writing groups. Prose and poems sit alongside teachers' reflections on belonging to a writing group, with commentaries on their particular pieces.

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'War Poetry Controlled Assessed Task'. by Andrea Ball

Most of my writing in school links to tasks that I've given students--I'm an enthusiastic proponent of writing alongside students. This piece, however, was written while they were writing something else (as you can probably guess from the title). The group I am writing about were the fourth set out of five. The minute I told them we were looking at two poems, they let out groans of despair. I felt that I had finally led them, cautiously, to the edge of liking Wilfred Owen's Spring Offensive and Dulce et Decorum est, when the realisation that they were going to be asked to write another 'CAT' hit home and they lost the will to go on. They limped painfully and resentfully through the planning, repeatedly asking me: 'Why do we have to do this?'

At the same time, I read an article about gorillas using ipads to communicate to gorillas in other zoos. Were they using English? Was it like learning another language? The similarities struck me immediately. These students loved the poetry once the language was 'translated'. They were quite happy to talk about the cleverness of the images. They loved the image of buttercups that 'blessed with gold their slow boots coming up' and then one boy made the link between that and the 'sudden cups' from later in the poem. Suddenly, one of the girls made a brilliant leap to the 'cups' as chalices, like the blood of Christ in Christian theology and the whole room basked in the glow of our own cleverness. At that moment, and other similar ones, we had it. We got those poems; we were one with Owen. We even wrote our own poems.

Sadly, it rapidly leeched away in planning. Points that they made with clarity and insight during discussion became statements of 'I don't get it.' 'But you had it!' I wanted to wail. 'Where did it go?' Finally, we went over the top and began the silent writing phase of this particular war. In silence, I watched them suffer. Then I wrote my poem. I haven't shared this one with them--I wasn't sure they'd like being compared to apes. I guess this is my protest against the reduction of poetry down to writing essays in complete silence.

Finally, (and I feel I should mention this in case any senior managers are reading here), I have never actually had a student use their phone during a controlled assessment--that was poetic licence.

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   War Poetry Controlled Assessed Task

   Sullenly
   Like reluctant soldiers
   They battle with boredom
   Fringed with the fear of failure
   And other teenage angsts

   They are not academics
   The arcane art
   Of analysing verse
   Evades them
   At best
   They are performing apes
   Signing
   In a language not their own
   Clumsily
   Mirroring their masters

   Like spies
   They hide their Samsungs
   And other telephonic fruit
   Surreptitiously
   In secret spaces
   Under bags
   Beating out
   Textual tattoos
   Where words vibrate
   Freed from formative assessments
   Measurements against foci
   Unit marks
   Or progress targets

   Gazes glide
   With subtle shifts
   Communicating carefully
   The universal truth of their condition
   Avoid detection
   Do nothing obvious

   Collectively
   They suffer
   On the uneasy edge
   Of silence
   In hourly anguish
   Caged in classrooms
   Where their only objective
   Is navigating away
   From anything
   That looks like 'learning'.

'Brief instructions' by Stephen Jacklin

At a UEA Writing Teachers group meeting, Jeni Smith read out to us Neil Gaiman's, 'Instructions'. In one part, the months of the year are sat around, personified, and it got me to thinking what else of a similar manner could be given life. …

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