Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Poetry Enrichment for Teachers

                                                  Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan School
                                                              Zuarinagar, Goa

                                                                23 June 2015

A day before San Joao feast (today) it rained ideas and inspiration at a workshop on poetry enrichment for school teachers which I mentored at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan school, a short distance away from Queenie Nagar on NH17B in Goa on a torrid Tuesday (yesterday)

The module was the brainchild of the dynamic Principal of Bhavans, Ms. Elizabeth Walsan whom I had met when we were judges at a debate competition at Kendriya Vidyalala 1, Varunapuri, Vasco last year. It is not everyday you come across a Principal who sees poetry as enrichment -- but that is what she resolutely had in mind -- and that is what (with the total participation of the teachers) it turned out to be.

As I sipped by ginger tea I was struck at the happy faces in the school, as the staff buzzed about with the logistics of the workshop. The enthusiasm was infectious and within no time the group of around 25 teachers, Mrs.Walsan included, were taking the road to poetryland.

My presentation was planned for a modest 2 hours (though I had my doubts it would be enough) between 9-11 a.m. As it turned out we were kicking poetry around till 1 p.m.! In the bargain we brought the mice on board as well singing to my accompaniment on guitar, in rounders, the traditional ditty 'Three Blind Mice'. We were inspired, as it were, by Rose Flyeman's delightful poem for Class 1 'I Think Mice are Rather Nice.'

Backed by a power-point presentation of 15 slides, which I had worked through the night till 5 a.m. of the day of the workshop, I set about unravelling poetry across the school life of a child.
My focus areas were three, viz.
Classes 1-2 (Lower Primary) - LEVEL 1
Classes 3-5 (Upper Primary) - LEVEL 2
Classes 6-8 (Middle School) - LEVEL 3

After having borrrowed a set of books the English teachers of the school were using across Classes 1-8, I supplemented it with poems from various ELT materials for the corresponding levels. Sets of these poems were photocopied by the school and made available before the session started. For good measure I also threw in a raft of poems from the Kingfisher Book of Comic Verse for children, selected by Roger McGough. As I arranged the material I chose separate coloured U-clips for each set to distinguish different groups by the colour. So I stepped into class confident of deploying group dynamics with the Blue house, the Green house, the Pink house, the White house and the Red house in attendance.

The teachers were off to a flying start and from the word go each group come up front and presented a poem in their own unique way. So they were actually practising teaching that poem in a class -- and we all became kids in the corresponding class! This enabled us to get into the shoes of a child and his/her learning experience or the absence of it. One of the groups used the cupboard in the room as a prop for Walter de la Mare's poem 'The Cupboard' for Class 2 which is so delightfully me-centric.

After we dealt with Level 1 we took a break around 10 a.m. Fortified by the breath of fresh air in the moody monsoon in Goa I then ramped up the pace by asking the teachers to become poets themselves because there were so few poems written by Indians for Indian children. I brought to their notice two of my poems written within an Indian context, viz. 'Barefoot Child' (Skyline Coursebook 4, published by Oxford University Press and on this blog elsewhere) and 'Hymn to Ravi' written on the Ravi river and about a boy by the same name in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh (Published in Friday Afternoon Comprehension Class 5 also by OUP).      

The fact is there is very little poetry to speak of in main coursebooks prescribed in school, maybe 2 poems and 11 prose units. This skewed scenario needs to be redressed, I told the teachers, by bringing in their own poems outside their 'syllabus' for learning is lifelong.

The features of each of the levels were discussed as poetry modulated from rhyme and rhythm in Level 1 through more complex sentences in Level 2 to Indian English poetry like 'Night of the Scorpion' by Nissim Ezekiel in Class 8 (which is also taught at the final year of the Bachelor of Arts course). The last level also made space to include African-American writer Lawrence Dunbar's poem 'Sympathy.' Kenn Nesbit's poem 'The Computer ate My Homework' brought in the use of humour in poetry (Class 7).

Inspired by all the action, the Hindi teachers took it upon themselves to present Harivansh Rai Bachchan's poem for Class 7 on the vehicle of the sun in Hindi. They were met with huge applause. As they spoke about a poem written in Hindi it came across as very culture friendly.

Since a number of poems emphasized the world as one family we ended singing 'We are the World' accompanied by 2 guitars -- the music teacher's and mine. It was a fitting riposte to the morning's intensity which tried to demystify poetry among teachers. A crucial factor which made it such an invigorating morning was the size of the class and the size of the classroom which was not too big and not too small. It was possible to 'be yourself' and and be swept away in the ecstasy of poetry.
Pix. The teachers having fun teaching a poem with Brian (right) looking on during the programme.

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