When my Head of Department said that we could do "whatever we like" with the Year 8 poetry unit this half term, you could see the glee plastered across my fellow English teacher's faces; mine included! One of my big literary interests is John Keats and so I decided to focus on romanticism with my Year 8 class. We began by looking at Daffodils by William Wordsworth and then Ode to Autumn by Keats and the class told me that they were enjoying it. Then, one boy, one little darling... told me he wasn't "connecting" with the poems. So, I felt that this was a challenge and so, I went dark and decided to look at William Blake.
We started off doing a bit of research about Blake and his poetry to whet their appetite. Then we looked at his paintings and I create a mini 'gallery' in my classroom, encouraging the kids to wander round and consider each one and think about how they make them feel etc. Which, obviously, they loved because they got to pretend to be all hoity-toity art critics and say things like: "This one makes me feel uncomfortable" and "This one is beautifully done..." Which, let's face it, is what most of us do when wandering around art galleries whilst the man with dodgy facial hair and a poncey hat stands next to us, adjusting his hipster glasses.
The next lesson, we mind-mapped words to describe Blake's poetry and paintings. They were brilliant at this and it told me that they had really 'got' what I wanted them to know about Blake. They were coming out with words like 'supernatural', 'creepy', 'peculiar' and 'dark.' Perfect. So, I felt they were ready for the next bit: I sent them out around the school in groups, to take photos of scenes around the school which they felt were Blake-esque. I was a bit worried yesterday morning when I got drenched walking into work but then I decided that the gloomy weather suited the task AND Blake suffered for his art, so they should too. They produced some brilliant photos actually - I might get them to email me them so that I can use them in a display. There were pictures of spooky trees, piles of leaves, shadowy lampposts amongst tree branches - they did good!
Today, the kids used these photos to write their own Blake-inspired descriptions. I'm yet to read them all but I was read a few lines and it all sounds very promising. One line involved personifying the tree as 'cancerous' because it was losing its leaves and life. From a middle range Year 8, this makes me wonder what else they've come up with!! In Monday's lesson, the kids will be going back to these sites around the school to film themselves reading their descriptions in the style of Blake. We'll have a screening in the following lesson, I think.
I'm seriously excited about this project actually and the kids seem really into it too. Poetry is always such a tricky subject to teach because it's generally dismissed by kids as being boring and difficult. They struggle to understand what the poet means because of all the metaphors and complicated imagery. A couple of weeks ago, I was teaching this class why romanticism has nothing to do with romance and now they're having a really good stab at walking in Blake's shoes. I'm properly impressed with them and I cannot wait to see these videos!!