Poetry In The New Curriculum- Ian Bland Children’s Poet and Performer
Before the new curriculum poetry it seems had played a bit part in primary literacy lessons. Perceived as the poor relation, poetry was that genre of writing that always seemed to be reluctantly taught for a couple of weeks of the year and then quietly ushered away as if it wasn’t quite important enough. Old guidelines required teachers to teach very specific aspects of it in definitive year groups leaving them without much freedom to cater for the children in their classes. In the new curriculum however, all of this has now changed and changed for the better!
”Memorising and reciting are prevalent in all parts of the new National Curriculum, with poetry taking centre stage in English. From year one onwards children will have to learn and recite poems by heart while recognising and discussing different poetic forms.”
Poetry is now an important and central pillar of the new literacy curriculum in England and Wales. Teachers have been given the freedom to explore lots of different types of poetry and revisit it regularly through the school year. It is now an expectation that children are exposed to a wide range of good quality poems so that they can read, recite, share and enjoy it. The new emphasis is on fun and passion and the new curriculum is certainly the richer for it.
So, what are we going to do with this new found freedom? On my many visits to schools across the UK and Europe as a visiting children’s poet I am often asked for advice as to how we can inspire children to love and explore poetry. The most obvious is to make sure your classroom has a solid supply of up to date and engaging poetry books; I’m sometimes a little shocked at the lack of this in some classes that I visit. The next tip I would give would be to not make poetry too formal in your general teaching. Let your children find what they like, give them lots of opportunities to just share and enjoy it for its own sake. Let children PERFORM! Once they become comfortable with it, children can become very adept at performing poetry for others this bringing with it other fringe benefits of increased confidence and all round improved oracy skills.
Michael Rosen makes some excellent suggestions in his video blog Creating A Poetry Friendly Classroom which can be found here: http://www.childrenslaureate.org.uk/previous-laureates/michael-rosen/michael-rosen-poetry-video-tips/
Some of the poetry activities he suggests for children are as follows:
• Read poems at the end of the day/ just before playtime or lunch time- This gives the children the freedom to just enjoy poetry without some activity being attached to it, allowing the ideas and imagery to be absorbed.
• Stage a poetry swap- Where children are encouraged to source and bring in to school their favourite poem so that they can read it to others and explain why they like it so much.
• Create a poetry show- Having an audience to perform your work to can be a great way of inspiring your children to produce their best work. An audience could be the rest of the class, another year group or if you are really ambitious- some parents in an assembly.
• Make poem posters- Children love doing this and sometimes what they produce shows they have a deep understanding of some of the underlying themes and ideas in a poem.
• Use poems as a creative platform- This means that the children could use a poem to create a piece of pottery, tapestry or sculpture.
• Create a poetry notebook- This is something I often do when I visit a school. Ideas for poems or stories can occur to us at any time and if we don’t write them down they can disappear. I encourage everybody to carry around their little notebooks so that they are handy in a poetry emergency!
• Turn a poem into a play- Who can forget the look on children’s faces when they first encounter The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. This poem has got everything; a swashbuckling hero, a damsel in distress, treacherous villains- perfect for turning into a play. Lots of other great narrative poems lend themselves to this activity.
• Put on a poetry cabaret in the evening- I have done this on many occasions in primary schools. I ask schools to invite parents and their children in for an after school poetry workshop. Teachers or a guest poet could perform some poetry and then lead everyone through the process of writing their own fun poem (while of course munching on some soft drinks and tasty snacks) Working together as a family to produce and perform a poem is a very powerful way of convincing children that writing is fun, worthwhile and inclusive.
Some professionals I have talked to about the new drive for children to learn and recite poetry have seen it as a backwards step, that it is somehow old fashioned and not so worthwhile. I however see it as a very progressive move that taps into our wonderfully diverse and wide ranging literary heritage.
Poetry doesn’t have to be a genre of writing confined to literacy lessons, it can be used as a powerful tool for learning across the curriculum. There is a rich tradition of poetry here in the British Isles so as teachers let’s go out there with our children and discover it. Let us seek out and discover the wonder and joy of poems steeped in the oral tradition, poems that children can learn off by heart and take forward and use further in their learning.