Cornered on poets

1st June 2007 at 01:00
Most primary school teachers could not name more than three poets for children and more than a fifth could not name a single one, a survey of 1,200 teachers by the UK Literacy Association found.

Michael Rosen was the favourite children's poet with teachers, with 452 mentions. Allan Ahlberg, Roger McGough and Spike Milligan were also popular.

The study revealed gaps in primary teachers' knowledge of picture book authors, too. Most could not name more than three, but almost a quarter were unable to name a single one.

Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne, Shirley Hughes, Mick Inkpen and Allan Ahlberg were among the favourites. Dr Seuss was mentioned but not a front-runner.

Teresa Cremin, president elect of the UKLA and professor of education at Canterbury Christ Church university, said the responses suggested that teachers' knowledge of children's authors was narrow.

The association asked teachers to list six "good" children's authors, six picture book authors and six poets.

Professor Cremin said: "With children's authors it boiled down to a very limited number: Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, JK Rowling and Anne Fine.

"Although there was a large number of authors named overall, breadth is absent. Roald Dahl got 744 mentions, the next nearest got around 300. There were only about 12 authors who received 100 mentions."

Teachers said they decided which books to use on the basis of personal interest and knowledge. Only a fifth referred to library services.

The association is now working with Birmingham, Kent, Medway, Suffolk and Barking and Dagenham authorities to raise teachers' knowledge of literature through reading groups and links with libraries.

The survey also asked about teachers' own reading habits. It found that primary teachers have a soft spot for so-called chick-lit and thrillers.

Almost three-quarters of teachers had read books for pleasure within the past month.

Professor Cremin said: "They mentioned popular fiction, such as The Da Vinci Code, Memoirs of a Geisha, Jodi Picoult. Autobiographies and biographies were popular, especially where there was some sense of triumph over adversity."

When teachers were asked what was the most important book they had read, the Bible was mentioned most often. Other books were significant novels from the past 30 years or classics that were studied in secondary school.

Eleven per cent mentioned a children's book.

Professor Cremin said teachers could be more adventurous with the books they use in class.

"Our sense is that teachers are readers and their memories of reading are dominated by powerful and emotional texts," she said. "They enjoy reading popular books and they also remember powerful books. But in the classroom they only read light, fun texts. There is a discrepancy there."

* For suggested poets see the annual Centre for Literay in Primary Education poetry award shortlist

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