Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Art in the English Classroom - Poetry and Painting

I had a lovely A-Level class a couple of years back who were actually a little scared of poetry.(You know who you are!). So I got thinking... How could I take the fear out of approaching poetry and make them look at it from a different perspective? Then in a light bulb moment I thought of an idea, a crazy idea. I mulled it over that evening and came to the conclusion that it just might work dagnamit!
We were studying Wilfred Owen poetry for an exam they had in the January of their AS course so they needed to get the skills for the exam up to speed and fast. Every time we looked at a new poem they would say the same old things. 'Where do we start miss?' 'There is too much to take in.' There was no time of confidence flagging so I took the analysis skill away from the poems to take the fear out of it. I wanted them to see that the analysis skills they needed they already had. The class were all really visual learners and had responded to visuals really well in the past so I knew we had to start there.

I scoured the internet for interesting WWI paintings, of which there are plenty. I chose Over the Top by John Nash but any painting with detail would work.

Preparation prior to the lesson - I had four copies of the painting printed off in colour on A3 paper. I then got four pieces A3 white card and cut a small hole in each piece of card, I called this the micro-viewer. Each hole was carefully placed in a different position in order to show a different section and blue-tacked to the painting to keep it in place - creating new mini paintings from the different sections.

Starter - I differentiated the learning objectives using the handy old 'all,' 'most', 'some' and linked it directly to the A-Level mark scheme. So the 'all' objective covered analysing skills to E at AS, the 'most' objective to the C and the 'some' A. Micro-analysis was what we were aiming for this lesson. I informed the class of this fact and asked them to choose their own objective for the lesson being honest about what they thought they would achieve this lesson or what they would push themselves to - They expressed the usual fear of analysing poetry. 'Where do we start miss?' 'There is too much to take in.' But this time I knew they would be better.
We started with a diamond 9 activity using words that are useful for essay analysis such as connotes, reflects and symbolises. They were asked to rank the words in order of sophistication and keep the diamond 9 still formed in a safe place on their table to use in the lesson orally and in written form whenever they could.

Connect - I then put up the full version of 'Over the Top' on the board and told the class we were going to use our analysis to look at this painting. We analysed the atmosphere created on a basic whole painting from a distance level. I then eked out of them through class discussion and questioning that this is like when we first look at a poem as a whole, after our first reading. They liked that and saw the link - Eureka! I thought, it's working! 'But that is it Miss. We have finished the analysis now.' On that note I flicked the painting off the board, brought the objective back up and refocused them on where they thought they were at present.

Then I handed out the different micro-viewers to each group and asked them look carefully at their section and break it down using analysis again and the key words from their starter, thinking again about atmosphere. There was a flurry of action as they idea stormed around their new micro-image as a group. When we fed back about this section the pupils shared their ideas orally and expressed the fact that they had not noticed the detail of the section they were allocated from the micro-viewer when they first saw the larger painting. They had been given a whole different perspective on the picture and the atmosphere it created. Each group had new revelations about this painting we thought we as a class had analysed fully at the start of the lesson. I then asked them how they could apply this to poems, and by golly they got it. They told me that they could analyse it on a large scale as well as on a micro scale and link it all together. Yippee! I thought, it's working again! I again brought up the learning objectives and we reviewed whether they felt they had moved on.

Development - Now they had practised micro-analysis with images we moved on to looking at one of their exam poems. We repeated the process , we had completed with the painting. We read the poem as a whole class and analysing the bigger ideas. Then took the poem away and I handed out different lines to different groups to analyse on a micro-level. We tiered it up a notch this time though and passed the lines around to different groups to build the micro-analysis up by looking at different foci such as imagery, verbs, adjectives etc... We finished off the lesson with 10 minutes of silent analytical writing in an essay format. They were asked to refocus on the diamond 9 vocabulary to ensure they were varying their analytical vocabulary. Full on and fast paced but all useful!

Plenary - Focusing on the lesson objectives one last time we reviewed the journey they had been on and they all felt a lot more confident with their analysis skills. Last thing we did was to stand up and tell four different people in the class something we had learnt or used in this lesson that you felt would help you when you analyse poetry in future lessons.  They all buzzed around the class sharing their experiences as I sat back and watched the show – amazing students!

My job there was done. It worked because I really took the time to get to know the learning styles and needs of my class. I also clearly chunked up and explained the lesson at every junction.  You can't rush through a complex idea or you will loose them.

This was the start of a number of slightly ‘out there’ lessons that I trialled on them - like regular little guinea pigs  - they humoured me every time, so thank you Year 12. All the pupils in that class gained a grade or two above their predicted grade in this unit and I honestly think that because I took risks in my teaching with them they were more willing to take educated risks in their writing and analysis. (Or at least I hope in part this last fact it true)