Professor Andrew Lambirth, from the university’s School of Education, has developed The Poetry Champion project, which has been examining the state of poetry teaching in schools. A previous research project, Leading Poetry, as well as providing other important insights, found that Literacy Subject Specialists, those responsible for teaching literacy in their schools, believed passionately that teachers in the partnership required more training about how to teach poetry effectively.
The study of poetry has become one of the least well-taught parts of the English Curriculum and is even disappearing from some primary schools. This is due to pressure from high stakes testing, greater accountability and prescription for teachers, and has led to a reduction of teachers’ professional autonomy and their confidence to engage in creative and language arts-based work.
In a climate of prescription and arguably excessive accountability cultures, teachers were keen to implement more creative approaches to teaching writing in primary schools. The Poetry Champion project has been exploring ways of remedying this decline through the introduction of a high-profile group of poetry teacher-trailblazers, who have been trained in new ways to reignite a passion for reading, writing and performing poetry in primary schools locally, nationally and internationally.
Through his research and publications into the teaching of writing, reading and talk, Professor Lambirth, who is also Director of Research in the School of Education and Vice President of the UK Literacy Association, has provided teachers, student teachers, education academics and teacher trainers around the world with an alternative perspective to conceptualise primary school literacy practice. His research outputs have influenced professional practice at every level from classroom practitioners to the authors of influential educational reports.
A project focus group of poetry experts was formed of highly experienced tutors on initial education programmes, all of whom are well known amongst the community of teachers in the Initial Teacher Education (ITE) partnership and further afield. Their job was assisting those in education to understand, and professionally respond to, the din primary schools in the UK and elsewhere, in order to encourage teachers’ creativity and professional autonomy.
As an explicit and dynamic example of knowledge exchange activity, a group was formed of enthusiastic poetry teachers, who were then trained by experts in literacy education and the teaching of poetry from the School of Education at the University Greenwich.
The teachers’ mission was to model excellence in the teaching of poetry across the age phases of their primary schools and then to disseminate their work to other schools across London and nationally. The dissemination process included providing staff meetings and training days in schools.
In addition, international dissemination of the work of the Poetry Champions was made through literacy and education conferences and through publication both by the teachers (in professional journals) and the tutors (in books and academic papers) contributing to multiple modes of impact from this project.
Impact and benefits
The direct impact of the Poetry Champion project within the schools involved is continuing to be measured by audits administered to teachers and children at the beginning and end of the project. Initial benefits included a more experienced, knowledgeable and more confident teacher work-force in the schools within the participating Local Education Authorities. The Poetry Champions also benefit from the experience of being change agents for poetry in their schools; project collaborators and literacy leaders in their institutions and beyond, enriching their professional profiles. However, the most important impact is for the children involved in the project who, through improved teaching methods, are encouraged to become enthusiastic about reading and writing poetry again.