Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Poet James Nash at St Chad's Primary School

Sarah Andrews writes:

“I was answers but now I  am questions”

Gina Marsland, year 6 class teacher from St Chad's, James Nash,
Jess Clynes, transition teacher from Abbey Grange,
Rachel Harkess, LitFest volunteer for classroom support
'Skellig' is a prize-winning nationally acclaimed book for pupils of around the age of the final year at St Chad's primary academy in Weetwood.   What makes it a unique book is that the main character, Skellig, is never fully explained. He could be anything from a sick angel to an ancient bird species.  Author David Almondchooses not to tell us exactly who or what Skellig is, leaving it open to the reader's interpretation.  And what interpretations we got!

Gina Marsland's year 6 class proved they too loved the themes, some quite dark, and used their reading to inspire some very thoughtful and original poetry of their own.  The title line comes from the creative work of just one of the 30 pupils in the class.  Others wrote very earnestly and perceptively, delivering their lines with the aplomb of seasoned performers.  Which they weren't, at least not before this poetry workshops project began.   The opportunity to perform in front of a large 250-strong audience – with peers, other teachers and parents - can be daunting.  This group stepped up to the front with a calmness that belied the shaking paper and the slight tremor in the voice.  Eye contact.  Tick.  Clear delivery.  Tick.  Apparent self-confidence.  Tick.

As their class teacher said, “They see poetry differently now, and it has helped them to develop such self-confidence in their own writing and in their willingness to share ideas about some potentially disturbing material, as well as perform to an audience.  Fabulous to have such a lovely focus on creativity after the rigours of SATS”

It was also a great draw for the lucky six students from the first year of fellow academy trust secondary school Abbey Grange.  They were chosen to work with the St Chad's group not just because they were former pupils so would feel comfortable working in their 'old' school, but particularly because it was an enrichment opportunity to extend their creative writing too.  Supervised by transition teacher Jess Clynes, she said that “They worked brilliantly with their slightly younger peers and made superb role models.   We would love to offer the opportunity to more of our youngsters, and host some sessions at Abbey Grange.“

These six Abbey Grange youngsters will also be able to provide some supportive mentoring for when the primary students make the big leap up to secondary school in September.  Yet another great spin-off from this project, funded by the St Chad's Foundation.

James Nash, a local published author/writer/poet, was commissioned by Headingley LitFest to lead these poetry workshops and his years of teaching experience and coaching showed from the focussed rehearsal to the calm demeanour of the young poets in delivering their lines.  As James said, “They have upped their game, working so well with each other and with students from 'the big school'. The camaraderie was obvious.” 

We are also grateful to the classroom support given the project by LitFest volunteer Rachel Harkess, who warned us privately beforehand that we might need tissues because some of the writing was so powerful.   It was; we waved our metaphorical hankies at the end as the applause rolled on.

Excerpts from the poetry include:

All I want is my halo again

Wings the colour of all creatures

My dream vanished with me

All I can feel is shattered glass under my pale skin

My sense of pride slammed the door behind itself

Darkness crawling inside my head

The darkness grows every day

I was born for heaven, now I’m halfway to hell

Dry flaky skin

Teach me to die, teach me to go

The cobwebs climb higher

I was answers but now I am questions.

Audience comments:

I thought James Nash had done excellent work with year 6 and year 7 – the respect which the pupils showed to the subject matter - writing and reading poetry of a difficult subject with great integrity.  A really worthwhile project.  Parent

Fantastic opportunity to gain a real understanding about the craft of poetry – lovely to hear the poems being read.  Parent

Great to be involved and invited.  Amazing poems and performance – very mature and good for the primary and secondary school children to work together.  Parent

Creative poems and well read.  James Nash introduced the event and encouraged the students.  Very enjoyable. Parent

Very interesting to see what the children have been working on.  Nice to see two schools working together.  Parent

This event was really good.  The children performed very well, and they worked well as a group.  I enjoyed the performance so much I would liked to have heard them again.  Well done year 6 and year 7.  Parent

Great event.  The creative juices were certainly flowing.  Very inspirational.  Great for the children to have the chance to take part I n this event.  They really enjoyed it.  Parent

Mature and sophisticated poems.  I did wonder if it might be good to look at a more positive subject for the poems as the 'model' work and subsequent student material.  Parent

Very impressed.  I think expression through poetry is a beautiful thing.  I thought the children delivered their poetry very well.  Parent

Very interesting and read very well.  Parent

And perhaps the final words should go to members of the year 6 class:
“I have learned that you don't need to just write a poem – you can draft and improve it thirty times!”

It's good t share your work with other children in the school “Because they can magpie and want to do what we're doing.”

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