An ode to the literacy hour

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
All children love poetry, especially at key stage 2, boys included. And since the introduction of the literacy strategy, the chances to be touched by poetry in all its wonder are limitless.

It was not always so. For three decades poetry languished in the upper reaches of the primary school. Her heart was empty and her spirits low. She had much to give but her generosity was ignored. How perplexing it was that in a climate of unbridled creativity the teaching of poetry was so neglected.

Yes, the obligatory poem was read out at harvest festival or the carol service. Yes, a few relevant lines of verse were found to accompany a topic on water, weather or autumn. And to inspire a piece of creative writing teachers would find a poem or two, preferably in free-verse form so that children would be discouraged from penning anything which included those heinous, artificial conventions of rhyme and rhythm.

But that was about it. Everything was group work or individual learning and anything which brought children together in a whole-class session was frowned upon. And so the joy of sharing poems was denied to countless pupils.

Fortunately, there were some teachers who sensibly ignored the prevailing orthodoxy and did read poems to their classes. There were also new, exciting voices emerging in the world of children's poetry who found an eager, smiling audience relishing their work in the book corner.

Then came the literacy hour, and poetry was there in abundance. So once more she can reach out and touch with her rhyme, rhythm and free verse, carefully crafted imagery, and words which bring laughter, pleasure, comfort, sadness.

There are poems about smugglers, highwaymen, teachers, footballers and toothpaste.

Today poetry can touch pupils and teachers as never before. And maybe even for a lifetime.

Alan Kerr is a teacher and writer

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