Catching Words with Discover

20131209_152933I’m very sad to have finished another term with three schools as part of the Catching Words project run by Discover Children’s Story Centre. This time I was working alongside a fantastic team of poets including Joseph Coelho, Adisa, Paul Lyalls and Joshua Seigal.

The project is for Year 2. In the first term each class has eight session with a poet, followed by eight with a storyteller in term two and a further eight sessions with a storywriter who helps them create a class story that is published as a book. The project has been incredibly successful, with children progressing far faster than expected. Most of the classes contain a high percentage of EAL children as well as children who struggle with literacy and it is wonderful to see them grow in confidence and ability to express themselves.

Altogether we worked in ten schools in East London as well as a similar number in Hertfordshire who got a single whole-day session rather than the full project.

My favourite session involved asking the children to draw and write about imaginary animals or monsters based on Edward Lear’s ‘The Quangle Wangle’s Hat’. The teacher said she had never seen the children so spellbound!

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Poetry for the Olympic Legacy List

TMitchell_130522_4784.163200The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is about to open – and alongside the adventure playground, flower meadow, riverscape and café you’ll find poetry from Carol Ann Duffy, Lemn Sissay, Jo Shapcott and others incised into walls, paving and benches. Among the ‘others’ are the young winners of the Children’s Legacy Poems competition.

I feel privileged to have worked with these young writers. Joseph Coelho and I spent May and June in schools in the five Olympic boroughs encouraging children to balance on crocodiles’ tails (or beams, if you must), run across swamps, hop over rocks in streams of molten lava and tiptoe past sleeping dragons in order to write adventure poems inspired by the Olympic Park. The schools submitted their entries and we chose thirteen winners, with the results published in a booklet produced by the Legacy List. Lines from the two outstanding poems will be reproduced in some form within the park.

Joining us on the judging panel was Jo Bell, Canal Laureate 2013. At the prizegiving she described poetry as holding a magnifying glass up to the world, or a holding of hands between writer and reader… ‘Poets notice things and try to say them in a way that makes others see the world differently.’

The project was organised by Discover and the Legacy List; the wonderful photographs were taken by Tim Mitchell.

Joseph, Jo and I all wrote our own Olympic Park Adventure poems, and here is mine.

Hide and seek in Tumbling Bay

One, two, three… and I was whooshing
down a blade of grass as broad as a dragon’s tail,

dodging through a forest of stalks
each as tall as the Great Scots Pine,

climbing a mesh of green laces
to the top of a swaying fern

then hooking my fingers round a frond
and dangling like an Olympic gymnast,

hand over hand, towards the trembling edge. I jumped…
and landed on a spot on the smooth red shell

of a ladybird’s wing, clinging to the rim
as we flew through the blue to the bell of a foxglove

that smelled like my grandmother’s hair.
We battled a bumblebee in a clash of antennae

then swooped away, trees and paths and river
like a map below us. I let go, dived downwards

to a trampoline of turf, rolling over and over
to escape the stomping feet of dinosaur children,

the rough pink cliff of a tongue, panting and wet.
Quick! Hide! Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred…

Catching Words with Discover

tim mitchell discover catching wordsI am really proud to be part of a team delivering Catching Words, a literacy intervention project for Year 2 pupils in East London and Hertfordshire run by the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford. The project involves a writer and storybuilder delivering eight weekly sessions a term across seven schools with the aim of improving children’s confidence and switching them on to writing. First term is poetry, for which Joe Coelho and I are sharing the schools between us. Second term is story writing with Malika Booker and Paul McVeigh, then in the third term the children write a group story which is published as a book with Vicky Martin and Zoey Cooper.

Most of the work is oral, consisting of sharing good poems and using various strategies to encourage the children to write their own. So far I have done one session in each of my three schools and the children are filling up their writing journals fast!

The photograph by Tim Mitchell is of one of Vicky Martin’s Term 3  sessions where children are encouraged to act out scenes and develop characters through shadow-puppet techniques. The training day, where Joe, Malika and Vicky shared the innovative strategies that had worked best in previous year, was awesome. It seems I am on as much of a creative learning journey as the children.