In this post, I share some information about Michael Rosen. I hope you are already aware of Michael Rosen because he is an amazing poet, author, educator and so much more.
If you know nothing else about him, you probably know his award-winning picture book Going on a Bear Hunt with its wonderful illustrations by Helen Oxenbury. This article in the Guardian that tells how he came to write it and Helen to illustrate it is quite fascinating.
Here’s a video of Michael telling Going on a Bear Hunt and some others of his stories.
Poetry is a wonderful tool for learning language. When children listen to or recite poetry, they are learning the rhythms and sounds of language, exploring ideas and how to express them, expanding vocabularies, deepening understanding in nuances of meaning, and having fun with thoughts and their expression.
Children are exposed to rhythm and rhyme from their earliest days through nursery rhymes, chants and songs as well as the text of picture books. It is important for children to have opportunities for appreciating and exploring poetry into and throughout their school years. The Australian Curriculum places poetry firmly into the literature strand of English teaching each year. But it is not necessary to relegate poetry just to a poetry unit of work when stipulated by the curriculum. Poetry, rhymes, chants and songs can be easily incorporated into the daily class program.
Michael Rosen, who you may know as the author of Going on a Bear Hunt and who I previously introduced to you in this post, shares some recommendations for teaching poetry on his blog. Although the suggestions were written for a year one teacher, I think the suggestions could be extended out to other years. Following his recommendations would more than cover the expectations of the Australian Curriculum, and what a wonderful way to turn children (and yourself) onto poetry.
I’m only sharing a few of his recommendations here. Please visit his website to read the others.
Michael Rosen’s suggestions for teaching poetry
Get as many poetry books into your classroom as possible. Encourage the children in pairs to browse, choose and read.
Read poems to them every day, use vids of poets (check out Michael Rosen’s YouTube channel) , use national poetry archive. Writing poems with no poems in your head is too big an ask. Fill their heads with ‘What poetry can do’ ie loads of poems.
I decided to give myself a break from writing about the confusion that students may feel as they attempt to navigate the murky waters of expectations and inappropriate curricula that have little connection with their lives; or about how disoriented they may feel in an environment that bears little resemblance to any other they will experience.
Instead I decided to share an interesting story I heard this week and a flash fiction which is more memoir than fiction, a reminder to self of how lucky I am to be doing what I am.
“Each letter in the book is linked to a topic. Each chapter takes on different aspects of how the alphabet has been used. Each chapter is preceded by the short story of how that particular letter evolved, how its name came to be pronounced that way and something on how the letter itself is spoken and played with.”
When listening to Rosen read his chapter about the letter ‘K’, “K is for Korean”, I was fascinated to find out that the alphabet of South Korea, Hangul, is “the earliest known successful example of a sudden, conscious, total transformation of a country’s writing.”
The alphabet, described by Rosen as more of “syllabic monograms” than letters and is easy to learn, was devised in the mid-fifteenth century by the ruler of the time, King Sejong, as a way of enabling everyone to be literate.
Prior to the introduction of this alphabet, Chinese characters were used. According to an article on Wikipedia “using Chinese characters to write was so difficult for the common people that only privileged aristocrats usually male, could read and write fluently. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul.”
Rosen says that what is “remarkable . . . is that there was an already existing system of writing which was, to all intents and purposes, overthrown in its entirety – not adapted. (It happened) because one part of the ruling elite decided that a total change was the only way in which everyone could read and write easily.”
Hear! Hear! I say, and express a wish that all our students of English would find learning to read and write far more easy and enjoyable than many do, that more emphasis would be placed upon helping students learn than in “teaching” particular content at particular times.
Also included in Rosen’s chapter about ‘K’ was mention of the Voynich Manuscript which appears to be scientific in origin, but which contains fictitious plants and is written in a “language” which no one, including codebreaking experts, has been able to decipher and read. Rosen says that “With one beautifully executed volume, (the author) causes instability and doubt at the heart of the production, ownership and use of knowledge. It is a carefully constructed absurdist joke.”
Unfortunately for a small (but too large) number of our students, reading and writing for them is often as confusing as the Voynich Manuscript.
For a little bit of reminiscing, here is a video of Michael Rosen talking about the dreaded Friday spelling test. I wonder how his experience matches yours.
And so to my flash fiction of disorientation and confusion . . .
The pulsing train wheels pounded in my head.
Way off in the distance voices called instructions to each other.
“What day is it?” I said.
The voices were closer now. “She’s in here.”
“Can you walk? Come with us,” they said.
They led me to a vehicle and bade me lie down inside.
Then came the questions:
What’s your name? When were you born? What day is it? Why are you here? Who are you with?
Slowly, as if from the deepest recesses, I drew each recalcitrant answer, recreating identity.
“You’re okay. You bumped your head,” they said.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.
This article mentioned a book by Steven Pinker called Better Angels of Our Nature which had been recommended to me by Geoff Le Pard in a comment on my post about childhood illness. The premise of this book is that humanity, over the ages, has become less violent. After to listening to Pinker’s history of violence, I’m pleased that I live these relatively peaceful times.
The article also introduced me to a new term ‘meliorism’ which means having a belief that the world can be improved by the actions of humans. While the term may have been unfamiliar to me, the attitude is not and I attest that I am a meliorist.
I have a very strong belief in the power of education to improve the world. Education empowers individuals, and educated individuals empower societies to build improved futures. It becomes very difficult to sustain negative practices in the face of overwhelming evidence and information.
What better place is there for education to begin than in the home?
I think Rosen’s book should be available to, perhaps compulsory reading for, every parent; I consider its message to be that important. In fact, I am off to the shops today to purchase copies to give to parents of young children I know. It will become part of my gift to new parents that also includes Reading Magic by Mem Fox and a selection of picture books. I have previously blogged about that here and here.
The “Good Ideas” contained in Rosen’s book, if implemented, will keep alive the natural curiosity of one’s children and oneself. They will encourage the development of thought, creativity and responsiveness.
In the next few weeks I will post a more detailed review of the book and some of Michael’s ideas for stimulating curiosity, whoever and wherever you are.
What about you? Are you a meliorist?
I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.
Two recurring themes, amongst others on my blog, are ways of encouraging a love of literacy and of questioning in young children.
If you read my post Going on a treasure hunt! you will know that I greatly admire the work of Michael Rosen and its contribution to literacy development. You may have followed the links and checked out the riches in store on his website.
You can imagine my delight, then, when I read a review of new book by Michael Rosen. (Thank you, Anne Goodwin, for alerting me to it.) The review, posted by Sabine Durrant in The Guardian on 6 September 2014, discusses Rosen’s new book How to be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher. I confess that I have not read the book but I am very excited to see that it is now available as an audiobook, so it is next on my listening list. So much about the book appeals to me.
Rather than review the review I will simply leave with you the links to the review:
A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of taking my two gorgeous grandchildren to a performance of Michael Rosen’s “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”. To say we enjoyed it would be an understatement. We had a rollicking good time.
The performance involved a lot of audience participation including spraying the entire audience with water from the “deep cold river”; an event which left everyone slightly wet, screaming with anticipation and laughter, and genuinely having a wonderful time interacting with this fabulous text.
We were already familiar with the text, of course, and had read it, recited it, acted it out and played a board game which has been made to accompany the text. None of this really prepared us for the delightful stage performance; but these pale in comparison with a telling by the master storyteller himself, Michael Rosen.
Michael Rosen’s website is a veritable treasure chest with much to explore and delight. From his home page you can visit his blog which he describes a as a place where he’ll
“post up some thoughts and ideas – especially on literature in education, children’s literature in general, poetry, reading, writing, teaching and thoughts on current affairs.”
After attending the performance of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” I shared with my grandchildren the video of Michael Rosen performing the story, which is also available from his home page. They loved it and we watched it “Again!”
Then I showed them the video of Rosen performing his fabulous poem Chocolate Cake. We watched it four times! Artie, who is four (and a half) was joining in with the telling the second time, and by the fourth time was copying many of Michael’s actions as well as facial and vocal expressions. Artie laughed along with the story and excitedly called other members of the family to watch it with him.
The next time Artie came to visit he was performing his own version, “Lollipop”, with similar actions and both facial and vocal expressions. His younger sister also had to have her turn telling the story. It was delightful and convinced me, though I needed no convincing, of the power of a great performer to turn children onto the fun of language, of playing with words, of performing, and of composing writing of their own. Creativity ignited!
If you haven’t yet watched Michael perform Chocolate Cake, I urge you to do so. You are in for a treat. I’m certain you will not be able to watch it without a smile on your face.
Michael is so passionate about making poetry come alive for children, he has made many videos on his website freely available to teachers for use in their classrooms.
He then goes on to present many fun ways of engaging children with poetry, none of which involve word study or comprehension exercises. He makes suggestions for performing, writing and talking about poems; and says that
“The best and most important thing you can do with any poem that a child writes is either get it performed or ‘published.”
and offers suggestions of how to do just that.
Another thing he says in that article, which was the inspiration for the title of this post, is
I couldn’t agree more.
This is just a brief sample of the riches to be found on the Michael Rosen website. There are so many videos of Michael’s performances available that I have not yet watched them all. Please let me know your favourites and I will make sure I watch those too.
Thanks Michael Rosen. We can learn so much from you while we are having fun!