It’s only natural that being a teacher and a parent over the past 30 + years exposed me to many different life and teaching experiences.
Today I am going to share my thoughts about something I strongly believe in and what sealed the deal to include it in my own teaching program. It is something I offer in my children’s creative writing workshops & tutor students as a way to help improve their linguistic development.
A Stroke of Good Fortune
A number of years ago I was invited to my son-law’s grandfather’s 90th birthday party. Eric Locke, or Poppy as he was affectionately known to us, was a man who grew up on Raylands, a 500 acre cattle property situated in the beautiful district of Belli Park on the Sunshine Coast of Australia. He attended a small country school and was blessed to have a teacher in Year 5 who loved poetry and taught Poppy the skills to memorise poems – long poems in fact.
To cut a long story short, at his 90th birthday party, held at the Belli Park Hall, Poppy sat wheelchair-bound in front of a large number of his guests and recited two long bush poems. One special guest, the daughter of Poppy’s Year 5 teacher, who had since passed, looked on affectionately as Poppy performed his renditions.
I stood in awe of Poppy. The poems were epic and they were poems he’d learned as that Year 5 student. During the second poem there was one part where he stalled and sat silently, as if waiting for something. The hall was still. It’s audience hushed and hanging in an expectant manner. And then without repeating any words, or the previous line, Poppy continued on as if he’d never paused at all.
Later on, when I got a quiet moment with Poppy, I asked him if he could explain what his brain was doing when he sat and waited for the rest of the words to come during the second poem. I was fascinated by the fact that he’d not uttered a sound after such a longish pause. He answered me, “I was waiting for the pictures to catch up with the words.” Poppy went on to explain that inside his head he created a ‘movie’ of images to help him remember the words.
Through all my years of teaching many students there was not one that I knew for certain who could rattle off poems like this from memory. I’d never really contemplated teaching students to do this on such a scale. I love poetry and introduced and taught many poems over the years, but never explicitly asked students to memorise them. The curriculum is always full to the brim to add any more to it. But after observing Poppy, it taught me something very exciting; the value of memorising poems and, so, I started to do some research.
I feel very blessed and lucky to have been a part of Poppy’s audience that afternoon. He has since passed on now, God Bless him, but he left a legacy to me. Through a stroke of good fortune, he made me a better teacher and added a new repertoire to my teaching bag of tricks. Since introducing Poetry Memorisation to my students, I can report that I have seen significant benefits to students’ written and oral communication skills, in a variety of ways.
Fill Up a Child’s Communication Tank
Research tells us that from before birth, it’s important to communicate to your child. PLEASE REMEMBER to take into account the developmental stages of children when reading through my list. This is a general overall list and not referenced in any particular order.
Ten ways we can do this:
SPEAK to your UNBORN children while they are still inside the womb and AFTER they are born
ENCOURAGE THEM, with much patience to move from one word answers to more sophisticated sentences when you have conversations
READ PICTURE BOOKS ALOUD – EVERYDAY – the bigger variety, the better
INVENT STORIES – about them, about you and them, adventure stories, stories around the ‘campfire’, space travel stories
TEACH NURSERY RHYMES, CHANTS, POEMS, SHORT STORIES
TAKE TIME to explain the LITTLE THINGS, the MEANING OF STUFF, EMOTIONAL STUFF and why you or they might FEEL a certain way
SING to them, SING together, in the car, on the way to school, when you’re walking somewhere together
PLAY MUSIC for them – all varieties of MUSIC and SONGS – yes, even RAP!
DISCUSS EXPRESSIONS that you see on people’s faces, or the way they react to something, OR the way an animal might behave – like, ‘did you see the way that puppy’s tail wagged when he saw the ball?’
VISIT the LIBRARY and BOOKSTORES – PLAYGROUPS AND VISITS WITH FRIENDS – social interaction and well being
BONUS: ATTEND PERFORMANCES, PLAYS and CONCERTS that celebrate communication
This is a list of 10 + bonus things you can do to make a difference. You know this list is endless, don’t you? You are only limited by your imagination. See if you can come up with other ways to help fill up your child’s communication tank and write and tell us in the COMMENTS section below.
Everything on my list of 10 should be happening BEFORE a child attends school! The more that is accomplished on a regular basis, the more FULL your child’s COMMUNICATION TANK will be. The above list is one that, if followed, should really help prepare your child for school. Following this list should help grow a confident little person, who can express their emotions, speak and have some knowledge of their world. The teachers’ job is to teach ABCs and 123s, but sometimes incidental learning may take place as your child experiences life.
Experience and learning literally begins from inside the womb! Once a child makes it to school it is every teachers’ hope they have been exposed to a variety of situations upon which to build foundational learning.
The success of teaching the skills of writing and creative writing as a child moves through their year levels is determined upon what’s in their communication tank and life experience. The more fuller the tank – the more success is likely, though of course there are always exceptions.
I’ve learned through my experience as both a classroom teacher and a Specialist Extension Primary teacher that no matter how how well prepared, or how effective I am at teaching writing (any genre) or creative writing, to get the best teaching result, the student needs to have an adequate to full communication tank. If the tank is dry and empty, then it is hard to get anything out of it. If you have no knowledge of cricket, it is highly unlikely for you speak about, let alone play, cricket. If you have no Japanese, you can’t get any Japanese. If there is no exposure to writing or any form of creative writing, then it is hard to get ideas across. It is a learned experience and skill that is enhanced by through exposure.
“You can’t get something out of a child’s brain that isn’t in there to begin with.” Andrew Pudewa
Filling up the child’s communication tank is clearly a prerequisite to learning and retrieval. It can take years for children to become skilful or capable writers and speakers of English. As soon as they hit school they learn their ABCs, 123s, sounds, sight words, and the list goes on, to include spelling, grammar conventions, and, yes, you get the picture. Even hours and hours of writing practice is no guarantee that a child’s standard of writing is going to improve. One thing is for sure, if a student is to become a proficient native speaker and writer of English then s/he needs a large collection of consistently correct and sophisticated language patterns stored in his/her brain. Consistently correct and sophisticated language is the cornerstone of linguistic competence, especially when rules of spelling and grammar are not consistent. Vocabulary is crucial , but, rather than just knowing a gigantic list of isolated words, it is more important to know how words occur naturally and fit together correctly, even creatively, within phrases and clauses. Students who write well are usually always the ones who possess an extensive repertoire of words, an intuitive understanding of when and how these words are used in combinations and can sense when they sound natural or awkward.
So, as parents, educators and creative influencers, how can we make sure children acquire their fair dose of linguistic patterns to help fill up their communication tanks?
One of the things I chose to do as a teacher today is to teach my students the art of poetry memorisation, which I will discuss in an upcoming post.
Over to you…
What are your thoughts?