‘If I differentiate my poetry writing sessions is it really poetry?’ was a question posed by Rob Smith on Twitter today. As the answer is far from simple I decided to add my response as a blog since 140 characters seemed unduly constraining in this instance.

The question is a deceptively complex one but the answer is …’it depends!’

Let’s take a scenario that every teacher will be familiar with – a class that they’ve worked with for a term. An effective teacher will know the individual interests of the pupils and DIFFERENTIATING AN ACTIVITY BASED ON PUPIL INTERESTS & INDIVIDUAL ENTHUSIASMS would certainly be a positive thing.

In the specific case of poetry a pupil who loves maths could use a syllabic format such as a Haiku or Tanka or even a Hendecasyllabic. The numerical element would be a possible ‘way in’ to poetry for a pupil who had previously been indifferent to it. Of course I recognise that number crunching and poetry are two separate things BUT it would also be a nonsense to assume that Haiku etc are not forms of poetry. Take the works of Basho which transcend the apparent constraints of the three line syllabic form and the necessity for the inclusion of a ‘kigo’ (My choice of the word ‘apparent’ is an important one. The philosopher/ writer Raymond Queneau rightly points out that a constraint need not be a limiting factor, in fact the whole of OULIPO’s work is based on the idea that the concept of the constraint is an important facet of the creative process..take lipogrammatic writing by way of example)

The example given above could be classed as a ‘Form choice differentiation’.

A further POSITIVE way of differentiating could be termed ‘Theme choice’. If pupil ‘A’ enjoys football then a football related poem could be the way forward. If pupil ‘B’ enjoys music then a poem on this theme could be the way forward.

AND THEN there’s always differentiation by personal choice…the ‘here’s a range of possibilities (perhaps modeled and discussed)..now have a go at whichever takes your interest!’ approach. I use this regularly in the classroom as an interested pupil is always a motivated pupil.

Differentiation does have it’s ‘dark side’ and can be a limiting factor…take the original National Literacy Strategy document (a flawed idea adapted from the eminently sensible Western Australian ‘First Steps’ model then ruined in the UK) and it’s division of a developmental continuum (good idea) into years and terms (bad idea)..this nonsense led to inappropriate differentiation based on which year and term you happened to be in.

So, that’s merely a scratching of the surface of an answer but I set myself a half hour deadline to reply so forgive clumsy grammar etc.

I’m all for freedom of expression and to write decent poetry you need to read decent poetry
and experiment to find your own voice, and make mistakes and be exposed to new ideas etc etc I’m a firm advocate of rule breaking but you can’t break a rule until you know a rule. There are also instances where too much choice can be a negative thing (..back to the philosophy of Queneau and Pérec: both well worth reading)

To conclude, a personal note…poetry is one of my favourite genres. My first collection (for adults) was published by Crocus books in 1992 then a further collection was published by Redbeck Press (also for adults). I had work featured in the Iron Press book of Tanka and then there are the two books for teachers. It’s been a consistent part of my life for over 40 years and tonight I will be reading some Douglas Dunn…I also love Simon Armitage’s work…
…this could go on all night but I hope that it provokes some discussion. The question that was posed by Rob is one that all reflective practitioners should discuss!!!

One word of warning: Inherent in the original question (though I recognise that it may have been a playing of the ‘Devil’s advocate’) is the assumption that differentiation might somehow destroy the integrity of poetry…as I hope I’ve begun to indicate in this blog: it depends!


3 thoughts on “DIFFERENTIATION AND POETRY WRITING..some thoughts!

  1. An interesting answer Alan. Impressive in the 30 minutes timeframe. I am thinking though about some constraints given by the nature of the lit framework. My year 6 teaching this week is focused on personification, this could be differentiated by theme quite easily however, differentiation by form is only possible if children have been exposed to and have working knowledge of the form.

  2. My original question was really to provoke the thought that if we give children a framework to work from is it really poetry? If we give a set of constraints can a child be really creative?
    Do we as teachers give credit to children with lesser ability who have been creative and experimental?

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