Institution: ERS / Creativity, Culture and Education
Full reference: ERS (2011). Evaluation of Well Versed. Newcastle: Creativity, Culture and Education.
Summary of key findings
In August 2010 ERS was commissioned by Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE) to undertake an evaluation of the national poetry pilot Well Versed. The programme has been delivered by CCE and partners across three English regions – Writers’ Centre Norwich (East), New Writing North (North East) and Writing West Midlands (West Midlands).
Fundamental to Well Versed was the desire to improve the quality of poetry teaching and to enhance learning experiences.
The programme had five objectives:
1. Provide teachers with the opportunity to work with poets to gain a better understanding of the process of reading, writing and performing poetry.
2. Provide poets with the opportunity to work with teachers to gain a better understanding of teaching poetry in a complex and diverse curriculum.
3. Improve the ability of a diverse mix of emerging and established poets and teachers to work in partnership.
4. Test new models of partnerships that develop the local poetry infrastructure.
5. Contribute to public debate about how poetry is taught in schools in a way that influences policy and practice.
Whilst the three pilots operated in different ways, the commonality of the underpinning principles and of many of the practices means that Well Versed ought to be viewed as a single programme, with three different interpretations.
This flexibility around core principles ought to be regarded as a key programme strength as it ensured that delivery was appropriate within the context of each region.
- Opportunities for poets and teachers to work collaboratively to improve the poetry offer delivered to children in schools.
- Sessions motivated teachers and provided them with materials and ideas to support their poetry teaching beyond the cessation of the programme.
- Sessions stimulated participating children’s interest in poetry by providing them with a series of enjoyable activities and tasks that challenged their perceptions of poetry.
- Poetry sessions in schools provided evidence of the contribution of the programme to the learning and skills of pupils, increasing the range of vocabulary that they feel confident using and improving their ability to think creatively.
Some key points of learning
- Emphasising that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to discussing poetry was effective as this provided children with the confidence to express their feelings and contribute to group discussion without fear that they were being assessed.
- Taking pupils through the process of developing a poem is very helpful, in particular focusing on particular aspects of the process as tasks in their own right as well as emphasising that although only a small proportion of the material generated through creative thinking is used in the final poem, the process of editing and reflection is important to improve quality. This is not ‘wasted time’ – it facilitates improved understanding of the editing process.
- The training opportunities (for both teachers and poets) have been universally welcomed and have been seen to impact positively on practitioners’ skills and confidence. The training could be developed through: Consulting teachers and poets prior to commencing to establish previous experience (adopting a standardised template) and what they hope to gain from the project
– Considering carefully the balance of the practical and theoretical elements within the training
– Providing teachers and poets with a greater level of resources to take away from the training.
- Experienced poets (defined, in this context, as having significant classroom experience as well as artistic credibility) can play an especially important role in not only mentoring less experienced poets but in providing advice and support to teachers with limited or no experience of teaching poetry. Experienced poets have:
– Knowledge of how to work with teachers to plan classroom activities effectively
– Some knowledge of the curriculum within which teachers are working
– An ability to communicate appropriately with pupils of different ages and plan age-appropriate sessions
– An ability to inspire, motivate and engage pupils
– Knowledge of a range of activities/ warm-ups/ fillers that can be adapted to suit different ages, abilities, or class topics.
- It is important to allocate sufficient planning time prior to delivery in schools. Effective practice may include the use of a pre-session visit in order for poets to design the session plan with the teacher and, possibly, encourage input from participating pupils.
- More generally, providing time for preparation and planning can also incorporate mentoring opportunities and help to build effective partnerships involving different combinations of poets and teachers.
- There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and the models adopted in each of the pilot regions have considerable individual merits.
- The success of the pilots points to a demand for and benefits in sustaining and extending Well Versed activities through the literature development agency network.
Research Questions & Methodology
- Literature Review of a number of previous studies.
- Range of primary and secondary methods in order to generate both qualitative and quantitative data, including:
– Stakeholder consultation.
– Attendance at one of the Well Versed Advisory Group meetings.
– Attendance at training sessions.
– Two online snapshot surveys were disseminated to participating teachers and poets (in February and July 2011).
– Classroom observations and observations of in-school teacher training at a variety of primary and secondary schools in each of the three pilot regions.