Teresa Cremin: Profiling Poetry this December

Profiling Poetry this December

It’s Yuletide – a time for carols, songs, stories and poetry– a time to tempt children with the words and tunes, rhythm and rhyme that play into this space of celebration. Over the decades, teachers have made this time special in school, offering class, whole school and community events that involve giving, receiving and so much more.

It is also a rich opportunity to read, write and perform poetry together and to seize those liminal spaces when half the class are at a play practice or are finishing making cards for instance. So, in this Christmas blog, given there is scant time for thinking as we rush from job to job, planning food, writing cards and generally panicking (well I am!),  I thought I’d simply share some ideas for profiling poetry this December.

Advent Calendar Poetree: This idea was developed by Miss Graham, an NQT from Edge Hill University who is working at Kingsmoor Junior in Carlisle, Cumbria. Eager to foster children’s reading for pleasure @MissGrahamteach hid 24 wrapped poems in each classroom, children find the day’s poem and share it! Each dated poem also has a challenge on the back- a discussion question relating to the topic or form of the poem to get children buzzing about poetry!

Poems as Christmas Gifts: Inviting the class to write their own poems as gifts for family members always works well. Focusing on a chosen relative or friend, rather than the jolly red stereotypes of Christmas is often more engaging. The key, as George Szirtes highlights, is to avoid platitudes and clichés, but to let the pressure of such avoidance ‘be felt at every juncture of each line and each word. That pressure is the pressure of the imagination, the auditory imagination if you like’. You could explore what makes their grandma so special – what are the objects in her house, her voice,  style, typical expressions and so forth. Or you could play the furniture game and encourage them to imagine their grandad as a piece of furniture ‘a deep leather sofa creased and loved’ perhaps? Printed on card and illustrated, this will be given with love.

Poetry Recommendations for Parents: Encouraging poetry gift giving, schools can offer a recommended booklist of their top ten poetry collections, perhaps on the school website or newsletter.

Pop-up Poets: Why not interleave  opportunities to share poetry – the children’s own and others – when parents come to see their children’s work or attend events? You could create pop-up poets who, having prepped their chosen poem in small groups, are at the ready when a governor, parents or others come by? They can then rush off and perform their poem – ‘Talkin turkeys’ by Benjamin Zephaniah or ‘The computer’s first Christmas card’ by Edwin Morgan would work well amongst many others.

Poetry in Christmas gatherings: Most schools will be joining together in a special assembly or performance. Why not interleave the printed programme with children’s own poems? Or offer live poetry during the interval?  Saint Andrew’s C of E Primary school Halstead hold an annual candlelight service for the children who sit in a circle around the candles while each member of staff reads a poem or an extract. One teacher there, Claire Williams (@borntosparkle), tells me that the sense of peace and ‘togetherness’ is tangible, especially when the headteacher closes by reading ‘A visit from Saint Nicolas’ by Clement Clarke Moore. Sounds very memorable.

Regardless of the way you enjoy poetry with your class this December, I hope you and the children will be tempted by the words and tunes, the ideas and images that such rich language provides.

Teresa Cremin

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa is also passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website based on her research into reading for pleasure. The site supports over 80 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups and 24 HEI partnerships across the country. Teresa Cremin’s OU webpage.

Teresa Cremin: Poetry, Pleasure and Play

Poetry, Pleasure and Play

As the sun comes out and the pressure in school lessens, let’s take the time to play with words and develop approaches that connect to children’s early oral experiences of poetry when they engaged physically, socially and emotionally with language. If we build on the sounds and savours found in nursery rhythms and playground rhymes and popular songs, it is affectively engaging – a place to play.

Why not invite young people to brainstorm such rhymes and then take skipping ropes, hoops and balls onto the playground or to the park? As the ropes hit the tarmac and two balls bounce against the wall, their bodily memories of poems, songs, chants and dance routines will return.

Taking time to revisit these might include identifying patterns and features of such word play, perhaps classifying them into collections of two ball poems, skipping games, counting rhymes, nonsense verse and so forth? This will expand children’s repertoires and foster experimentation and playful performance. Older classes might offer ‘teach-ins’ to younger ones with staff and parents sharing their favourite playground games and songs too.

Using active approaches to poetry in the classroom also nurtures young people’s affinity with rhythm, rhyme and beat and capitalises upon their pleasurable engagement with language. It is not enough that teachers read poetry to children, (although this is of course crucial), it is also important that poetry is voiced by the learners themselves; they need to bring it to life by tasting the word textures, feeling the rhythms and discerning the colour, movement and drama in the text.

Opportunities need to be made available for the young to release the words from the page, and read, chant, move and sing verses into existence. The marriage of poetry and music is centuries old, so percussion and song and even something as simple as a repeating ostináto of a line can help demarcate the rhythm and point up the meaning. Copies of poems also need to be in their hands, preferably in book form so they can explore the rest of the anthology later.

The physical embodiment of verse is also important and can trigger alternative ways of responding to poetry. Children’s performance readings and explorations may include dance and drama, mime and movement which energise their engagement and provoke multiple interpretations of the sense, taste and texture of the words. In choosing their own poems to perform, small groups can select one which has resonance for them and may want to use multiple media as well as their bodies to help them re-present it.

We know from the recent National Literacy Trust survey that almost half the children and young people from the 27 schools involved, engage with poetry in their free time: they read, listened to or watched poetry performances on-line (47%). This is good news. But far fewer, just 10% create it (write or perform it) or do both. Most of those who engaged in poetry said their teachers, parents and carers had encouraged them. Again, more good news. But poetry is felt in the blood and along the bones (as Margaret Meek seminally taught us), so I would argue we should pay more attention in school to children’s physical engagement in poetry, their visceral embodied response.

Collaborating with others to bring the black print on the page to life is a powerful form of responding. children will be playing with language, interpretation and meaning, and supported by their teacher’s creative engagement, new insights about a poem’s meaning, rhythm and structure will emerge.

Let’s make time to play with poetry!

Teresa Cremin

 

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa researches teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. HeR recent books include Writer Identity and the Teaching and Learning of Writing; Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching Language, Literacy and Culture, (Routledge, 2017, edited collections); Teaching English Creatively (2015); Researching Literacy Lives (2015); and Building Communities of Engaged Readers (2014). Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website: Research Rich Pedagogies based on her research into volitional reading. The site supports over 80 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups and 24 HEI partnerships across the country in order to enable the development of children’s (and teachers’) reading for pleasure.

Teresa Cremins OU Webpage.