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Online Poetry Workshop

The Workshop

Wow! We held a great Poetry Workshop on Monday 11th May. What fabulous participants and brilliant contributions. The idea was to give teachers a taster of what we at Bloom do as well as putting forward some new ideas for teaching poetry writing, taking inspiration from nature. The plan was for all of us to join in and experience something of what a student might experience in a lesson of this type.

It was thanks to people’s willingness to join in, their openness and enthusiasm that it worked so well. Every activity got great responses in the chatbox. Amy Druce, our senior course developer, designer and teacher of this Poetry Workshop created a brilliant programme. The theme was water. We kicked off with everyone writing down their favourite type of water. There were some lovely examples such as ‘light rains on a sunny day’; ‘waterfall’; ‘birdbath’; ‘a chalk stream full of trout’; ‘wild swimming’ and many more. This was a great ice-breaker, sorry about the pun, because it was something all could do and relate to their own experience. ‘I most enjoyed thinking of what forms of water there are,’ wrote one respondent of our survey. One of the aims of the workshop was to give teachers and others, something they could replicate with their classes either online during lockdown or when back at school. So this first, brief activity engaged everyone straight away.

A quiet moment and connection task

Typically in a Bloom lesson, teacher and students together enjoy a quiet moment so we did this coupled with the ‘connection task’ when everyone took a glass of water and, as if for the first time, looked, smelt, tasted and felt it in the mouth and body as we swallowed it. Here are some of the words people came up with: refreshing, life-giving, invigorating, sweet, delicate, silky, wavering, liquid diamond, reassuring, cool, healthy.

When the Water is Gone

I think the highlight of the workshop was watching the poet Rudi Francisco read his wonderful poem, When the Water is Gone. We had been sent the poem ahead of the event so most people had already read it but that did not lessen the impact that the poet himself had on us all. On chatbox we said what we liked about the poem - sometimes called the ‘I like’ activity, which is great for the classroom. One participant ‘liked the growling clouds, wonderful sound effects. I love it.’ Add paragraph text here.

Bloom's Harmony Poster

One of the aims of the Workshop was to capture the style of the Bloom courses, so Amy showed the Harmony Poster with the central ideas that our courses are built around. Students doing a Bloom course at school will have had lots of time to study each component but here, workshop participants were presented with the whole thing at once. It describes seven key concepts or principles, drawn from the natural world, that is: interdependence, diversity, health, oneness, cycles, geometry and adaptation. Having read about these principles, we were asked to revisit the poem, When the Water Has Gone, and choose one that we felt connected most powerfully to the poem. Here’s a couple of examples from the chatbox responses: ‘I chose Oneness as the principle because water gives us life and refreshes us both inside and through our other senses’; someone else chose Health: ‘children playing, happily outside with friends- example of healthiness in nature’.Add paragraph text here.

 

To get her classes to take this enquiry further Amy designed a set of seven cards, one for each of the seven Bloom principles. On one side are generic questions about the Bloom principle and on the other, a list of practical values such as gratitude, integrity etc. We had to apply one question from the card on Health to the poem and decide which values were relevant. It was hats off to the teachers once again as they fired off a stream of insightful responses.

Writing Down the Bones

Crucial to the process of writing poetry is confidence. Another stroke of marvellous pedagogy was Amy’s decision to read an extract from Writing Down the Bones, which, with the skill and insight of the author Natalie Goldberg, gave participants the confidence and guidance for writing (and would do the same for the students). Goldberg speaks of connecting with the immediacy of experience and with the words that come to mind to describe that experience; this resonated with the idea of connecting that ran through the whole of the workshop.

She writes, ‘Poems are taught as though the poet has put a secret key in his words and it is the reader’s job to find it. Poems are not mystery novels. Instead we should go closer and closer to the work. Learn to recall images and lines precisely as the writer said them. Don’t step away from their warmth and fire to talk “about” them. Stay close to them. That’s how you’ll learn to write. Stay with the original work. Stay with your original mind and write from it.’

Writing a poem in 10 minutes!

There was no getting away from it, at last the time had come for us to write a poem in a mere 10 minutes, either by shaping our ‘automatic write’ or creating something new. The challenge was to use something from the ‘I like’ discussion, but we were also reminded that we could return to the word bank we generated earlier. Those who wanted to, shared their poems and others gave comments and feedback via the chatbox. As a scientist, struggling not to be literal and prosaic the poetry that flowed from others’ pens seemed like a complete miracle but, by following Amy’s guidance even I produced something… so the lesson worked!

The teachers' responses

It seems to me that a lot of English teachers are born poets because the quality of writing that emerged was stunning. Lucky students having teachers of this calibre, is all I can say.

But perhaps most striking alongside the talent, was the generosity and responsiveness of all who attended. It was so good to hear from the follow-up survey for example that, ‘Jane and Amy made us feel super comfortable about writing whatever we could!’ ‘I enjoyed how welcoming the group felt and that all ideas were valued.’

And here are a few more of the lovely comments people made:

  • I am not very familiar with what Bloom already offers (but I will be looking) and I found the one hour training very effective--replicating the classroom experience--as opposed to the full day training courses (which can also be very beneficial but sometimes inundated with ideas). I would love to have a training course on teaching comparison skills to our students and if it could be done as creatively as the poetry training, that would be fantastic!
  • More of them please!!
  • More frequently please!
  • The Bloom flower with its list of questions and values! The interesting ways which helped us to generate ideas, from thinking about our favourite kind of water, to discussing the poem When the water is Gone.
  • I was curious to know how the online workshop would run and I hoped that I would be inspired with ideas to take back to my students and colleagues (and I was!).
  • I was inspired with creative ideas to take back to my students.
  • It got my creative juices going.

We are so glad that the workshop gave teachers new ideas but also that it was so enjoyable. We all want learning to touch our students minds and hearts so it’s great when we get chance to experience that too.

Our next Workshop........

Our next free online workshop, A Novel Approach, will be run by English teacher Julia Gillick in conjunction with Bloom Educational Courses CIC Ltd. on Monday June 1st at 5.00pm-6.00pm. The link to the invitation is:

This workshop aims to explore how novels can be looked at anew through the lens of nature. Taking inspiration from an extract of a novel, participants will be encouraged to engage with the writing holistically, drawing connections which inject vitality and creativity into the study of literature. Inspiring and stimulating just for you or to share with your students.

Come for ideas to implement with your own students, or for your own creative nourishment. While the workshop is designed with English teachers in mind, anyone is welcome.

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