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'It's about what comes from your heart and soul': how 'amazing' project helped pupils learn to love poetry

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A project to get primary school children in Halifax writing and performing their own poetry has been declared an overwhelming success by teachers and pupils. PoetryQuest, created and run by arts education charity, Children & the Arts and supported by Halifax-born Children & the Arts donor Jonathan Moulds and the MariaMarina Foundation, has had huge success around the country in getting children with little or no experience of poetry to understand, create and perform poetry through working with local poets and arts venues.

The project has also equipped teachers with the practical skills and confidence needed to deliver PoetryQuest, and go on to teach performance poetry in class.

Since January, PoetryQuest had been working with 158 pupils aged from 8-11 in four local schools - Warley Road primary school and All Saints' junior and infant school in Halifax, St Mary's CE junior and Infant School in Sowerby Bridge and St Chad's CE primary school in Brighouse. All of the pupils had had very little or no exposure to poetry.

The schools were split into two groups with poetry workshops and performances organised and delivered by Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, as part of their community and outreach programme, working with poets Keith Hutson and Winston Plowes, both at Square Chapel and in school.

The emphasis has been on fun and inspiration with children listening and seeing Keith and Winston perform at Square Chapel, hearing for the first time The Football Supporters Alphabet, and experiencing the wonder of Winston's unique Random Poetry Generating Bicycle - the 'Spoke-n-Word'.

Keith and Winston, the teachers and children collected together ideas and chose themes that connected with what the children are already doing in school and as part of the curriculum, including the Vikings, sport and entertainment. The themes became the focus for poetry activities in four busy workshops over three months in each school, including rhyming and poetry games, rhyming-I-Spy, exploration of metaphors, similes, alliteration, consonance and assonance, and individual and group poetry writing and performing.

Keith and Winston used two types of popular poetry, kennings and found poetry, to explore the themes and to develop the children's skills in writing poetry. Each workshop included a performance in class by the children, and then rehearsals for the grand PoetryQuest finale on 24 and 25 March at Square Chapel. The finale enabled the children to publicly perform their poetry in the same way as Keith, Winston and other professional poets might do, both solo and in groups, and as a whole class recital, plus a whole 'voice orchestra', kennings and couplets, rhyming and riddles, poems about bicycles and ball games, and everything in between.

"PoetryQuest opens children's eyes to the inspirational world of performance poetry and spoken word, and by empowering children to write and perform their own poetry  it builds literacy and communication skills, and raises self-esteem and confidence," said Jeremy Newton, chief executive of Children & the Arts.

“Being part of PoetryQuest has been a fantastic experience.  We do a lot of work with schools to increase access to the arts, but we have not explored poetry before. Working in partnership with Children & Arts has enabled us to develop a relationship with two brilliant local poets and to take the wonderful world of poetry into four very different schools. The children and the teachers have really grabbed the opportunity with both hands and their creativity and enthusiasm has made the project a resounding success. We will definitely use this as a platform to develop this work further." said Michaela O'Sullivan,  education and outreach Manager, Square Chapel Centre for the Arts.   

Claire Brice, year 5 teacher, Warley Road school, Halifax, said: “We’re hooked! My class moaned when I announced that we would be writing our final poem last week; they have been absolutely enthralled by the PoetryQuest extravaganza! Every Year 5 pupil competed in our grand ‘Poetry Slam’ finale - with not a sign of hesitation, nervousness or notes. A life skill that many adults would struggle with and one that they will never forget. Our pupils were mesmerised by the props, special effects and music used by Keith and Winston last week. They have been editing their poems and practising their performance skills at home, in the classroom and in the playground in preparation for their performance at the Square Chapel. It has been a fabulous experience, thank you.”

Caroline Greenwood, Year 5 Teacher, All Saints' Junior & Infant School, Halifax, said the project had been "absolutely amazing. The children have been totally engaged from the start. Studious, enthusiastic, excited.  We hope to maintain the relationship with Square Chapel, Keith and Winston so that our children can continue to learn and enjoy poetry."

Winston Plowes said: “I wish a project like this had been around when I was at school. When a class member told me that I had made them want to be a poet when they grow up, for one of the very few times in my life I was completely lost for words. Just to walk into a classroom of smiling faces, waving hands and cheers of ‘it's our poet, Winston’, makes me realise how important a project like this is and how much poetry can change things if taught with imagination. The reception at the Square Chapel for my show was something that will stay with me for a long time."

Keith Hutson said: "I've watched the children respond to poetry, grow in performance confidence, and produce work that is not only well-crafted but funny and profound. The lessons have been a joy - one gets mobbed with poems.”

As you can imagine, the pupils had something to say about it all, too. Feedback from the pupils at Warley Road School, Halifax, included:

“Keith inspired me because I learnt that not only is poetry about rhyming sentences, but it is about what comes from your heart and your soul.” (Faith, year 5)

“Keith Hutson taught me that I could do actions and the art of performance poetry. I now feel that poetry is an exciting experience and I’m confident that I can do poetry in front of a whole stage.” (Amad, year 5)

“Keith inspired me to do poetry by showing how poetry makes the audience laugh, even when they’re feeling down. I love writing poetry because you can do anything using your imagination." (Saywan, year 5)

“Thank you for helping me to gain lots of self-confidence.” (Fareeha, year 5)

Pupils at All Saints' Junior and Infant School, Halifax, said: 

"Winston has inspired me to want to be a poet in my free time when I grow up. Poetry can help us with our writing as well as it has been really fun. I didn't used to like poetry as much as I do now because I never really knew how fun it was." (Bethany, Year 5)

"I think poems are excellent because you can say anything you want. And it can be about anything at all." (Jacob, year 5)

"I think poems are epic, this is all because of Winston. He inspired me to write poems. I hope we can learn more about poems in English. I am also going to write a poem at home." (Joshua, year 5)

"Slowly through the past few weeks I've begun to feel like an actual poet. From easy to hard Winston has helped us." (Freya, year 5)

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Julian (Admin)

Mon 30th Mar 2015 15:26

Winston, this is what it is all about. I take my hat off to you sir. Spot on. Well done! Let's see more of it. please come to my granddaughter's school and do the same.

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winston plowes

Sat 28th Mar 2015 13:58

Thanks Greg. It was such a rewarding project to be involved with. A one off visit to a school, like so many that I do can be a great experience, but when there's a chance to build things towards a show in a theatre over several months then you really get a substantial reward for everyone involved. Funding for projects like this is rare so I feel especially lucky to have been able to play my part :-)

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Greg Freeman

Sat 28th Mar 2015 13:18

I must admit, some of the quotes from pupils in this piece about what they had learned from the project brought a tear to my eye. Well done to all involved, and particularly, poets Winston Plowes and Keith Hutson.

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