From education to employment

Wandering Words Society inspires pupils to explore the world around them

Sarah Walker

Curiosity about the world has inspired a Drama teacher to take education outside the classroom. 

As part of her studies for a Master’s in Creative Education at the University of Chester, Sarah Walker created the Wandering Words Society where she and her pupils at Gateacre School explored different everyday environments in new and poetic ways. 

Sarah’s work for this project was recently named as a runner-up in The Educate Awards category of Creative and Innovative Literacy. 

Taking inspiration from the arts-based practice of Dérive and Ekphrastic Poetry, Sarah was able to encourage her pupils to create poetry from everyday life. The work created by the Society was then shared in an exhibition at the school where parents, fellow teachers and members of the local community were able to hear the students read their work. 

Sarah, from Liverpool, explained that the idea to create the Society was influenced by various experts in the field of Creative Practices who resonated with her during her own exploration of arts-based research as part of her studies.  

Sarah focused on two Arts-Based Practices – Dérive, originating from Guy Debord in 1958 but brought into a more contemporary space by Eva Mariachalar-Freixa, which encourages individuals to embrace the present moment by letting go of distractions and allowing themselves to be guided by the elements of their surroundings with curiosity as a driving force. This practice of immersive exploration inspired her to delve into Ekphrastic Poetry. Ekphrasis derives from the Greek word Describe and typically relates to a practice where artwork and one’s reaction to artwork is described vividly in poetic form. 

Inspired by her tutor Dr Simon Poole to explore this type of poetry and capture the essence of the moment and the environment around her, Sarah decided to share the experience with her students. 

She said: “I really felt the need to share my experience with the students within my school as it had such a profound effect on me. This is when I decided, for my final project, I would take my experience and see what would happen if I introduced it within my school community. After a brainstorming session, myself and the students really got down to the crux of what the Society is. We wander and then capture our experience into words – creating the Wandering Words Society. 

“We conducted three Dérives. The first took place within the school building due to the great British weather! For the second, we ventured outside the school premises, while the third saw us exploring the local wooded area, Childwall Woods, which none of the students had previously visited. During the third Dérive, we enjoyed a picnic in the woods, followed by individual explorations of the landscape. After each Dérive, we gathered as a group to discuss our observations, where the students shared images, thoughts, stories and initial poetic notes inspired by their in-the-moment experiences. The students were then encouraged to simply express their experiences in poetic form. It was important to me as a facilitator to allow the students creative freedom, making it implicit to the students that they do not have to conform to the traditional, expected forms of poetry. 

“By writing poetry inspired by their experiences and describing how they felt during this, is an incredibly transformative act, helping the group understand their own thought processes and helping them to articulate their feelings in a succinct manner. Not worrying about presentation, stanzas or rhyme encouraged the students even to express themselves exactly how they wanted to.”

Sarah’s students developed a newfound appreciation for the environment and even started to create their own poetry outside of school hours. Their work was also showcased in a Poetry Exhibition. She added:

“The most inspiring aspect of this project has been the students themselves. Their creative expressions often left me in awe during our sessions. Their expressions naturally emphasised the importance of observing our impact on the environment, reflecting a passionate sentiment shared among them. This wasn’t something I prompted, it just seemed to be a thread within their expressions. 

“Seeing the students take their poems from pen to performance was also an incredibly inspiring and enjoyable process. That night, they showcased the incredible capabilities of our young people and inspired more students to join.” 

Sarah now plans to study for a Doctorate of Education at the University of Chester and praised all her tutors for their passion and commitment in helping her academic journey. 

Dr Simon Poole said: “The Wandering Words Society project has ignited a transformative educational journey for our youth, where creativity knows no bounds. It’s truly inspiring to witness how these young minds redefine education, and it’s a testament to the power of creative practices in learning and now it is being celebrated through the recognition of the project in the Educate Awards.” 

Lynn Sampson-Chappell, Head of Childhood Education and Professional Development (CEPD) at the University, added:

“It has been a privilege to work with Sarah in the development of her research and to observe the impact of her practice on the young people she works with at Gateacre. Sarah’s research has been truly transformative for both Sarah and the young people she has worked with. Sarah embodies the CEPD department’s vision to make a difference to children, families and society through education.” 

Gareth Jones, Head teacher at Gateacre School, said:

“This was a new and exciting venture for Gateacre School. Led by an enthusiastic teacher who supported writing linked to performances from young people, it encouraged them to look at their surroundings, and appreciate them whilst stimulating their curiosity. The resulting outcome was an exceptionally entertaining evening, led by students and guided by a teacher that encouraged young people to step beyond their normal environment and create and perform some really outstanding and thought-provoking work; thoroughly entertaining and something to continue and develop for the future. Well done to all.”

Elle Gash, Head of Drama at Gateacre School said:

“The Gateacre School Drama department is so grateful to Sarah for the work she has done with the students through the Wandering Words Society. Encouraging students to be creative is at the heart of all that we do in our department. To see Sarah, a former Drama student at Gateacre School, enveloping our current students into her studies has been really special. The students have thrived in being allowed to direct their own creativity and have embraced the whole process. I am so proud of what has been achieved.”

To find out more about Creative Education at the University of Chester visit here.

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