by Gemma Gibson
In November 2017, I was fortunate to become a project teacher for the Barnsley Power of Reading Group. As a Literacy Coordinator, I was looking for ways to develop a whole school approach to the teaching of reading and writing. The Power of Reading’s emphasis on helping schools put quality texts at the heart of literacy teaching was exactly suited to do this.
Yet, despite my keen interest in all areas of literacy, poetry, in particular, had always been the area I had found most difficult to teach. How could I engage children and develop exciting lessons? How could I foster a love of poetry within the classroom? These questions were at the forefront of my worries whenever I was teaching it.
Discovering the CLPE’s free Poetryline website at a Power of Reading conference day, however, changed that for me, and it was through PoetryLine that I came across CLiPPA and its School Shadowing Scheme. CLiPPA is the only award celebrating the remarkable work of poets who have published poems for children in the UK. Every year there is an award ceremony that recognises the work of these poets, as well as providing a platform to showcase the ways in which schools are teaching them. The Shadowing Scheme encourages children to read, write and perform poetry written by CLiPPA shortlisted poets using teaching sequences freely available on PoetryLine. Teachers are then invited to send in class’ performance videos from which 5 overall winners are chosen by the CLPE to perform at the CLiPPA award ceremony at the National Theatre in the summer.
This was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. Returning to my classroom, I announced: ‘I have some exciting news to share with you Class 2.’ The children responded with lots of enthusiasm. ‘Performance’ was a key word, I think, for such excitement as well as their awareness that they could be travelling to London to perform on a very famous stage!
The poetry anthology we selected was entitled Where Zebras Go by Sue Hardy-Dawson. I started to study the teaching sequence available for this anthology and was fortunate to be sent six free copies of the book from the CLPE to ensure children had easy access to the texts.
When my class were asked ‘What has been your favourite poem from the collection so far?’ the poem Old Foxy, was a very common response. So, the poem was chosen and the dramatising and performance sessions began.
As a teacher who uses Twitter, the children’s work was also tweeted and it was a lovely surprise to see that Sue Hardy-Dawson had sent the class a message! All of this contributed to creating a buzz and excitement around poetry which continued well after the final performances had been recorded and sent… I had very eager children asking me every morning if I had heard if they had been selected as one of the winners.
I will never forget my delight as I opened an email at about 4:00pm on a Friday which informed me that my class had, indeed, been chosen as one of five winning schools. We were invited to the National Theatre to perform on the stage alongside the shortlisted poets. As it was Friday, I had to wait all weekend to tell my class but I will always remember their faces when I surprised them with the news during our Monday morning worship.
On the 22nd June at 5:30am, 21 children, two members of staff and approximately 20 parents travelled the 5 hour bus journey from Nottinghamshire to London, with the cost of the bus partly funded by the Siobhan Dowd Trust (charity partners in supporting CLiPPA 2018).
Our day at the National Theatre was unforgettable: the children taking part in technical rehearsals; experiencing a performance workshop with an actress; the moment they performed wonderfully in front of an audience of over one thousand people - my Head teacher and I were beyond proud. A once in a life time opportunity for those 21 children who can now say they have performed at the National Theatre.
This experience has transformed not only my teaching of poetry but how the children in my class relate to it. I am confident that should anyone ask my class if they enjoy poetry their answer would be yes. The significance of deep exploration and the performance of poetry which CLiPPA highly promotes enabled my class to connect with the poems they studied, to understand the emotion in the poetry, and allowed them to take themselves to that destination - become that character (or in our winning performance’s case become ‘Old Foxy’).
I would recommend the CLiPPA shadowing scheme competition to any teacher - this and the CLPE’s Poetryline website has acted as invaluable CPD. Other colleagues have now adopted these approaches in their own teaching of poetry within their classrooms, and use teaching sequences from the Poetryline website. Through CLiPPA, we have created a poetry-friendly school and raised the profile of poetry where children now listen to poems, become poem detectives and then find ways to express all they have learnt through performing.