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Inviting a poet to visit your school

Michael Rosen in the classroom working with a pupil

Rhymery Primary

Poet Andy Croft tells us about what bringing a poet into the classroom can do

I’ve worked in hundreds of schools – with infants, juniors and secondary kids, in mainstream and special schools, in pupil referral units and EBD schools. I have also worked with children in lots of non-school settings – including youth-clubs, museums and libraries, St Alban’s Cathedral, Anfield, the Riverside Stadium and St James’s Park.

During this time I have had the pleasure of working with teachers, musicians, artists, dancers, photographers - and thousands of amazing kids. We have written thousands of poems, on every conceivable subject - the North Sea, the 2006 World Cup, local history, racism in football, the Great North Run, Anglo-Saxon life, Kenya, Third World debt, drugs, sport, the First World War, volcanoes, minotaurs, pollution, the Suffragettes, Brian Clough, Russian folk-tales…

We have made painted poems on walls, set poems to music, animated poems, set fire to poems, planted poems in the ground, hung poems on trees, sailed poems on lakes, flushed poems down toilets and written poems on cakes (and then eaten them).

Sometimes we were able to work together for only half a day, sometimes for several days, occasionally we worked together over several weeks. But I hope that all these projects shared several features:

  • An end production – a performance, a little book, a poster, a cd, a dvd etc. Nothing legitimises the world of writing more than reading/hearing/seeing our own words in a new dimension. It is not possible to overstate the value of a publication on pupils who may not have any books at home.
  • The process – a noisy, friendly, enjoyable, musical space in which everyone feels able to be involved. Repetitious, rhythmical, whole-class improvisations.

One of my favourite projects was in an EBD school. We spent a week writing poems about the environment, taking care not to leave any poetic footprints. For example, we wrote some poems about litter, then put them in the bin. We wrote some poems about the water-cycle - then flushed them down the toilet. We wrote a little poem about feeding birds in winter – then wrote it out on the playground in bird-seed. The next morning the poem had been eaten! Everyone enjoyed working on this project, and I think that we all thought a bit more about our impact on the environment. (And of course we kept copies of the poems.)

The benefits of bringing poets into the classroom are incalculable. Pupils can realise that they are able to write about their own lives in their own words. Working with a writer can help teachers to feel more confident about using poetry in the classroom. They can pick up lots of tricks and collect lots of ideas. And they can soon understand that you don’t need to be a published poet in order to encourage children to enjoy reading and writing poetry. Everyone can enjoy themselves. And the world of writing, poetry and books can seem not quite so far away.

- Andy Croft


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