By Maureen McTaggart
Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin. Poet Michael Rosen, the London Grid for Learning and the Booktrust have joined forces to create a website where young people can upload videos of their poetry recitals and check out the performances put on by their peers.
“The best learning,” says Michael Rosen, “takes place when you create an atmosphere of curiosity and excitement. Poetry has never been written with the intention of making young people irritated, bored, anxious or humiliated and it can’t purely exist on the page.” Perform-a-Poem, therefore, is intended to be a way to handle poems so that a whole class will be curious and excited enough to want to read, write, perform and think about them.
Through specially created activities, children are encouraged to write their own poetry to perform and video. But in case inspiration fails, a number of UK writers have given permission for some of their poems to be used as part of the project. Supporters include Michael Rosen (of course), Francesca Beard, Roger McGough and John Hegley.
The website consolidates Michael Rosen’s two years (2007-2009) as children’s laureate and in part complements his Poetry Friendly Classroom website that uses video, activity sheets and other resources to help teachers make their classrooms poetry-friendly. It also builds on the success of the LGfL’s recent national poetry day that had hundreds of schools from the UK, Europe and America performing poetry via a live video conferencing competition event.
According to Michael Rosen, “Children live in a much more oral world and the point about poetry is that is comes alive when you perform it. You’ve got to lift it and make it work so that people share it collectively as well. So really Perform-a-Poem is trying to connect the oral world of the child with poems on the page.”
With the technology, contacts, readymade audience and ability to turn the vision into a reality, the website is hosted by LGfL but developed by the Booktrust. However, complex projects like Perform-a-Poem can’t be done on the cheap – as Michael Rosen says he has discovered – so the project is starting off with its focus mainly on primary schools. And to be sure that content is moderated so that only quality and appropriate performances are uploaded, only London teachers can upload the video files.
“Any London school can use the site, but we decided to kick off the pilot by targeting it towards primary teachers, as it's difficult to create a site with a look and feel which appeals to both primary and secondary age range pupils simultaneously,” says Nickki Marsh the Booktrust’s head of education. “We also thought it would fit in well with the emphasis on creativity in the new primary curriculum. However, funding allowing, we would like to develop it for secondary pupils too.”
Bigger and better online poetry performances
Limitations aside, Bob Usher, content manager for London Grid for Learning says they plan to promote the site to primary and secondary schools. He says, “We hope it will inspire and motivate children and teachers to become more involved in writing poetry and listening to the work of others. As LGfL host the technology we see no reason for the resource not to be used for many years to come and anticipate the collection of online poetry performances will just keep getting bigger and bigger,” says Bob Usher.
Both Bob Usher and Nikki Marsh are sure the site will help to demystify poetry in the classroom and make it more exciting for both teachers and pupils. There are lots of ideas in the pipeline to add new features to the site and the Bookrust and LGfL are keen to hear from other learning grids around the country about developing their own versions of it.
“We hope that pupils will enjoy the process of writing and performing poems for a real audience of their peers across the capital, and that they will also be keen to browse each others' poems. Watching the video of Michael with pupils at Tidemill School you can see straight away how easy it is for children to have a wonderful time writing poems without even realising they are doing it. We know that teachers are lacking in confidence about the teaching of poetry and this site should help to do something about that,” says Nikki Marsh.