The Role of Teaching Poetry in Developing Literacy in Greek Primary School: A Case Study
Aravani, Evagelia, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood
DeMille (2004) has said, 'If I could only teach one genre, it would be poetry. I want to inspire and instruct my students to craft clear and memorable pieces of writing. I want them to develop their own writing voices and become better consumers of the conventions of writing. No genre teaches these elements better than poetry' (p. 16). In this article we present the implementation of a poetry program called 'The Garden of poems' in the school year 2010-2011 at a Greek public kindergarten in Rethymno, Crete. Based on Rosenblatt's theory (Rosenblatt, 1976, 1978), this case study focused on the systematic teaching of different kinds of poems to preschool children, with the aim of increasing their love for poetry and enhancing their overall interest in reading. The children participated in the program from October 2010 to June 2011 and engaged in many literary and reading activities focusing on exploring the basic elements of poems and developing their vocabulary and creative thinking.
The article begins with demonstrating the theoretical framework of the research: i.e. the role and importance of systematic poetry teaching at school in developing literacy and increasing reading motivation, and the Transactional theory. The second part includes the description of the poetry program, while in the third part we present the methodology, the results of this 'attempt' to teach poetry in primary school, as well as suggestions for effective poetry teaching.
a. The role of teaching poetry in developing literacy and reading motivation
Poetry should have a central place in all of our lives, not only for the aesthetic pleasure it affords, but also for its ability to awaken our senses or bring the element of surprise into our lives. In our fast-paced, 'instant everything' world, we need poetry because it helps children and adults to ponder, observe, ask questions and discover sights, sounds and feelings that otherwise might remain untapped. It brings balance and beauty to our increasingly complex world. It makes us laugh, teaches us powerful lessons, and renews our souls (Harrison & Holderith, 2003).
In terms of the relationship of preschool children with poetry, children experience poems before entering school, during school, and outside the classroom (Hopkins, 1987). They have a spontaneous predilection for playing with language, engaging in poetic discourse even before their first poetry lesson. As Tompkins, Bright, Pollard and Winsor put it (1998), 'They are natural poets and poetry surrounds them as they chant jump-rope rhymes on the playground, clap out rhythm of favourite poems and dance in response to songs' (p. 414).
One cannot help but wonder to what extent systematic teaching could foster the development of this natural predilection. Cumming's case study (2007) showed that children's poetry experiences are nurtured by building bridges between the pre-existing knowledge of language play and the specialised knowledge of poetry acquired through systematic teaching in the classroom. As a teaching tool, poetry initiates students in critical discourse (Camanqian, 2008; Stange & Wyant, 2008) by building skills, making connections and supporting creative thinking (Neuman, 2007). Spoken-word poetry, which utilises the strengths of communities (i.e. oral tradition, call-and-response, home languages, storytelling and resistance) has been reported to foster dialogue and action and enhance students' critical thinking (Desai & Marsh, 2005).
It has also been demonstrated that children can be encouraged to show original ideas through constructing their own poetic texts, to explore their emotions (Fraser, 2006), develop new insights into their own writing and creating, and express meaning across and within the semiotic language of poetry (Cowan & Albers, 2006). Because poetry provides an easy vehicle for practising sight words, word identification skills and fluency inspire enthusiasm for literacy in many unexpected ways (Pitcher, 2009; Sekeres & Gregg 2007). …