Exploring Experience: A Sea-Change in Poetry Provision

By Dahouk, Angel; Colley, Bea | NATE Classroom, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Exploring Experience: A Sea-Change in Poetry Provision


Dahouk, Angel, Colley, Bea, NATE Classroom


Aristotle, in his seminal treatise Poetics, stated that 'there is not the same correctness in poetry as in politics' but, morality and justice aside, we can maintain that there is not the same correctness in poetry as in mathematics or even literacy.

It is sometimes forgotten in education that poetry is an art form and not simply a tool for developing reading and writing skills. Poems can be reflective of the world around us, they can be self-expressive, and they have the ability to illuminate new or challenging topics through play with language. A postgraduate student in Science Communication at the University of Glamorgan was commissioned by NASA in New York to develop Astrobiology Rap', designed to make a story of science to expand its accessibility. Arguments about the instrumental use of poetry are immediately apparent in this example, but the intention is not to dilute poetry, it is to encourage poetic forms of understanding in all aspects of learning and life. Poetry, as we hear so often, is everywhere, but we don't always recognise it or relate to it. By opening up the possibilities for poetry across the curriculum, we can allow young people to develop the linguistic and social competencies that poetry study demands as well as highlighting the value of verse in their every day lives.

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Proposals to transform the primary curriculum according to the recommendations made in the Rose Report (April 2009) have resulted in six areas of learning in place of discrete subject areas. The new areas will allow for more flexibility in approaches to teaching, and indeed one of the aims driving this move is to increase the opportunity for cross-curricular links. Furthermore, the creation of an area under the heading 'understanding the arts' is an exciting and progressive step towards giving the arts a permanent presence in schools. In 2002, the HEARTS (Higher Education, the Arts and Schools) experiment looked into strengthening the initial training of primary school teachers in the arts, but although poetry and storytelling featured in some of the pilots, the scheme was primarily concerned with the four main areas of dance, drama, music and the visual arts. The new areas of learning are a welcome change, but it still remains uncertain whether poetry will be expanded as an art form beyond the programme of study for English.

Primary school teachers are not necessarily English specialists, and even less likely to be poetry specialists. The Ofsted report 'Poetry in Schools: a survey of practice' was published at the end of 2007, and looked at the provision for poetry in both primary and secondary schools. Although it stated that provision for poetry was at least satisfactory in all the schools visited, it was weaker than the other aspects of English inspected. It found that many teachers, especially in the primary schools inspected, did not know enough about poetry. Research completed by the UK Literacy Association found that 58% of primary teachers surveyed could only name one, two or no poets at all. 22% could not name a single poet. Of the poets that were identified, the same names appeared over and over. As poetry is often used as a literacy tool, there can be a lack of diversity in the poems chosen for the classroom, and little opportunity for students themselves to be creative. In Ofsted's words, 'poetry becomes primarily a teaching tool for language development rather than a medium for exploring experience'.

The Poetry Society is working with Roehampton University and Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln to pilot specialised poetry sessions in their teacher training courses over the coming years. With funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the sessions will be developed and delivered in partnership with poet-educators from the Poetry Society's Poetryclass team, and will look to embed pioneering new approaches to poetry in initial teacher training courses at primary level. …

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