Question (of literacy) poem

On behalf of children, on Day Twenty-Three of National Poetry Month

Speaking Points (Do They?)

Glowing screen split into
graphs, trendlines, colors
a virtual sea of data
and faces of colleagues floating
with the question:
“You are the literacy person—
what do you think?”

What I think is that
there’s no secret code
or formula
or magic bullet
or any infallible translation
of impersonal little dots
scattered like breadcrumbs
leading to ponderous conclusions
about the beating heart
of a living, breathing child
and so I say,
“I don’t know what I think
until I hear this child read.”

For while the thunder of uncertainty rumbles
and pedagogies rise and fall
like generations
on billowing waves,
I cannot imagine the whole
of my own existence
crammed into little dots
for others to interpret
the magnitude of my story
or divining and defining
the scope of my future
without ever hearing
my voice

Child’s hands at the window. Nenad Stojkovic. CC BY


with thanks to teacher-poet Angie Braaten for the suggestion of writing around “an important question you’ve been asked,” using this format:

Stanza 1: Question

Stanza 2: Answer

Stanza 3: Reflection

7 thoughts on “Question (of literacy) poem

  1. I need to leave for school within the next couple of hours, so I don’t have time to write all that I think about this poem. For now, “Thank you” will have to suffice.

    ‘“I don’t know what I think
    until I hear this child read.”’

    Oh my goodness, yes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just simply WOW!!
    I tutored a lot as a younger teacher. With great success I might add and I loved it. One mother eager to help her child in gr. 5 (they had immigrated from South Africa) wanted to know what method or program or curr. I was going to use. I talked to my friend whose dyslexic son I had taught to read and she said, “tell her the Janet F. method”……so I described what I intended to do in order to tailor the “program” to the child. But I had been teaching for a while then…..probably more than 20 years or so. I had read Nancie Atwell’s work, and used it. From her I learned about Frank Smith and others. Had always been curious about what worked with kids, studied Piaget, Bruner, Vygotsky. Her son was diligent and we made progress together. I had no official tests but I knew where his strengths and weaknesses were and I appealed to him over and over about practice ie books and reading for pleasure and how he could advance himself… other strategies and techniques. I don’t know where he ended up because they moved, but I do know that he was doing better. And my friend’s son? Reading and visual perception are still a ‘thing” for him as an adult, but he got a 5 on his AP US History test and attended a find college (his lacrosse skills did not hurt) but he was probably my biggest success story. And yes, being judged by dots and lines on a graph is only a tiny part of the pictures. Not to mention a-literacy: those who know how to read and choose not to! (I love poetry but I love teaching almost as much but by that I mean helping kids to grow…..not annoy, pressure, upset, bore, disparage, regulate etc. (I have no idea what all schools do but I do know too many are into the bit by bit skills approach which in itself is needed by some, but not all and should not be the end all….) Ok, off soap box. Your poem hit so home. Too many children, too few readers sometimes….but they need a truly balanced life ie arts, science, math, action ie movement, history, social and practical skills, tech skills…….time is finite….I’d hang your poem over my desk if I was teaching. But I’d never forget…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • So many great points, Janet; and so much of what schools do discourages a love of reading. “Truly balanced” is a key phrase – children sometimes need a host of different supports in reading and writing, along with all those other areas of academics and disciplines you mention, not the least of which being the arts. Example: my youngest son’s “language” is music. It is the lens through which he filters the world, the way his brain works. He thinks in music. He always has. He can read well but hardly cracked open a book throughout his education unless he absolutely had to – he buys books about musicians, however, and devours them…his “data points” were always mediocre and couldn’t possibly indicate the wealth of gifts he has musically, or the number of instruments he’s taught himself to play (self-directed learning = essential life skill, not to mention enjoyment and fulfillment). He’s just one example; the poem is not about him. It’s about so many more that I see each day, multiplied exponentially across the nation, the world…broken systems break children’s spirits. Let me just end by saying that no test or computerized program can assess a child’s reading like a teacher who listens and who’s trained to adapt instruction for that child accordingly. Thank you for you passionate words!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fran, I’ve REALLY been struggling with this idea lately. I want so much for our children to experience JOY as readers and writers. I want so much for our teachers to experience that same joy in their teaching. And yet those dots and numbers and charts and trend lines threaten to claim that right. Other than plunge even deeper into my own commitment, I haven’t yet figured out what to do with that struggle, that frustration…

    Liked by 1 person

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