Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Poetry with year 9 - Quick post about being a bit bonkers

One of those lessons when I leave the classroom with a broad grin - at the students' responses as much as the realisation that I might have been a bit OTT... again!

We've just started looking at poems from other cultures and after a couple of introductory lessons (including listening to and discussing point of view in this wonderful extract from The Arrival of BrightEye), we looked at Island Man by Grace Nichols.

After the usual opening tasks, pics to sort out in different piles (and justify) in different ways (pictures of Jamaica vs London) and listening to their fabulous ideas, we listened to a couple of readings of the poem. The second one is this great one from the BBC Learning Zone:

1 minute in their groups to discuss everything they had to say about what they had just heard... (grouped tables in a maths room)
Then a beautiful burst of hands up which I had to painfully ignore as usual, at least at first. Everyone I asked had something to say, then I relented and asked a couple of the hands up; everything from the slow rhythm to the change in pace and atmosphere was already picked up, the tone of the writing and the mood of the man/character in the poem.

So far so good. The beauty of the poem is in its simplicity but also in the beautifully crafted images that are woven throughout which are much harder to explain - and this was of course the next challenge.

We had a quick discussion (spur of the moment) about the difference between poetry and prose and after listening to their ideas, I suggested that the beauty of a poem is that it has to condense meaning to make every word count... Not sure everyone got that... hadn't really planned it.

I asked the students to read the poem through twice in silence, pen in hand. On the second reading, they were asked to underline / highlight / flag up: 
- favourite line(s)
- Interesting lines/phrases or phrases difficult to understand straight away
- change of pace / mood / atmosphere

...and to write down questions they had about the poem and its content or language.

Cue a couple of minutes to discuss at their table what they'd found out/ highlighted/asked, then listened to some of their questions, asking them to rephrase when needed, bouncing back the questions to other pupils to clarify them.

Had I had more time (and remembered to bring some flipchart paper with me), I would have recorded them all but I wanted to discuss a few key phrases before the end of the lesson.
Boardmarker in hand, I asked pupils to tell me which phrases they'd found interesting and puzzling or difficult to understand, and proceeded to record them quickly on the board.

We picked a first one and I asked them to identify the actual word(s) that made it difficult to understand. Great discussion followed: several ambitious interpretations...

Then the lightbulb moment - what if the poet meant all these things at once? They loved that. We moved on to two more lines and they were great.

Lines we looked at included: 
"his crumpled pillow waves"
"the steady breaking and wombing" (lots of mime cradling from me as we clarified that one)
"Comes back to sands
of a grey metallic soar"

We had to leave it then as we'd all forgotten to look at the clock. I went back to my idea of "condensed meaning" and asked them to try and explain to each other, then to me, what I meant by that.

I left them with an impassioned call to "embrace the difficult phrases" (arms extended) as they are so rewarding when you unpick them a little. Then I said it again in a very earnest tone and to my delight, several heads nodded in all seriousness (particularly that really able young lady who can look a bit jaded at times...) 

I had to wait till they had all left the room to burst out laughing (and it wasn't easy to get rid of them all - some stayed behind to share more ideas about the "sands" bit from the poem). I could still hear myself urging them to "embrace the difficult phrases"... That really wasn't on the original "script" but it pays to get a bit carried away at times :)

I quite like the idea that they think I'm slightly bonkers...

Well, the essays have been written and marked... I am pleased!!!

A few nuggets:

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