Creative Teaching: Poetry for Reflection

Dr Kirsten Jack recently featured in a film for our Good Practice Exchange in which we focused on her creative use of poetry for nurse education. As many people find out, creative teaching can be quite a risky business and encouraging students to engage in activities outside of their comfort zones can be challenging. Here, Kirsten has answered four extra questions looking into issues of engagement and class management as well as looking ahead at what lies ahead for poetry in her teaching.

1. Do you have trouble engaging students in the challenging task of writing and reading out a poem?
“I think there can be students who are resistant to the process and some students do need more encouragement. I think a lot of students focus on the end product, which is the poem. And it is hard to get the message across that it isn’t about the end product at all, it is about the stages that they go through to write that end product. We know, and our students have told us that it is the drafting and redrafting of the poem that is the important bit, so it is the thinking and the stepping back and the thinking about it rather than the actual poem. We try to reinforce that and keep telling the students that.
I think another way to encourage students to take part is how we write our own poem and when we read our poem too, so we are exposing something of ourselves as well. I think that is very important to promote the fact that we all feel vulnerable and we all have experiences in practice that may be upsetting, that we feel sad about or, indeed, feel particularly happy about, but it is the sharing and the understanding bit that is important.
The other method I use is to say ‘don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! Have a go, write something and have a go at reading it out and then tell that you don’t like it, but just try and do your best.’ And I think if you set the scene and encourage the students over a period of weeks, they start to feel more comfortable with you and with their colleagues in the classroom, I think that is really helpful.”

2. Student often talk about very sensitive subjects, how do you manage this?
“Our students tell us that sitting and thinking about how they felt about an experience, writing the poem and redrafting and the rethinking and the rewording helps them to think and revisit an incident in a very meaningful way. I think that is particularly important for the incidents where students talk about something, which may involve a death of somebody, and it may involve the death of a patient that they have maybe got quite close to. So, going over the incident and going over the death and how they felt can be a very cathartic experience for them. They are in a group when they read the poems out, they are with their friends, they are with me, so it is safe environment and it is a way of them understanding that what they are feeling is normal and that other people feel the same. Very often, students will get upset when they are reading the poem out or they are talking about what happened, and they will cry and other students will cry. Sometimes I cry too, but I think that is OK because then the students think ‘well, it is not just me! I’m alright. I don’t need to be any tougher. It is alright to feel these things’, so I think it normalises the situation for them.

3. What do you most enjoy about doing poetry for reflection?
I think the best think about this session and this way of teaching is the meaningful discussions that we have after the poems have been read out and the way in which this style of teaching develops confidence. There is nothing like writing a poem and then reading it out to develop a student’s confidence and a lot of them feel very uncomfortable about it, but once they have done it, usually they are very glad they have done it and they feel better about themselves for having done it.

4. Are there any developments on the horizon?
“I think a way of developing this activity, and this has come from the students, a group of students, about five of them , from the last group that we ran the session with, they wanted to have their poems recorded. So we’ve recorded the poems and what we are going to do is put some animation over the top of that, and they are going to own all of that. Hopefully then we are going to use that as a way of spreading the word amongst nursing that writing poems is a really good way to share experiences about our practice.”


The Good Practice Exchange is an online resource created by CELT MMU to celebrate and share good practice in learning, teaching and assessment by our colleagues across the university. If you or your colleagues have a teaching initiative or aspect of good practice you think would be valuable to share, contact Eleanor Livermore on e.livermore@mmu.ac.uk. Thank you.

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