29th April 2021
Year 5 teacher Aelaha Ahmad tells us she has always had an admiration for poetry, seeing it as the medium that allows us to express and convey our emotions and feelings in the most ravishing way possible. In this week’s blogpost, she tells us how she developed Poetry By Heart in her school, Berkeley Academy in Hounslow, in the extraordinary circumstances of the 2020-21 school year.
We started off the competition last year for the first time and as it was new to our school, I experimented with the competition simply with my own Year 5 Class. The enthusiasm was brilliant, we were all buzzing, the students waiting eagerly to perform final pieces, then the entries were sent and we hastened into a national lockdown. It looked like the end after all the hard-work that was put into rehearsals, but when everything seemed so gloomy, the Poetry By Heart judge’s remarks definitely shone a light in the dark crevices of our hearts and minds. We had highly commended performances, a county winner and national finalists.
With the competition being a success in our first year, it was a must that we would enter again. The triumphs from 2020 spurred many more students to participate in this event as we opened it to the whole of key stage 2. This year we ensured that the stakes were higher so I made sure that class teachers across key stage 2 each chose three students for our showcase: two who were eloquent performers and one who needed a confidence boost.
The students showed great patience and determination. Despite being in class bubbles, they were ever so wonderful at ensuring they were able to connect via Zoom and Google Classroom. It was such a delight for the children to see students from different year groups, to connect, clarify and take a big responsibility. A lot of my students aimed to learn their poem off by heart as soon as we had our opening ceremony, one even stating the next morning “Miss, the Zoom meeting was so fun, I wish we could have a poetry meeting everyday!”
During the unprecedented times in January, reverting back to a national lockdown yet again, we stayed in touch through many platforms. The children were brilliant at giving each other tips but also boosting morale. One of the students posted this, a quick poem Qayenat in Year 6 wrote to boost the morale of her fellow Poetry By Heart candidates:
Qayenat also created a word cloud also created to show her admiration for the competition:
This competition has certainly developed the children’s verbal skills, and students who were once sheepish and rather reserved developed a sense of satisfaction when they played back their videos and could see how confidently they had performed. I can definitely see how the competition has had an impact as it has reciprocated in their participation in the classroom. For the already-confident children, the competition has allowed the students to push themselves further beyond their comfort zone by considering unique ways of performance. Some children took on board the challenge of changing the rhythm, finding a beat that is comfortable and finally singing the poem as a means of creative expression.
Some of the playground conversations I have had with the students after the competition have been promising and have really given me an insight as to how poetry is a means of therapeutic escape. A couple of my students have now developed an interest in discovering a new poem a day.
On the penultimate week before the Easter holidays, I dedicated an hour simply to poetry. One of my all time favourite poems has got to be Benjamin Zephaniah’s ‘The British.’ We read the poem and focussed on the extended metaphor of a recipe and how the poem accentuates that no ethnicity is superior to another. In the end, ‘all the ingredients (ethnicities) are equally important. Treating one ingredient better than another will leave a bitter unpleasant taste.’ The students then thought hard about the elements that make up their personality and character, their current and old habits and wrote their own Zephaniahesque poems following the extended metaphor of cooking. It was wonderful to have them perform the poems with such pride and integrity.
Poetry has allowed the students in my classroom, in our school, and human beings all around the world to see the soul of other beings, whether alive or dead. It permits us to see the weight on the poets’ minds and hearts, allowing us to grasp the inner turmoil of these poets who are also human beings like us and have allowed us. Poetry enables us to cultivate empathy for others which is the most important facet in our lives especially with the unwelcome, dangerous visitor ‘coronavirus’ having not packed its bags and seemingly having made itself feel at home.
Aelaha Ahmad is a Year 5 Teacher at Berkeley Academy in Hounslow.