Pondering The Point About Poetry In Schools

As educators we need to draw attention to the shape and sound of poetry, encouraging children to be active listeners and observers. There is a continuing need to raise children's awareness that poetry exists all around them; - a living thing that can be found in the very words they speak, the games they play, the rhymes and chants they themselves create. 

Whilst today's teachers are generally more at ease with the position of poetry in the curriculum and the desirability of exposing students to the reading and presentation of poetry, closer examination reveals that anxiety still exists when it comes to the writing of poetry.

This is not a new phenomenon. Many of us maintain hang- ups about writing poetry. The writing of poetry continues to be something that other people do -an elite form of communication. Students often receive such messages from their teachers. It has become part of the hidden curriculum. 

As a consequence, teachers frequently provide a shallow offering of poetry that consists of a touch of haiku and a serve of acrostic poetry. Each time poetry is mentioned they reach for the same familiar offerings. It’s simple. It’s easy and doesn’t make too much of a demand of the teacher. Sadly, the breadth and depth of poetry is never  examined. The potential of poetry is denied oxygen.

Children should be more than passive receivers of poetry, they should be given the opportunity to participate in its creation, to explore the possibilities of language.

When children show a desire to write poetry they need to be provided with a framework on which to mount their written efforts. They need to understand that writing poetry is a bit like learning to ride a bike. 

In the beginning there are bound to be a few wobbles, shakes and the occasional crash. – and, if their early attempts lack the polish of poetic pearls they should be encouraged to persevere as writers; to try again.

It is important for students to see that we as teachers are willing to model writing. Allow your students to see you writing poetry, sharing your efforts - leading by example. It is not necessary for you to be a great writer. It is important for you to be a brave writer. It is important to create a positive model for young writers to follow.

As adults we must work to make the reading of the poem a dramatic moment. Bring the words to life with our voice. Highlight the drama, the pathos, the humour. Highlight poetry’s structure, shape, and sound. The patterns created by poet’s words deserve attention. They need some light. Poetry needs to be presented in a variety of ways .

*Choral reading
*Collecting poetry - anthologies
*Sharing poetry through performance.
*Capture poetry - write, record (audio & video)
*Discussing poetry -Shape rhyme rhythm form.
*Linking poetry with other subjects e.g. art, photography, integrated units of work.

The following rule of thumb should be applied to the use of poetry in the classroom. Present it whenever and wherever it seems appropriate. - There is no set recipe!

Try these suggestions:
*Start the day with a poem
*Complete the day with a poem
*Share a poem when you feel like a lift.
*To illustrate an issue 
*To introduce a new theme
*When the children bring poetry to share
*To fill the gap!
*To complete a session
*For the fun of it all.


Ask children the question" What is poetry?" and they'll tell you that it's something that rhymes. Sometimes it does, but there is much more to discover. This provides an obvious starting point…

What's A Poem ?
*Many rhyme, but by no means all.
*Nearly all poems are rhythmic.
*Most poems are pleasing to the ear.
*Most poems seek to arouse emotion.
*Nearly all use compact language.
*Nearly all poems are set out to please the eye.
*Nearly all poems look different in shape to prose.

In reality poetry exists in a wide variety of forms. If we provide children with a variety of poetic forms from which to choose, we increase the opportunities for successful writing outcomes.

During that journey from kindergarten through high school we lose all those fans of poetry, and the answer is simple. It happens because we stop writing, reading and performing poetry and just focus on dissecting and analysing it.  We chop it up into pieces. It becomes reading by autopsy! We can no longer hear the rhythm and rhyme. We lose the pleasure that comes with performance. We seek only hidden meaning and obscure symbolism. Poetry in such an environment becomes dull and tarnished. The fans begin to drop off…

We lose sight of the fact that we learn to write by writing –and by writing we arrive at understanding.

So let's add to the reading, collecting and sharing of poetry in our classrooms by taking the next logical step and facilitating the actual writing of poetry.

The aim is to get the children AND yourself playing with words, something all poets have to do. Young poets need to see poetry as the use of powerful words in tight spaces. In such conditions, sparks are created.

Twitter: @alwriting


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