Young poets well versed in retailing their rhymes

13th August 2010 at 01:00
Pupils fuse talents to write and design their own bestselling collection of books

At secondary schools across East Dunbartonshire, books are flying off the shelves - books they are selling, that is.

St Ninian's High is into its second print run of 100 books, Boclair Academy is just about to run out, and both Kirkintilloch High and Merkland School have gone for larger initial print runs to meet demand.

The books, the result of a year-long project entitled Joined Up Learning, contain poems which the English pupils worked on with the help of poet Liz Lochhead, and which were illustrated with lino cuts by art classes, assisted by artist Willie Rodger. Business education pupils were in charge of the business side, such as pricing, marketing, creating a business plan and choosing a charity to benefit from the profits.

Co-ordinated by Media Matters Education Consultancy, events began last autumn when Liz Lochhead took the students for a series of poetry tutorials using Glow. It was decided that the books should have three separate sections. In the first, they had to write a poem based on an abstract noun, using all five senses; in the second they had to write about an animal and make it jump off the page, and lastly they had to find something they felt strongly about and again use their five senses to describe it.

Barbara Wilson, English teacher at Douglas Academy, found Lochhead's contribution particularly valuable. "For me, the biggest gain for the pupils was to get an insight into the creative process from the point of view of a writer of Liz Lochhead's calibre. She was very approachable and down-to-earth throughout the whole process and was brilliant at conveying her enthusiasm for writing and language to the pupils."

Glow allowed the tutorials to take place, but also enabled pupils to view the work in other schools, one aspect of the project which John McNulty, English teacher at Bishopbriggs Academy, appreciated.

"There was some time given to class discussion as the poems progressed through various drafts," he says, "but one very good aspect of the project was that the pupils were able to receive feedback and constructive criticism, using the Glow network to access a dedicated chatroom where the work in progress could be commented upon. This was accessible outwith the school day. This meant that class time discussion of the poems did not have to be extensive."

Once the poems had been decided upon, Willie Rodger collaborated with Liz Lochhead before beginning his tutorials. Pupils may have had images in their heads but Mr Rodger looked at the practical aspect of transferring them onto lino.

"If the image did not translate onto lino, I had to say: `It can't work'," he explains.

"It was important to simplify to tie in with the medium. Simplicity is the essence of good design. If it was complicated to start with, I would ask: `Does it help the poem? Does it give a sense of the poem?'"

Ailsa Mitchell, art teacher at Lenzie Academy, found the pupils' critical skills in particular were reinforced through the time spent self- and peer-assessing. She says: "The regular nature of them assessing their own and others' progress, not just a final piece of work, was invaluable. I feel the pupils are more reflective about their own work and supportive of others who may seek their opinion."

Finally, the business education students took over, deciding on a price, contacting Amazon, looking at how to market the books and organising book launches to promote them. The year's work had started to pay off.

Alison Bolger, principal teacher of art and design at Kirkintilloch High, is pleased with how their book has turned out. "I think the final product looks very professional and the pupils involved feel very proud of all they have achieved. I found working with both the English and business education departments very productive and enjoyable. We have established strong interdisciplinary links which we will build on in the coming session."


Poetry is something I wouldn't normally consider reading, other than in school, so to write my own was a totally new challenge.

- Emma Wheelhouse, Kirkintilloch High

I chose a leopard to base my poem on because I remember seeing a leopard in Edinburgh Zoo and feeling sorry for it. I really like the drawing! The artist was really helpful and listened to my poem, then explained her ideas to me.

- Amy Mitchell, Douglas Academy

Trying to get the words out at the beginning was hard but when I stopped worrying about precise words, it started to flow.

- John Duffy, Merkland School

I had to spend a bit of time trying to find out what the poem was all about and what the poet's feelings were and what the answers were on the research sheet we did at the very start.

- Abbie Wood, Lenzie Academy

I don't like animals, so I wrote a negative poem about them and called it Nemo.

- Zara Maxwell, St Ninian's High

I worked alongside a first-year pupil. He explained the poem to me and what he would like in the drawing. I had my own ideas but we compromised.

- Shannon Muir, Boclair Academy

For the abstract noun part, I chose desperation. I thought it was unusual and wanted a challenge.

- Amy Swan, Turnbull High

I chose my jealousy poem because I found it a challenge to think of senses for a word.

- Nadia Moghayer, Bishopbriggs Academy

It was a really uplifting experience to see my work being published in a proper anthology, being sold on well-known websites. It was also great being able to connect with art students and a celebrated poet like Liz Lochhead.

- Ewan McAleer, Bearsden Academy.

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