This week, the government has announced key changes to the GCSE English Literature syllabus this week, in response to teachers’ concerns about how much material is to be covered in such a short amount of time. For the 2020-21 exam series, students will be given a choice of two of the following options: Nineteenth-Century novel, Post-1914 literature and Poetry. Sadly, the consensus already seems to be that schools will unanimously decide to drop poetry. This was never going to be an easy year, but dropping a whole genre from GCSE English Literature does not appear to be the best solution. Here are five reasons to keep poetry on the syllabus.
Poetry is one of the most playful forms of expression
Poetry is one of the best ways to encourage creative expression. It shows students that language and structure can be played and experimented with. There are no set rules to follow, and this is brilliant for students who love to be creative. Whilst the GCSE classroom sometimes loses sight of this, showing students a Poetry Slam will leave them in no doubt whatsoever of the energy and vibrancy of poetry as a genre. Many teenagers enjoy writing poetry, in fact a recent article by the BBC revealed that they read and write more poetry than any other genre. They clearly respond to the creative potential of poetry.
Poetry gives us immediate access to other voices and cultures
Many of the poems on the GCSE syllabus introduce students to other cultures and key historical events, such as the Holocaust, Vietnam, Apartheid to name but a few. No other genre can give students such quick insights into other worlds. There are so many poets out there who are using poetry as their chosen genre to explore questions of identity, race and prejudice. In the wake of events this year, students need to be given the opportunity to discuss these topics and broaden their understanding of the injustices that have prompted the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Poetry is our oldest form of storytelling
It may seem strange to believe now, but the novel is actually comparatively a very young genre. Before the Eighteenth Century, poetry was the chosen medium for storytelling. Sagas such as Beowolf, The Iliad and The Odyssey, were recited as poems orally around the fire to pass cold, dark evenings. In fact when the novel first began to enter the mainstream in the Eighteenth Century, it was seen as a vastly inferior method of storytelling, compared to the discipline of poetry. Choosing to ostracise poetry from GCSE English Literature means casting out a form of storytelling that has been around for centuries, and was once held up as the highest means of expression that brought communities together.
Poetry teaches concise expression
Poetry is a great way to show students how effectively a story can be told in relatively few words. You can cover a poem in a single lesson, and within an hour students can learn so much about the power of language to communicate ideas. Poetry shows them that it really is not about how much you write, but how well you choose your words, form and structure.
We know that not every poem has to rhyme perfectly, but our brains are conditioned from an extremely young age to respond to rhythm and rhyme. Think about the way that nursery rhymes are used with young children to develop and encourage language development. Our brains love spotting patterns and connections with the words. Think about some of the most famous Shakespeare quotations; many of these stay in the mind because of the rhyme and rhythm embedded within them. In fact studies have shown that our brains are activated differently when we encounter words that rhyme. Poetry is often the first genre we are exposed to as young children, and it is therefore the one with which we are the most innately connected.
If you would like more tips, advice and resources for supporting your secondary level child, then join my Facebook group: Flying High - Helping Your Child Flourish at Secondary School Level. https://www.facebook.com/groups/496757410999463/