Sometimes when you walk into a school you can tell something about its character – proud of its sporting triumphs with display cases of trophies, an emphasis on art with murals and mosaics, an eco-school, a religious school, one with a long tradition and history, or celebrations of ethnic diversity. So, what would it look like to walk through a school with a ‘reading culture’?
South Africa has an urgent reading crisis. Results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016 tests revealed that 78% of grade 4 pupils in South Africa fell below the lowest level on the PIRLS scale: meaning, in effect, that they cannot understand what they’re reading. The study also indicated that South Africa was last out of 50 countries surveyed.
So how can South Africa address this crisis? There are no quick fixes, but there certainly are slow and sure ones. Developing a culture of reading is one such solution. Creating a school with a strong reading culture means making learners aware of the joy of reading and encouraging them to read for pleasure to develop their literacy skills and improve academic achievement.
One way this can be done is through the inclusion of ‘instapoetry’ in the classroom.
What is ‘instapoetry’?
‘Instapoems’ tend to be short enough to fit neatly into a single Instagram photo and simple enough that readers can instantly grasp the meaning while scrolling on their smartphones.
Why should we encourage learners to read ‘instapoetry’?
- Accessible – ‘instapoetry’ is simple enough that readers can instantly grasp the meaning while scrolling on their iPhones.
- Integrates technology in the classroom – instead of scrolling through their celebrity crush’s feed, ‘instapoetry’ is an educational way learners can use Instagram in the classroom.
- Inventive – ‘instapoetry’ is a great subversion of the debates on narcissism and self-obsession vis-a-vis social media. It is a shot of vulnerability among all the curated snapshots of friends and influencers, and that sort of subversion is part of poetry’s tradition.
- Culturally relevant – though ‘instapoetry’ may lack the subtlety and complexity that literary-minded poets and highbrow critics usually prefer, its deeply confessional, heart-on-your-sleeve ethos speaks to the real-life contexts of its young fans.
- Encourages the reading of poetry – according to the New York Times, three of the top 10 best selling poetry books in the US at present have been written by poets at the forefront of the Instapoet movement.
The importance of reading in education cannot be overstated. Literacy is the cornerstone of a nation’s political, social and economic development. It is important for everyone to develop the rudiments of reading and a culture of reading so as to survive in our increasingly changing and challenging world.
Though innovative, ‘instapoetry’ has faced some criticism. There are those that argue that ‘instapoems’ are clichéd, and that poetry is not simply about the uncontrolled expression of feelings, but how you shape that expression. Still, ‘instapoets’ are doing what surely every poet wants to: connecting with and moving their readers.
For a long time, poems have been so difficult and rarefied, and along comes Rupi Kaur, who is the age of her audience and seems to be flouting convention. Her readers can understand what she’s talking about. They don’t feel insulted or stupid, and they don’t feel like they need to dissect [the writing] like in English class.
—Ian Williams, Award-winning poet and assistant poetry professor at the University of British Columbia
I think poetry belongs to everyone.
— Hera Lindsay Bird, ‘Instapoet’
Looking to discover ‘instapoets’?