Michael Rosen
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Some thoughts from workshops this month

1. We shouldn’t be talking about ‘Literacy’ as if there is just one ‘literacy’ and it’s our job to teach this single thing. In fact, everyone has a literacy. From the moment each one of us is born, we are bombarded with literacy – to start off with it’s present in the things that people are saying and singing to us, quoting things that have been written – even if it’s a lullaby. So, really we should be talking about ‘Literacies’.

I think that when we teach ‘Literacy’, then, one of our jobs is not just to ‘teach’ it in the orthodox sense, but to release the children’s literacies. Let’s find out what they are literate in and find ways of getting it out, sharing it, publishing it, filming it or whatever.

2. The government only records children’s and schools results in ‘Reading and Writing’. This pressures schools and children to focus on these two aspects of language. In fact, language is about speaking, listening, reading and writing and for the best outcome, we need to spend time nurturing and encouraging all four. If we focus on just one or two aspects, things start to go wrong and we produce impoverished reduced versions of what children are in fact capable of. I can see that in years 5 and 6 in particular, children are getting starved of speaking and listening.

It would be much more productive to think of these four processes as linked and that there is or should be a constant flow between all four of them. The biggest obstacle for children in relation to writing is making the leap from the oral to the written. We should be looking constantly for bridges. The most potent, accessible and user-friendly bridge is poetry.

3. Poetry can express what we say, it can express our ‘inner speech’ – the conversations and monologues that go on inside us.

Poetry doesn’t have to come to neat conclusions – it can suggest, it can end on questions.

Poetry is a great ‘scavenger’ of language, it can go anywhere, grab anything, imitate anything, parody anything, adapt and change anything. It vacuums up speech, writing and performance from anywhere and everywhere. This gives power to children, because instead of seeing language as fixed, received and rule bound, they can see it as something that they can own, it’s malleable, they can play with it, and they can establish their own rules for what they’re writing or performing.

Poetry is a great carrier of culture. If we think of culture as the ‘how’ of our lives – how we speak, how we cook, how we dress, how we make families and so on, poetry is a great way to record and witness these things. This means that in schools if we do poetry, it gives children a chance to have their culture noticed, appreciated and validated. This makes it a great weapon in the battle against what I call the ‘I’m not good enough’ syndrome.

Poetry is a way of putting things about yourself in front of you, as a form of display. It enables you to free your thoughts and emotions from the endless, unresolved cycle in your head. It gives you some distance from yourself, when you look at what you’ve written, sitting on the page in front of you.

4. If school is about investigating, discovering, inventing and co-operating (something that I believe), then poetry is a great medium for these. However, this means that the reading of poems needs to be open-ended, full of questions that come from everybody, not just the teacher.

Questions like:

does this poem remind you of anything that’s ever happened to you or someone you know? How come? ;

does this poem remind you of anything you’ve ever read before, or movie or TV programme you’ve seen before? How come?

If you could ask someone in the poem a question, what question? If you could ask some thing or object in the poem a question, what question?

If you could ask the author or publisher of the poem a question, what question?
Can we answer these questions?

If we think of the sounds, words, phrases, images, meanings of the poem stuck together with ‘secret strings’, what secret strings can you find that link sounds, words, phrases, images and meanings in the poem? What patterns can you find?





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