Connecting the Arts in the Primary Classroom through Ekphrastic poetry

Ms Beth Ashton looks at ways we can connect the Arts in Primary Education, arguing that the discipline of ekphrasis (connecting visual arts with poetic form) helps learners to develop creative expression.

The power of the visual image in relation to development has been extensively studied. Many of the skills of analysis used in decoding an image are also present in the analysis of text. Images are the way we first experience the world, and inspire immediate and emotive responses from students. I chose to explore the use of paintings as a stimulus for poetry writing with Year 6 students. This discipline of using visual arts in dialogue with poetic form is a discipline known as ekphrasis, and has been used by celebrated writers throughout literary history.

It is significant to note that simply using an image as a stimulus for poetry would not meet the criteria necessary to achieve true ekphrastic work – the intentionality of the artist is essential in order to create a dialogue between poet (in this case Year 6 girls), painting, and artist.

Research shows that when using a painting as the stimulus for poetry writing, children invent a context, story and message around the image. They are thus inventing their own story and interpretation of the artwork, and communicating truths about themselves in the process, through the meanings they project onto the painting. The poet is not simply writing a descriptive piece about the subject (i.e. the painting), they are using the subject as a way to communicate truths about themselves.

This process of exploring context and creating a message through creative expression is one which can, if we are not vigilant, fall by the wayside in the classroom. The National Curriculum focuses on the structural elements of writing, such as grammar and syntax. Whilst these are of course essential, they are not, and should never be, the driving reason behind the study of English Literature. Reading objectives and national assessments currently require students to interpret a text in order to locate an absolute, definitive meaning, which is not open to subjective interpretation. Anyone who has any experience of literature, from Shakespeare to Horrid Henry, knows that meaning is fluid and highly dependent on the context of the reader; this is what makes reading one of life’s great pleasures.

By engaging children in writing based on visual images and artwork, we are encouraging them to embrace the idea of ambiguity, and the possibility that there are many different ways to interpret artwork, whatever the medium. We are also teaching our students that the meanings we make are dependent on our context, and may change over time. These skills are essential, as pupils learn to grapple with difference and tolerate alternative perspectives to their own world view.

In order to explore Ekphrastic poetry, pupils studied Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, analysing the image as a whole class and trying to predict what could be happening within the image. They then read Tennyson’s poem of the same name. The second intervention followed the same structure, with a different painting. This time, the pupils analysed George and the Dragon painted by Paolo Uccello in the 14th Century. Pupils then read an abridged version of the poem Not My Best Side, by U.A. Fanthorpe[1], written in the 1970s. Through writing in role as the characters in the painting, Fanthorpe produced a commentary on established gender roles. The inner personalities of the characters are revealed in first person, showing a subversion of the roles played in the painting.

Following analysis of the second painting and poem pair, the pupils were invited to choose a piece of artwork to bring to class, from which they would produce their own poem. Poems ranged from first-person diary entries, written in role as Ophelia, to reflections on Monet’s Waterlilies, writing in role as a lonely bridge, stretching over a pond.

George and the Dragon painted by Paolo Uccello

Ekphrastic poetry is a useful and engaging way in which to encourage children to take ownership over different art forms and begin to see the links across the curriculum. It is also an impactful and insightful way to create a classroom which values ambiguity and open-ended meaning making.


[1]
See http://english.emory.edu/classes/paintings&poems/uccello.html for the full poem

Why should WHS connect more with the community?

Janvi, (Year 13) explains what her role as Charities and Partnerships Rep involves and explores her plans for the year. In our busy daily lives, why is it important to make connections to the wider world?

What does the role of Charities and Partnerships Rep involve?

I think it is reasonable to say that the average WHS girl leads a fairly busy life. With countless deadlines and extra-curricular commitments, sometimes it seems impossible to find time for yourself, let alone for others! As Charities and Partnerships Rep, one of my main duties is to remind students of the importance of giving time to charity and helping those in need. I truly believe the core characteristics lying at the heart of every WHS girl are empathy and kindness, and my aim is to motivate pupils throughout the school to use these values to help make a significant impact on the lives of people around us.

Another important aspect of my role is organising and running various charity events such as the Autumn Charity Fair which took place last week. It was heart-warming to see students of all ages working together to raise money for various causes, led by our newly elected year-group charity reps.

Aims for the year

My aims for this academic year fall under three categories:

  1. Raising awareness

Bringing awareness to the work which a charity does is very important as it encourages more people to get involved and fundraise as well as bringing to light different issues faced by people across the world. For this reason, I plan to start a termly newsletter detailing the work done by our chosen year-group charities and the charity events that have been taking place.

 

  1. Giving time and getting involved

As I have mentioned, giving time to charity is often neglected due to our busy lives, so with the help of our year-group charity reps, I would like to encourage people to take time out of their week to help others.

 

  1. Increasing our fundraising output

Fundraising is crucial as charities need money to provide the people they help with specific resources and services. Therefore, the goal for each year group this year is to raise £300 per term towards their chosen charity.

Why is making connections to the wider world so important?

Our pastoral theme for this year is “Connections”, which is an idea that links very closely to charity and partnerships. When it comes to charity work, there is often a heavy focus on fundraising. Whilst giving money to charity is undoubtedly important, the power of connecting with individuals on a personal level is astounding and often underestimated. Every week during our Enrichment session at Kew House Care Home, I find myself astonished at the impact our visit has on the elderly residents. Seeing their faces light up as we chat to them and play games with them is a powerful reminder of the difference that can be made to a person’s life by simply giving your time and energy without expecting anything in return. To us, it is simply an hour out of our day every week, whilst to them we are making a significant improvement to their day.

Spending time with people in our community and making connections with them is also incredibly rewarding. Not only does it bring happiness and a sense of fulfilment and purpose, but it constantly challenges us to see the world from somebody else’s perspective and reminds us to be grateful for what we have. In our day-to-day life it is very easy to forget how lucky we are and the privilege we hold, but charity work enables us to put our problems into perspective which is crucial to living a fulfilling life.

For these reasons, my main goal this year is to encourage students to make connections, whether it be locally or globally, because giving a tiny fraction of your time to support a person who is in desperate need of help can truly make a significant improvement to their life.

Being a House Captain at WHS…

Lucy (Y13), on behalf of herself and the three other house captains, explains the role of the house captains on the Student Leadership Team and within the school.

 

What does it take to be a House Captain?

(Some of) Team Arnold

The answer, a (perhaps overly) infectious amount of enthusiasm and spirit to spread to others. Becoming a role model for younger girls as you take on the title as a leader in a different style of community within the school. To encourage, collaborate and, most importantly, enjoy every House event!

As House Captains it is essential that we bring together and lead a family within the school. The House system within Wimbledon High is a wonderful opportunity to provide inter-year bonds across all year groups, setting a precedent for years to come. Regardless of how exciting and competitive our roles may be, the friendships girls make with one another within their Houses proves more valuable to their school life here at Wimbledon High.

What does the role entail? 

The possibilities of the role can be endless; it is what you make of it. As House Captain of Arnold, I believe the main priorities of the position are to support and encourage other Arnold girls whatever the opportunity may be, to ensure that they fully express themselves and create a new sense of confidence whilst in a supportive environment. House events allow girls to showcase their talents across the curriculum – from cooking to debating, sport to music – and whilst doing so we hope the girls develop a sense of pride and honour for their House.

Sports Day 2019

After being in the role since the Summer Term, I don’t think I have ever been as enthusiastic for any position than I have been for Arnold House Captain. The rush to decorate the stands for Sports Day last term saw us all getting together to help design posters and banners to fill up the stand with a wash of bright and exciting colour. The day was filled with high spirits from the girls as they, as true Wimbledonians, battled through the unfortunate rain shower. Chanting at the tops of their voices and sprinting to every finish line, to which Arnold (of course) claimed victory! Speaking for all of us, I can confidently say that we have never felt as proud to lead such a vibrant community of girls that day. Our hopes are high for the following year to come…

Sports Day 2019

This year our Student Leadership Team’s theme is Connections. As House Captains, we want to encourage more competition between the houses to raise the profile of each house. By making victories more visible throughout the school we hope that this creates a competitive spirit and feeling of pride and identity to each girl’s house. We wish to carry this new ambition into House events this year as House Music has just got underway this week with the raffle drawn of the decades. With Meredith winning confidently last year, House Music is one of the most passionately contested events of the year and with the encouragement and spirit of the girls we all hope to do our Houses proud by conducting each performance. Although, I have rather ambitious hopes for Arnold this year with the 80s… best decade, surely, we have to win

Despite only taking on the role as House Captain for one term so far, I can confidently say we have all jumped into the exciting role with great commitment and energy. Our message to girls in our houses is to put yourself forward, to get involved and to make friends with girls in other year groups. We hope to fulfil our role to the school with even more passion and excitement to make this year the most highly contested year for the Houses!


May the best house win…

Bioplastics – always a good thing?

Plastic bottles

Saskia (Y13) questions whether bioplastics have been misbranded as an eco-friendly material and discusses factors we all should consider as consumers.

In the student leadership team, we have been thinking a lot about connections – within the school, within ourselves, and connections with the wider world. You will be hearing a lot more about the environment this year from Flora, our Environment Rep, but as I have been investigating whether the UK should be investing in bioplastics for my EPQ, I thought I would write about a few of my findings and hopefully encourage all of us to think more about the impact we are having on our world, and how we can work together to connect more with the environment.

Plastic underwater With its many uses – from industrial to home use, packaging, toys and clothes, its durability, light weight and low cost – plastics make economic sense and are in many ways ideal for 21st century living. But we are now all much more aware of the time – up to 1000 years – that plastics take to break down, when put into landfill. An estimated 3 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year. Alongside the life span factor, the raw material for traditional plastics – commonly from non-renewable sources such as oil – bring questions of sustainability. Acting on this, companies have looked for biomass (wheat, corn, sugar cane, sugar beet, potatoes and other plants) to turn into plastics. Thus, bioplastics have been created. A positive development, we might all agree.

However, straightaway we have to question the energy needed to transport biomass to a manufacturing plant to make bioplastics. We must then consider the energy needed to create them – the energy used in production for any type of plastic is high. Most importantly for the consumer, and what I want to focus on here, is the question of the disposal of bioplastics. It is a misconception to believe that bioplastics are better for the environment than petroleum plastics after life. Bioplastics are not necessarily biodegradable even though they are made from biomass materials. Bioplastics can be made to decompose; however, this is only common in products that have a short life. I am very keen to spread this message!

The Guardian[1] started some months ago wrapping their Saturday magazine supplement in corn starch wrapping. The corn starch wrapping can go into compost bins and decompose – no problems there. However, the new Coca Cola Plantbottle[2] cannot decompose. A plastic bottle, even made from biomass, will on average take 450 years to break down.

Plantbottle What CocaCola want you to do is to recycle your PlantBottle in the correct facility. In keeping the bioplastic of the bottles in use, they are promoting the circular economy that is becoming much more of a consideration for anyone in the manufacturing process. The problem, of course, is the human factor: how can you ensure the correct separation of materials to recycle efficiently and without contamination? If the separation does not work, one type of plastic can easily be mixed into another type and thus contaminate a batch of recycled product. This batch is then not able to be used in certain situations or at all due to the change in properties.

This is just a snapshot of some of the findings from my research. I believe bioplastics are a good alternative to the petrochemical plastics that we have used for so long. I say this with caution though because as I hope I have demonstrated, there are still many downsides to the materials. However, I believe that as our technology improves the impact that bioplastics have will decrease. It is key that we make these changes if bioplastics are ever going to be sustainable especially as the world is developing rapidly.

By focusing on education and minimising the impact humans are having on the environment we will ensure that there is a future for younger generations. It will involve considerable investment; we would need to change the materials we use, spend money clearing up plastic pollution and grow to educate an awareness of the afterlife of all types of plastics, including bioplastics. My main belief is that we need to change the way we use materials. It is just not feasible to continue increasing the amount of plastic packaging that the world is using and thus the most ideal situation is to dramatically decrease the amount of packaging and our dependence on plastics overall. I hope I have inspired you to think; if you have ideas of how we can do this within our WHS community, do let the SLT know.

 


References: 

[1] Natasha Hitti, [website], 2019, https://www.dezeen.com/2019/01/14/guardian-biodegradable-wrapping-design/

[2] CocaColaCo, [website], 2015, https://www.coca-colacompany.com/videos/introducing-plant-bottle-ytaevvjxqwaz8