POETRY_WORKBOOK


NOTES IN REPLY TO QUESTIONS FROM PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHERS

.1. The reading and writing of poetry is valuable because:
a) it stimulates imagination, abstract reasoning, and the appreciation and development of language; it is a means for the improvement of precision, balance and style in writing.
b) since it begins with the simplicity of nursery rhymes and the fun of nonsense and goes on to explain experience and examine the world, because it accepts the validity of dream and imagination, and because it is music and sound as well as thought and writing, it is accessible to and accepted by children of all ages. Even before reading, children can acquire a rich vocabulary and stimulating concepts through poems and songs.

.2. Don't worry about age. Since language is spoken and writing is its memory, infants can certainly be involved in the creation of poems. Such games as rewriting nursery rhymes, building word pictures or making a class poem through question and answer, work well.

.3. Oral work is important - both discussion and reading. The discussion because talking, especially if focused by judicious questions, helps to develop ideas and builds confidence in the validity of writing what is said or thought aloud, and of writing it in the speaker/thinker's own voice.
Reading aloud will provide models of rhythm and style - the more varied the better - giving them more flexibility in the ways they choose to write.
Also, reading aloud or being read to is the only way of properly appreciating the musical qualities of writing, of making it alive. For this reason, if children are encouraged to read aloud with proper attention to rhythm, pace and clarity, it will help them to hear the effects they are creating with their own words.

.4. When you're presenting poems, I suggest that you first make sure you can read them well; clearly and with proper pace, timing and inflexion.
Children commonly rush their reading: you should err on the side of slowness. I try to choose poems which require little explanation outside themselves and that are generally going to suit the listeners' age and comprehension, but if reading several I like one poem to stretch them.
Before reading I'll usually say a few words of general introduction: state the subject, theme or underlying idea, explain any obvious difficulties, preferably through question and answer, and then simply read the poem.
Obviously every poem can be the basis for a discussion, but the poem itself has to be effective and capture its audience while being read, since if it is not enjoyed or wondered at no amount of talk or discussion will make it more vibrant.

.5. It may seem a bit obvious, but the writing will be childrens', not adults', and to assess their efforts in relation to published adult work is invidious.
They are acquiring a huge job lot of basic skills and the emphasis is better placed on what is achieved, rather than by how far it falls short.
Equally, there is no point in praising any old rubbish. As in any other subject you want them to understand which bits are better and why, to help them to develop a personally useful way of making as good a poem as they can.
Although there are some aspects of the craft of poetry which can be formally assessed - for example the ability to maintain a rhythm or rhyme pattern - most aspects can only be assessed in terms of the individual child's development and marking is inappropriate. On the other hand, comment and discussion are highly important.

.6. I always encourage drafting and revision: most of the Project's games deliberately involve making a rough draft that is then rewritten before display.
It is good practice at working, as well as the working practice of writers, to ignore neatness and spelling and simply concentrate entirely on the ideas and words when making a first draft, and to then use patience, craft, dictionary, to mould the raw poem.

I do encourage children to revise their work, at all stages, since the process of creating a poem involves continual rethinking - talking with them so that they understand possibilities and can make choices, so they are aware of what is awkward, badly turned or weak and can try to improve it themselves.
I try to avoid correcting spelling until the poem is fully/substantially drafted and will correct grammar only if it affects the sense or sound of the poem.
This is not to say that these aspects of writing skills are unimportant, but simply that I feel it is inappropriate to ask children to concentrate fully on thinking about the creative aspect of writing and then lumber their brains with technicalities that can be sorted out after the poem has evolved.

.7. If their work seems too much like prose, first examine what they've written -
it may in fact be a prose- poem, where a little editing and marshalling to match the pattern and flow of idea/image development will suffice;
it may be a poem that simply needs to be set out with line breaks to enhance its rhythm and flow, and discussion of the breaks often leads to re-arrangement or improvement of weaknesses revealed;
or it may actually be prose.
Which is only to say - for some reason or another the child has not yet grasped or has not used the poetic form. But something has been written, and turning it, or part of it, into a poem, is just an extreme form of the process of draft and revision.
You can start by taking out all the unnecessary words and tightening sentences. Then try to find some key phrase(s) in the text, perhaps a single idea or interesting image, and help the child to reorganise or rebuild the work around that.
For many children, these proses result from too much story/essay writing praised for length rather than content and they are drawing their canvases too widely.
If you show them that it can be better for a poem to be about one thing examined closely they will be pleasantly surprised.
Try, in any case, to get them to write in "poem-length" lines to encourage them to become aware of the natural rhythms of their writing and of the reasons for the line's length.



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Windows Workshops Dave Calder, The Windows Project ,1997,1998,1999,2009