Finishing Wessex LitFest 2013: Noadswood and Romsey Schools

So, following on from my last post, here is the rest of my Wessex Schools Litfest 2013 poetry tour.

On Friday I was back on the Waterside, at Noadswood School. One of the good things about being in my second year as Hampshire Poet is revisiting places that first brought me in last year, as Noadswood did. Of course I enjoy going to new schools too, but I do like the feeling of developing relationships with enthusiastic promoters of poetry, such as Denise and Catherine, the librarians at Noadswood. I also find it’s very helpful to know what space I’m going into: I’m endlessly amazed by how much successful teaching depends on good use of the  room (or gazebo, in a couple of cases!), so it’s great to have used it once already and be able to plan for it.

In the morning there I ran two Writing Hampshire sessions, for a Year 9 class then a Year 7. They all got thoroughly stuck in, and the best poems should be appearing on the website soon. But Denise does like to go a bit beyond the standard format, so in the afternoon she’d arranged something different. Last year she had me teach a parent-and-child Learn Together session, which was great, but of course not many parents can get into school during working hours. This year she decided to go for a bigger group, and asked me to teach 32 Year 6s from Noadswood’s four feeder schools: Orchard, Waterside, Wildground, and Hythe.

I thought this session went very well. My main aim was to help the children feel confident about going to secondary school in September, so I concentrated to begin with on everyone having some fun with pupils from the other schools. When I first moved them to tables with strangers there was nervous silence, but by the end of the warm-ups they were laughing and chatting so freely it was quite a job to stop them! After that, we moved onto the poetry. I digested elements of my previous two days, at St Bedes and Hounsdown, and asked them to write about their memories of the school they are leaving, and their feelings about the school they are going to, through the lens of ‘The Apple Tree’ by David Carey. Like the pupils at Hounsdown, they quickly found some very good analogies from their own lives for changing school – going onstage for a big performance, or going away to a sailing camp with different rules, for example. They also had no trouble identifying things that they’d miss or be glad to leave from junior school, and things that they could imagine going well for them at Big School. At the end we heard some very good poems, which I hope will be celebrated at the four junior schools, as they deserve.

On Monday I went to Romsey School for the first time, and did Writing Hampshire sessions with five different classes (well, actually six, as one session combined two classes). This was another varied experience for me: although the topic was the same all day, I saw a full range of  abilities in English, from bottom to top set, so no two workshops were the same! And like my bottom-set session at Hounsdown last week, the results again confirmed that poetry is just as relevant, important, and rewarding for those in lower streams, as it is for the most obviously gifted. Although the top sets did produce the more technically proficient poems, and the best few poems of the day, overall there were more frequent sparks of originality and strong voice in the work of the lower sets. They did struggle to put those gems into a really coherent framework, but that does not take away from the fact that their ideas were original and exciting. (Ideally perhaps I’d do a follow-up session with a group like that, helping them hone their work at another time. Whether I get the chance or not I can’t say, as it’s always hard for schools to timetable just one day, let alone multiple visits).

That’s not say it was all easy or rosy; it was harder to motivate some of those bottom-set pupils to engage than it was in the other groups. But a large majority did throw themselves into it, and, just as at Hounsdown, it was in those groups that I saw the most enthusiasm and pride at what they’d done. So I was pleased with how it went, and will be keen to implement some new tricks and ideas for engaging those last few reluctant poets (mostly boys, but not all) when I teach an entire year group, 100 at a time, at Costello School in Basingstoke, later this month. I’ll let you know how it goes!