Planting Poems

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On Monday I did a poetry workshop at a primary school.  I had no restrictions for the workshop – the head just wanted the children to do some ‘poetry techniques’.  The only time I had to plan the workshop was the night before on the Sunday and I got myself into a complete state about it, if I’m honest.  I decided to take inspiration from the workshop that I’d been to with David Morley on the Saturday and get the kids to write poems and plant them around the school for other people to find.  They loved the fact that they got to buzz round the school – they wrote poems using alliteration, then they wrote poems from bits of broken pottery (see previous post!), we watched a video of the ‘Rain of Poems’ from the Casagrande website – this is a project where thousands of poems are dropped from a helicopter over cities that were bombed in various wars.  The children said their favourite bits were watching the poems coming from the helicopter and they liked seeing the people sharing the poems they found.  They were suitably impressed when I produced my poem which had been dropped out of a helicopter and which one of my friends had found, amongst the thousands that were dropped and then sent to me – this all took place when the Olympics were on – all the poets which took part in Poetry Parnassus had a poem dropped from a helicopter – as well as all the ‘Buddies’ who looked after the foreign poets ( I was a buddy which mainly involved hanging around the SouthBank Centre going to lots of amazing readings – in fact I think I blogged about it!)

You can see the video that I showed the children here

http://www.loscasagrande.org/2012/#!prettyPhoto

but there are also videos on Youtube of the Rain of Poems over London this summer.  Anyway, this set the children up nicely to go and plant their poems around the school, in the absence of a helicopter.  We watched two Michael Rosen videos as well, which they loved.  The teacher said he’d had a great morning and off I went – feeling completely different to how I’ve felt before after I’ve finished teaching.

For a start, I didn’t feel knackered.  I felt invigorated, excited.  I’ve been thinking about the workshop since then, trying to put my finger on why I enjoyed it so much.  I’ve taught good lessons before (obviously!)  I think the difference this time is that not once, during the lesson, did I have to tell anybody off or, and this is going to sound harsher than I mean it – but as teachers, we often have to ‘impose our will’ on a class to get things done.  Not through a whole lesson, but definitely at certain points.  I hadn’t done that once and this wasn’t because the children were perfect angels – it was because it was a bloody good lesson and they were engaged with it.   And maybe that is because I love talking about poetry, reading poetry, writing poetry and somehow managed to communicate this.  I don’t know.  It feels risky writing this because it might not be something everyone agrees with – the imposing your will I mean – and it does sound horribly domineering…and maybe with music I have to do this because there are expensive instruments lying around to start with – the classroom management of 30 instruments is complicated enough before you factor in the ability to deafen everyone within 50 paces if they are let loose…

I know I’m a good brass teacher – I get good results – I have two overflowing junior bands – but I want that thing that happened on Monday to happen again!  And this is also part of good teaching too – the constant redefining and learning about your own teaching practice – and hopefully the constant improving as well.  Now I have a high standard to live up to – I want more of my music lessons to be like that – I will have to find a path towards creating this I think and I know if I manage to recreate that atmosphere in a lesson again, whether it is music, or poetry, I will feel it – the crackle in the air.

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12 responses »

  1. Wonderful post Kim. The child in me knows how I would respond to an inspirational teacher like you.
    I guess one difference with music teaching may be that you don’t use different media like the video you showed, or relate the music to places you have been as a result of playing?
    One thing I do know; when it comes to children and learning, if someone does’nt ‘impose their will’ sometimes nothing at all will happen.

    • Thanks Roy. This is true – because I don’t play as a musician very much anymore, I can’t directly relate it to recent experience. I do show videos and stuff though – but, yes, I should do more of this!

  2. A very uplifting and inspiring post! Thanks for sharing. Like Roy, I can feel the excitement of the children taking part in your workshop. Don’t think of it as “imposing your will” but as “managing energy”! It will be interesting to find out if you do anything different in your music teaching now.

  3. Great post, Kim. Like Josephine I don’t think it’s about imposing a will – more sharing a passion. I had a similar reaction when teaching primary age – something I never got from the adults at the college!

    • Hi joesixsmith

      Thanks very much. I see a lot of very creative teaching – I suppose I am lucky in that I go to schools that are enlightened enough to buy music in and to put it high on the agenda. And I’ve never met a teacher who isn’t constantly re-evaluating what they do and thinking about what works and what doesn’t – although you wouldn’t believe this from the media portrayal of the profession.

  4. Hi Kim, I think I know what you mean. When I teach our ministry students sometimes I feel we are co-creating something that’s very much `of the moment, almost spiritual. I think it’s Parker Palmer who writes about education as a spiritual activity. Maybe when you teach adults who want to learn it is easier. Having said that, I think I know what you mean when I have taken some assemblies too when we have explored stillness, or silence. This happened when I read the Christmas story to the children in a circle just before my sabbatical and we all looked at a candle and felt what it would have been like to have been there. I guess though that you can prepare but not plan for these experiences. They will happen spontaneously but your passion and enthusiasm will have been infectious though. Thanks for a thought provoking post. x

    • Thanks Manon! I agree that maybe you can’t plan for them – maybe that is why they are so special – and maybe the very act of striving towards them makes us better people, or better teachers at least. I had a not-good lesson today with a class I’ve been having trouble with so been brought back down to earth with a bump!

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