Tag Archives: poetry

World Poetry Day 2016

UNESCO marks World Poetry Day every year on the 21st March.

In celebrating World Poetry Day UNESCO recognises the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.

The Philosophy Foundation use poetry to explore philosophy, and philosophy to explore poetry.

Thoughtings“As the weeks have progressed I have noticed real improvements in regards to how the children respond to one another when they disagree and the quieter children are really beginning to ‘find their voices’. One particular child who finds writing a real struggle due to language barriers was so inspired following a poetry session that he sat and wrote a mainly phonetically correct poem of his own!”

Louise Toner, Year 2 Class Teacher, Crawford Primary School

 

The Philosophy ShopFor this World Poetry Day, download and use this free resource taken from one of our multi-award winning books The Philosophy Shop, to get your children writing some philosophical poetry of their own.

Philosophical Poetry

(This extract is taken from The Philosophy Shop © 2012 Peter Worley and Crown House Publishing)

And, from March 14th until April 30th take advantage of a special offer from Crown House Publishing to purchase any of our titles!

The Philosophy Foundation Series:

The Philosophy Shop: ideas, activities and questions to get people, young and old, thinking philosophically £25.00

Thoughtings: puzzles, problems and paradoxes in poetry to think with £14.99

The Numberverse: how numbers are bursting out of everything and just want to have fun £14.99

Provocations: philosophy for secondary schools £14.99

Buy any two titles from the Series at a 25% discount

Buy the complete series at a 50% discount.

Start Date: 14th March 2016

Expiry date 30th April 2016.

To take advantage of this offer contact Crown House Publishing at learn@crownhouse.co.uk or telephone 01267 211 345

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Write a #Shorting for National Poetry Day and Win Books

Win a copy of ’40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking’ or the award-winning ‘Thoughtings’.

‘This collection of poems is very, very irritating. It’s irritating like having toast crumbs in your bed. It’s irritating like having toast crumbs in your brain… getting toast crumbs out of your bed is fun. They jump up and down. Some of them refuse to be swept out. Some of them find new places to hide. Some invite you to nibble them. Getting toast crumbs out of your mind is just like that too.’

Michael Rosen, from his foreword to Thoughtings by Andrew Day and Peter Worley

For National Poetry Day 2015 Andrew and Peter would like to invite you, and your classes, to write a Shorting (a short Thoughting). Tweet your short ‘poem for thinking’ with the hashtag #Shorting and we’ll gather them together and post them all here after National Poetry Day.

This competition is open to adults and young people (under 18) . The teacher (or parent, or interested adult) prize will be a copy of Peter’s new book 40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking and the under 18 prize, a copy of Thoughtings.

Need inspiration on poetry in the classroom? Download Thought Adventure Number 8, Is This a Poem? from 40 Lessons, on The Philosophy Foundation’s website.

What’s a Thoughting?

Thoughtings

Thoughtings: poems for thinking

In 2012 Andrew Day and Peter Worley wrote a book called Thoughtings: Puzzles, problems and paradoxes in poetry to think with (Awarded Teach Primary Magazine’s ‘Best Teaching Book’ 2014) to use in classrooms to stimulate philosophy sessions. Michael Rosen, who wrote the foreword (or forward!) for Thoughtings recommends it in his book for parents Good Ideas (2014). The title for Thoughtings was coined by a 6-year-old who was asked to say what thinking is without saying the word ‘think’ or ‘thinking’ in his answer; he said, ‘It’s when you’re thoughting’. There are free downloadable Thoughtings for you to use National Poetry Day on our website.

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking, Philosophical thought adventures across the curriculum

What’s a Shorting?

In Peter Worley’s new book 40 lesson to get children thinking (out in October 2015) he has a chapter called ‘Is This A Poem?’ to help classes think through what poems are (and what they’re not). In the chapter he introduces the idea of a ‘Shorting’, a Thoughting for the Twitter generation: a ‘poem for thinking’ in 130 characters or less (to make space for the hashtag)! Here are some Shortings by Andrew and Peter:

Nospacetothinkmakesnosense. Space to think makes sense. B ut notw hen thes p ace s a r ei nthew ron gp lac e s.

I’ve got 140 characters I can play. Which one shall I be today? Let’s see what other people do and what they make me say.

Deciding is taking a scalpel and making a clean incision, cutting away the alternatives every time you make a decision.

Over to you! 

Write your shorting, post on twitter with the #shorting, or if you’re not on twitter send it to us via email info@philosophy-foundation.org

Thoughtings (plus more free poetry resources) on our site.

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking will be available in October, available for pre-order now.

For more on our work on philosophy in schools and with children visit our website www.philosophy-foundation.org

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How to use poetry for philosophy enquiries

When National Poetry Day and World Poetry Day come around each year I like to use poetry for all my philosophy sessions where possible. I usually write some more Thoughtings and a blog. This year I have got a little over-excited about poetry. Because I love it! So this is the second blog on poetry which follows on from my previous blog post ‘Why Poetry? Because it is like the TARDIS…

Something similar to what follows can be found in the appendices at the back of Thoughtings together with a sample lesson plan around one particular Thoughting. The poems in that collection have been written specifically to do philosophy with, however philosophy can also be done with many other poems not written to do philosophy. With that in mind, I’ve put this together for anyone who wishes to start using poetry as a starting stimulus for doing philosophy but who lacks the confidence (or a procedure) to do so. This is only a guideline so the word to bear in mind is ‘variation’ – play around with this structure to best fit your aims, your class or group and your poem. All the poems mentioned here can be found by following the links in my previous blog ‘Why Poetry?…’

  1. First of all decide whether handing out a copy of the poem or projecting the poem is necessary. If the poem is short and not terribly difficult then I opt not to do this, but longer poems that need ‘unpacking’ often benefit from being seen by the class. Also decide at which point you hand it out/project it. I prefer to have a class simply hear a poem at least once.
  2. Prop used for 'An Owner's Complaint' by John Hegley

    Prop used for ‘An Owner’s Complaint’ by John Hegley

    Read Either read it yourself or get the children to read it sharing a line for each person. But only do this is if the class is of an age to read it well. For most primary classes I choose to read as comprehension is so much more difficult if a poem is read badly. This isn’t a ‘reading poetry class’ it’s a ‘philosophy-through-poetry’ class and good comprehension is essential for this. When reading, and especially if you are working with younger groups, it can be helpful to provide gestures and/or actions as you read. Read meaningfully. For instance, ‘An Owner’s Complaint’ by John Hegley should be read like it’s a complaint!

  3. Allow silent thinking time (usually only up to 30 seconds).
  4. Read again. If comprehension is required then some time will need to be spent unpacking the poem. If this is necessary then before you read the poem for the second time ask them to put their hands up at the end if there are any words or phrases they do not understand. It’s sometimes useful to have a dictionary ready for this. Note: when dealing with unknown words or difficult phrases read out the word or phrase in context (in other words, read the complete thought or image containing the word or phrase). Then ask if there is someone who thinks they know what the word or phrase might mean. It is always better if someone in the class can teach the class rather than you. Sometimes it is the case that they are only able to provide an approximate meaning; in that case you complete it. If you have to look it up then get someone in the class to take on this duty: a dictionary monitor. Hint: Either for the second or a third reading you could leave out certain key words for the class to fill in. For younger ones simply leave out the last word of each rhyming couplet but with older ones you may choose to leave out less obvious words, phrases or even whole lines.
  5. Ask a question. Very often a discussion, or question for discussion, will arise quite naturally from this comprehension part of the session. I call this an emergent discussion or question. If a suitable discussion does not arise then it is a good idea to have a question ready to begin one – what I call a task question. (See ‘Finding a question’ below.)
  6. Give them some talk time in pairs or threes. They will usually need no more than 1 minute of talk time.
  7. Begin the enquiry. First of all, gain their attention. Then ask the question again. Let the enquiry run for a few minutes (usually 5-10) before returning to more talk time.
  8. Continue moving between 6 (talk time) and 7 (enquiry) until a new question arises and in which case return to 5, then 6 and 7. Use your judgement and return to 9 (talk time) whenever the conversation demands or suggests that you do so.

Remember: the above procedure IS NOT philosophy – it is merely a procedure for philosophy to happen in, although philosophy will only happen if the discussion is facilitated well. For a more detailed explanation of how to manage the enquiry (7) itself – the bit where the philosophy happens – see The If Machine pages 1-45 or ‘If it, anchor it, open it up’ in the forthcoming The Socratic Handbook. (‘If it, anchor it, open it up’ is also available FREE, for members of SOPHIA, as a download from sophianetwork.eu in ‘Resources’.)

Finding a question in a poem

 (1) ‘Questioning’ a poem

Sometimes a poem explicitly asks a question such as ‘Some Opposites’ by Richard Wilbur in which it ends:

What’s the opposite of opposite?

That’s much too difficult. I quit.

In this case, the poet’s surrender sets up the class’s challenge. But where a question is not asked explicitly it can quite often be hidden, such as with ‘Invictus’ by W.E. Henley where it ends with these two lines:

I am the master of my fate;

I am the captain of my soul.

To make a question, simply ‘question’ these lines: ‘So, are you the master of your fate? Are you the captain of your soul?’ See also Hamlet: ‘What is the question?’ or (also Hamlet) ‘Is it true that there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so?’ Or Shel Silverstein’s ‘Listen To The Mustn’ts’:

Anything can happen, child,

Anything can be.

To ‘question’ these lines…

‘Can anything happen? Can anything be?’

When using poems to do philosophy I prefer to select poems that have one of these two options, an explicit question or an implicit question. If the poem has neither of these opportunities then it will be harder to do philosophy from, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or that the poem is no good for philosophising from. What it does mean is that it will require a bit more thought. For instance, the poem ‘An Owner’s Complaint’ has neither an explicit nor an implicit question but I have found that the following question works really well for an enquiry: ‘When is a dog not a dog?’ and part of what makes it work is that it contains what appears to be a contradiction (see my previous post Why Poetry?) Note: this question also gives an excellent question structure for general use: ‘When is an X not an X?’ Some children resolve the contradiction, for example, like so: ‘An ‘X’ is not an X when…’ (resolved here by the use scare quotes). Many of the Thoughtings poems are like this: they have lots of questions in them. As a general rule, one difference between a Thoughting and non-Thoughting poem is that Thoughtings tend to only raise/ask questions rather than answer them. This makes them easier to find questions in but it is worth noting that a poem that ‘has answers’ has more to disagree with.

(2) Questioning a poem

For instance, ‘What is Truth?’ by Steve Turner:

The truth is what’s what;

A lie is what’s not.

Here, the best question to ask a class, I find, is: ‘Do you agree with the poem/poet?’ A good strategy for possible use here, especially if the children do not do so automatically, is to ‘task’ them to seek out a counter-example: ‘Can anyone think of a situation where the truth is not ‘what’s what?’ and ‘Can anyone think of a situation where a lie is not ‘what’s not’?’ and so on.

Here’s a couple of brand new Thoughtings to get you started:

Illustration by Tamar Levi

Illustration by Tamar Levi

My Shoes

My shoes walk me; I don’t walk them.

I don’t write stuff down; that would be my pen.

I don’t do the thinking ‘round here; it’s my brain that does it

And the deciding, desiring, and then the inquiring about it.

It’s my heart, not me, that sometimes likes, hates and loves you.

And all this is quite a part from the other things I don’t do.

So what do I do when all is said and done?

What’s left for me to do?

To remove my shoes

And run.

 

My Trousers

My trousers ran away today

We tried to catch ‘em up

They ran and ran

Like the gingerbread man

But simply wouldn’t stop.

When asked why they’d run away

They simply said, ‘No more

Will we do what our wearer wants –

That’s not what we are for!

We want to wear our owner

And stop him donning gingham!’ When

M’ strides were done, I laughed out loud –

’Til I realised I was in ‘em.

Questions:

  • Do you always control your actions?
  • If not, then what sorts of things control you?
  • Do you do the thinking or does your brain do the thinking?
  • Are you different from your brain?
  • What walks you if you were to sleep walk?
  • Can you ever be excused for your actions?
  • Can you ever blame someone or something else for your actions?
  • What do you think is meant when the poet of ‘Shoes’ answers that what’s left for her to do is to ‘remove [her] shoes and run’?

These Thoughtings would work well with ‘It Wasn’t Me!’ and the ‘Are You Free?’ section in Thoughtings by Worley and Day.

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Why poetry? Because poetry is like a TARDIS: paradoxical and much bigger on the inside.

First of all, a confession: I haven’t read a novel – just for pleasure – for years! I have read books though, but only non-fiction, conforming to the stereotype that men read most of the novels they ever read before the age of 25. The main reason for this (that I’ve identified anyway): ever-growing demands on my time and therefore an increasing need for efficiency. However, I’m not dead behind the eyes, I don’t read car maintenance manuals; I still yearn for escapism, good writing, imaginative worlds, making connections with writers and their special worldviews. At first I turned to short stories of which, and for many years, I have been a fan. As a philosopher I have always been drawn to the way short stories put at their heart – as Philip K. Dick said – not characters but ideas. And then I (re-)discovered poetry.

What philosophers (and anyone for that matter!) can learn from poetry.

Philosophers and teachers have a tendency to exorcise contradictions and paradoxes. If something doesn’t make sense then it needs revision. This is, to some extent, right. It is rational, after all, to try to make sense of that which makes no sense. But I have noticed that the best learning happens when there is contradiction. I’d like to give an example from a maths lesson I was involved in.

We were playing a game called Secret Number (see previous blog post by Andrew Day ‘mine do it already‘) in which there is an envelope in the middle of the room containing a number between (and including) 1 and 100. The children have only 10 questions that must be answerable with either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The teacher keeps a note on the board of everything that’s inferred and the questions that were asked during the game, such as: ‘It is not even,’ (the question was: ‘Is it even?’) ‘It is not 4’, (question: ‘Is it four?’) ‘It is a double number,’ ‘It is odd,’ and so on. The children have to try to work out what the number is. There is a tendency for a teacher to try to deal with contradictions as the game goes on so that all the information is useful and that all the questions are not contradictory. But whenever I have played this game I have found that the best learning comes the more contradictions there are. So, even though the class did not guess the number, the after-game analysis was much more fruitful when the children could see where the problems were: ‘We didn’t need to ask if the number was 4 because we already know that it’s not even and 4 is an even number.’ If the teacher had said things like, ‘Do you need to ask that question?’ or, ‘Is 4 an even number? What does the board have on it about even numbers?’ during the game then the board would have ended up with no knots to untie.

Badly asked questions such as those you find in lateral thinking puzzle books are similar. It is easy to think that one shouldn’t ask a question to a class if it has been worded ambiguously but then you’d be missing the learning opportunity. Children are actually very good at unpacking badly worded questions. So, take this for example: how do you make this sum add up to 17?

8 + 6 =

The ‘answer’ at the back of the book is, of course: ‘by turning the sum upside down so that it reads 8 + 9 = 17’. But, as one 9-year-old-girl once said to me, ‘It’s not the same sum anymore, so the question’s wrong.’ A good point.

So what’s all this got to do with poetry?

Poetry welcomes the paradox, usually in the broadest sense: the paradox of what it is to be human. It welcomes the very thing good thinking tries to iron out and this is where poetry and good thinking come together. Take the poem Death is smaller than I thought by Adrian Mitchell. The paradox in this poem is clearly stated in the last three lines:

It is imaginary.

It is real.

It is love.

Not all poems make their paradox so explicit but very often they are there nevertheless. This makes an excellent starting point for thinkers: does the poem make sense? Is it understandable? Is it right? Is it how humans are? What happens to people when they die? How do we cope when people die? How are the last two questions related? And so on. Poems lead on to other poems too: after this, read Examination at the womb’s door by Ted Hughes or Transformations or To an unborn pauper child, both by Thomas Hardy.

Poems are also often quite short so they are perfect for busy teachers and busy classes where there is not much time to wade through novels. Poems are like cut diamonds in that they contain an infinite variety of complex reflections inside, all held within a beautifully shaped and formed outside. But I think the best analogy for what I’m saying in this piece is Doctor Who’s TARDIS: poems are paradoxical and much bigger on the inside.

Six poems with paradoxes

A good general principle for critically engaging with a poem is to ask (only when appropriate in the context of the poem as it is a general rule that all general rules have exceptions): ‘Do you agree with the poem/poet?’ or to take the main claim of the poem and turn it into a question: ‘What is the question?’ (Hamlet), ‘Are we the masters of our fate? Are we the captain of our souls?’ (Invictus), ‘Can anything happen? Can anything be?’ (Listen to the mustn’ts)

Death is smaller than I thought by Adrian Mitchell: this is the paradox of both believing and not believing that ones dead loved ones are still there.

An Owner’s Complaint by John Hegley – the paradox: a carrot is not a dog! However, it’s ‘answer’ poem, ‘My Dog is a Dog’ in the same collection My Dog is a Carrot, somewhat makes sense of the paradox. I use a paradoxical question with this poem: ‘When is a dog not a dog?’

Invictus by W.E. Henley – the paradox: how can we be ‘the captain of our soul’ if we are subject to chance?

Mind by Richard Wilbur – the paradox: the paradox of consciousness tries to find a simile.

Some Opposites by Richard Wilbur – the paradox of opposites: what exactly are opposites? Are they completely different or do they have something in common? What’s the opposite of opposite?

Listen to the mustn’ts by Shel Silverstein – the paradox: well, on one level it is not the case that anything can happen or be. So, what might the poet mean?

The Highwayman by Frederick Noyes – the paradox: why would you kill yourself for someone else. This one is even more paradoxical to children.

And finally, an original Thoughting by the author of this piece written especially for it:

The Contradiction Monster (or, the poem that ends before it’s begun!)

The contradiction monster

Is not like me and you

It does the strangest things, you know,

Things that we can’t do.

It tips its hat, says, ‘hello’

Then leaves as it arrives,

There’s a pair of shoes on its only foot;

It’s unmarried with seven wives.

The contradiction monster

Is not as it appears,

When it comes to dinner

It gets smaller as it nears.

A mother with no children,

He sings to them at night.

The contradiction monster’s wrong

Only when it’s right.

For how to run a poetry philosophical enquiry visit Pete’s blog here.

Peter Worley is CEO and co-founder of The Philosophy Foundation, the president of SOPHIA – the European foundation for doing philosophy with children and is currently a Visiting Research Associate at King’s College London. He has written 5 books on philosophy with children including a collection of poetry for thinking called Thoughtings (co-written with Andrew Day and published by Crown House) and his latest book Once Upon an If: The Storythinking Handbook (which includes a section on ‘Stories in Verse’ and is published by Bloomsbury). 

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