Posted in Poet's Piece

Matt Goodfellow: What Poetry Offers in the Classroom

Matt is a good friend who, following one career as a primary school teacher in Manchester, England, is now a fellow full time children’s poet. He’s also a National Poetry Day Ambassador for the Forward Arts Foundation. His acclaimed debut collection, Carry Me Away, illustrated by Sue Hardy-Dawson, was released in 2016 and his most recent collections are The Same Inside (Macmillan 2018), written with me and Roger Stevens, and Chicken on the Roof  illustrated by Hanna Asen (Otter Barry 2018). He visits schools, libraries and festivals to deliver high-energy, fun-filled poetry performances and workshops. His website is here.

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Matt Goodfellow: Poetry in the Classroom

As a poet who spends much of his time working in schools to raise the profile of poetry, I’m often asked many different versions of the same sort of question: ‘What can poetry offer in my classroom whilst I’m under extreme pressure to get children to achieve ‘age related expectations?’

Well, to put it simply: freedom. And the ability to engender children who WANT to write. A space away from the pressure. Speaking as a former primary teacher who worked in a Manchester school for over 10 years (5 of them as a Y6 teacher), I’m acutely aware of the current curriculum and, in my opinion, its damaging constrictions.

The pressures put on schools by the government to get an increasing percentage of children writing at a standard dictated by them, regardless of children’s starting points, year on year, can often mean that stressed out teachers and classes write extended piece of writing after extended piece of writing desperately trying to satisfy the curriculum’s insatiable appetite  for clean, cold grammatical features that someone has decided demonstrates ‘good writing.’

Now, I’m not saying this happens in all schools, but I have seen classrooms where creativity and freedom have pretty much disappeared by Year 6. But, boy, do the kids have thick writing portfolios to show the Local Authority moderator.  It’s a difficult balancing act.

Ok, so poetry. Due to its mercurial nature, nobody is able to pin-down what poetry actually is – because it is a million and one different things and more – and for this reason, all of those government-imposed ideas of what a ‘good’ piece of writing looks like come crashing down. There is no ‘check-list’ for things a poem must contain. It can’t be forced into a box. Good news, eh?

Well, not in some schools, I’m afraid. For this very reason, lots of schools will marginalise it, knowing it won’t hold much sway in the end-of-Year 6 writing portfolios – again, I’d like to reiterate that I’m not saying all schools are like this, and nor am I assigning blame to beleaguered teachers trying to meet targets in order to move up the pay-scale. I’ve been there.

So, how can poetry provide freedom? Well, as well as being free from all of those horrible grammatical constraints, it’s actually a space where children can write about thoughts, feelings and ideas about their lives in their own words. To steal a phrase from Michael Rosen, children can ‘talk with their pen.’ They can use their playground voice, the one they can’t use in other bits of writing; the voice they talk to their mates and their families with; the voice that they think with. And they can tell the truth. Or they can lie. Or they can do a bit of both! Find a poem you like, talk about it, perform it, act it out (so much drama has disappeared from some schools) – expose them to all different kinds of poems – let them know some are funny, some are sad, some are strange, some aren’t clear, some are nonsense – just like us! Make poetry visible in class. Have poetry books around.

A great starting point for me is what I call ‘tag-line’ poems (I may have nicked that name from someone!). Start off with a phrase and then ‘tag-on’ the rest of the line – and always try to allow the class to tell the truth. Those of you working regularly in schools will know how intimidating it can be for some children to be told to ‘use your imagination’. Here are a few verses of a ‘first-go’ at a poem that a Y4 child I worked last year came up with. We’d used one of Michael Rosen’s ideas, creating ‘what if’ poems – and this child had gone out at lunchtime and innovated, creating a brand new one. Telling her truths – in her own voice:

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only I

know how nervous

I get before a test

 

only I

get to hold

hands with my

dad

 

only I

imagine being

a shooting star

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Fancy that, not a fronted adverbial in sight!

 

Matt Goodfellow

 

Posted in Poetry Awards

North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards Shortlist for Poetry Announced

This award is voted for by teachers who use poetry in the classrooms, so it is thrilling to even be nominated.

Here are this years shortlisted books in the poetry category:

#NSTBAs team go all out; the longlist reviews all the books (poetry and fiction and non-fiction) in wonderful detail, and the shortlisted books are all pictured with fabulously cute dogs, making the whole process very, very special.

The organisation involved in getting Lady and Mungo dressed in the correctly coloured bows to set off each book alone must be epic!

Here’s each book in detail:

I’m thrilled to be involved in this shortlisting with lovely Sue Hardy-Dawson and Roger Stevens. The work involved in writing and shaping all these poems into the animals they are about took months and months of back-breaking work, and it’s wonderful to have it recognised! This book was published by Bloomsbury, who have made a beautiful hardback book on quality paper with two colour printing to properly show off the loveliness inside! Artwork by Lorna Scobie.

Matt Goodfellow‘s first entry on the shortlist is his wonderful single voice book, Chicken on the Roof. Matt has a sensitive and lyrical way with words, and Otter-Barry, the publisher, always do a fine job with quality paper and excellent illustrations, in this case by Hannah Asen.

Zaro Weil’s fabulous Firecrackers is an amazing bumper book of poems, wordplay and stories with gorgeous illustrations by Jo Riddell. It is published by Troika in association with ZaZa Books in an eye-catchingly large format hardback.

And lastly – I’m over the moon to be shortlisted again for this award with The Same Inside, with Matt Goodfellow and Roger Stevens, both also shortlisted twice. The Same Inside is a book of poems all about empathy, tolerance, kindness, and love; there are poems in here to spark conversations and opinions about many sensitive subjects that are or could be worrying our young people today. It was hard to write! But a subject dear to our hearts. The publisher is the long-time stalwart of children’s poetry, Macmillan, with a wonderful cover by Debbie Powell.

The winner is announced on November 10th at the award ceremony.

Posted in A to Z Blog Challenge 2018

G is for Children’s Poet Matt Goodfellow, #AtoZChallenge #ZtoA

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Matt Goodfellow

Matt Goodfellow is a poet and primary school teacher from Manchester, England. He is a National Poetry Day Ambassador for the Forward Arts Foundation. His acclaimed debut collection, Carry Me Away, illustrated by Sue Hardy-Dawson, was released in 2016 and his most recent collections are The Same Inside (Macmillan 2018), written with Liz Brownlee and Roger Stevens, and Chicken on the Roof  illustrated by Hanna Asen (Otter Barry 2018). He still spends two days a week working as a primary school teacher; on the other days he visits schools, libraries and festivals to deliver high-energy, fun-filled poetry performances and workshops. Matt says he wasn’t supposed to be a poet, he was supposed to be a rock star – but he was awful at music! His website is here.

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Here is one of Matt’s gorgeous poems:

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Gone

 

She left last week for another school

somewhere out near Hartlepool.

I didn’t cry, I played it cool –

now I wish I hadn’t.

 

Deleted photos, mobile number,

left her standing there to wonder

why I slipped her arm and shunned her –

now I wish I hadn’t.

 

They made her cards and sang along.

I wouldn’t, couldn’t sing along.

Swallowed words, held my tongue –

how I wish I hadn’t.

 

© Matt Goodfellow (from Chicken on the Roof – Otter Barry Books)

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