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Poetry and Teaching

Our blogger Miranda recently came second in a poetry competition. Firstly, we want to say congratulations! Secondly, she has written a blog for us about poetry and the new curriculum. 

Poetry and the teaching of poetry is becoming a bigger deal in 2014, sending teachers plummeting into the ‘treasure trove’ of English literature, in search of poems to inspire their children to  heights of recitation that would put Jane Austin’s young ladies to shame. Many people find poetry a frightening world. They feel safer on the firmer shores of prose with its clear narrative and characters in the driving seat - poetry feel like  having some drunkard babbling in the back and taking swipes at the steering wheel.

More poetically, a friend of mine who is a poet describes the writing of novels as turning the landing light on, compared with poetry-writing’s fumbling through the dark, lighting up corners and cracks with the intensity of a torch beam. It’s less universal but it’s deeper and more powerful. Every word matters, every grammar choice makes a difference. 

Poetic language can be complicated and elaborately embroidered. The meaning is not always apparent until you have got beneath the stitches and unpicked it. This makes the process of reading, writing and poetry comprehension, time consuming. Re-reading to pin down (essentially to re-draft) your understanding is important. And this is the beauty of teaching poetry. Poetry shows children to slow down, to take it line by line, to get back to basics and consider the function and differences between commas and semi colons, to draft and redraft to improve writing, then to redraft again, as better ideas come along to reshape the whole. Redrafting efforts are far less arduous too with a poem because there is less of it.

And the process of re-writing is one that offers skills that can be transferred across the Primary Literacy Curriculum. An ability to analyse text-level meaning and tease out the nuances of language, which have an effect on meaning, are important for understanding report-writing, advertising bias, persuasive writing, tone, mood and character and plot development. 

On another note, I find supply teaching enabling for my own inspiration as a poet. This kind of work gives me extra time to put into my own writing. There are gaps in the day, there are gaps in the week. There are moments when (if you’re lucky) a young man comes bouncing in to take PE and you are back in the staff room twiddling your thumbs. I write in some of these gaps and mark in the rest.

One of my poems, which I wrote in various staff rooms in the weeks leading to the summer hols, has just come second in the Myslexia Poetry Competition. ‘Miniature Gardens’ is inspired by a childhood experience of school but written from the teacher’s point of view. 

You can find my prize-winning entry here -

Miranda is a primary teacher who has worked with Protocol Education and is a regular blogger for us.

Tags: Miranda, Manchester, NQT, supply

Category: Australian Teachers

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