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Ways to learn to love a poem

The inspectorate is urging schools to recognise that writing is "the ultimate fundamental core skill, the key to educational success and social inclusion." But one academic specialist says pupils need to start by listening to funny poems full of "farts and poos".

Speaking to 600 primary teachers at the last of three "Write Expectations" conferences organised by East Dunbartonshire council, Ken Greer, HMI national specialist in english and communication, acknowledged that writing is a complex skill some pupils approach with "negative attitudes." But he suggested that writing can be made enjoyable from the pre-school years on, if pupils are steered towards it as a curricular choice. Other strategies could include advising parents so they could help their children, getting pupils to discuss their efforts as a group and encouraging teachers to talk about their own writing. Pupils' writing could also be made public, perhaps on the web. But he emphasised that schools should move on to a planned programme, giving pupils frequent chances to write and creating "a writing culture."

Mr Greer acknowledged the difficult conflicts in teaching writing. Teachers must choose whether to promote "a mystical or a mechanical approach." Its attainment is more important than equality. Do they want to differentiate pupils by response or by input? Should they use discrete or whole language approaches?

The call to avoid rushing into writing poetry came from Eleanor Gavienas, a lecturer at Strathclyde University. She told the conference that poetry could build a love of words that would enrich language learning and writing. But children should begin by listening. They needed poems read aloud for five minutes at least twice a week. Humorous poems ("the farts and the poos") could be used first, and the serious ones later.

They should be encouraged to read aloud - and to copy any poem they wanted to keep. Then, as they began writing themselves, it was good to give them the support of an audience listening to them read in their turn.

Lynn Wilson, a P3 teacher at Gartconner Primary in Kirkintilloch, has attended all three East Dunbartonshire conferences. She said her pupils had made progress in writing: "We no longer focus on the mechanics. We concentrate on characterisation and preparation, and this helps the children identify with the characters before they start to write."

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