It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Those around World Book Day always are. I’ve been at the Whatever It Takes Author Week in Leicester, the Aye Write Festival in Glasgow, and schools in Gloucestershire, Surrey, Essex & Nottinghamshire.
I’ve also been at the International School of Aberdeen, where in addition to some of my usual sessions they asked me to do a few sessions on poetry for older children.
I don’t normally work with groups above primary-age - simply because I don’t often visit schools that aren’t primaries -
|The scene from my hotel window!|
and the last time I did instructional work on poetry I was a teacher rather than a visiting author; but, well, I thought, why not? Because I’m really nervous about it, a voice in my head replied, but I ignored it and got thinking.
Planning has never been my forte - too much of it and I find it difficult to adapt on the spur of the moment - so I decided the best plan was to fling a few ideas into the cauldron of my cerebrum, stir them round, and leave them to stew.
One thing I knew I was going to need, though, was a practical sort of joining-in activity that would get some kind of response from the group without putting any pressure on the individual. I settled on bubbles.
The simple bubble-wand was one of my main props as a supply teacher. I got the idea from a former colleague, the lovely Mrs Pam Hotchkiss (hello, Pam, if you’re reading this!). It’s beautifully simple. You blow some bubbles, get the kids to describe them, ask them to elaborate on the description, and take it from there; and one of the lovely things about it is that it adapts for any age. I, er, hoped. I’d never tried it with secondary-school kids.
Well, I tried it with the first group - 8th-Graders: 12-14 years old, I suppose, though they looked bigger and older than that. They’d been great, but there had been a certain amount of Teenage Cool in the room. Until I took out the wand and blew.
“Ooooh! Bubbles!!!” Instantly, some of their reserve just, well, popped. It was great. We talked about them in general terms, got a few words to describe them - fragile, colourful, that sort of thing - and then we began to differentiate.
As the conversation developed, it became clear that these meant different things to different children. One said they reminded her of pink skies in the morning; another of unstable chemical compounds.
One girl said they reminded her of funerals. There was a bit of nervous giggling around her. I asked her why.
“Well,” she said, smiling, “at my friend’s funeral they blew bubbles over the coffin, and we’d been all sad, but suddenly it was happy again.”
That was a moment, I can tell you, and it wasn’t the only one. At another point during the session, the subject of the bubbles’ endings came up. We’d been talking about how they drift down.
“And what happens then?” I asked.
There was a pause, during which I waited for the usual reflections on mortality. And then one boy put his hand up.
“Yes,” I asked.
“It gets adopted by the floor.”