Joy! Literally Joy!

Karl Handy
4 min readAug 29, 2022

I’ve seen this on Twitter:

I really believe that if you want to raise literacy standards in schools, you need to train all staff on the following: Nouns, Adjectives, Verbs, Adverbs, Simple sentences, Compound sentences, Complex sentences. 7 basic things that impact so much.

I’ve not replied. I know there’s no point. I’m losing an ideological battle against a maelstrom of analytical ideology. I’ll probably start too many of my sentences with “I” this time.

As a child I was read to endlessly. And sung to. Our house was filled with books. When Mrs Jackson read us Roald Dahl’s “Danny the Champion of the World” when I was in Year 4 I was captivated. There was a world in a book that I could relate to, lose myself in, dream of. A world so like my own and yet more exciting and fantastic than mine could ever likely be. After it had been read to me at school I asked my Mum to read it to me, then I read it myself.

Then I read lots of other books. From an obsession with sticker albums, atlases and encyclopaedias the world of fiction became something worth engaging with, rather than it just being done to me. It was the same with “You Tell Me” by Roger McGough & Michael Rosen. And the Mr. Men books. And The Magic Faraway Tree series, and countless story books that I’m now sharing with my children. Books were exciting, reading was exciting. I have become an adult who has started too many sentences here with the same word, but who has held an otherwise acceptably high standard of literacy for as long as I can remember.

Nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs. I did those at primary school. I don’t remember specifically talking about simple, compound and complex sentences. I knew what they were though when we were ‘introduced’ to them at secondary school. I was using them already without knowing. My writing was good, or so my teachers and peers told me — without drowning the joy I found in the written word.

I wouldn’t argue that the those of us who have to teach literacy to children need to know about the seven basic things mentioned above, but where is the love? Where is the joy? Why isn’t it seen as important that staff need to communicate the joy of books and a love of reading? This isn’t a case of “Well obviously, that goes without saying!” because it doesn’t. Reading for pleasure is an afterthought, an add-on if there’s time to fit it in. How many Year 6 children in the country are read a story to daily? Nowhere near enough.

During a past observation I was told that, in an otherwise Outstanding guided reading lesson, the group who I had allowed to ‘read for pleasure’ were not being given a specific reason to ‘read for pleasure’ and thus the lesson was marked down to Good. I argued that giving purpose to pleasure stopped it being a pleasure, but it didn’t wash.

Currently I’m teaching Years 5 & 6 and I have made a point of reading to them as much as I can. They are excited and transfixed. The more able readers are able to enjoy a text for its own sake, and the less able readers are accessing a book they would presently have no chance of doing so for themselves. They are being exposed to text types, phrasing, emotions, vocabulary, dramatic devices, characters, general knowledge and so much more. And they don’t even realise it. The horror — how can you learn anything unless you’re told in minutiae what it is you’re learning and why?

You can analyse things as much as you like, break them down to gradable zeros and ones until you’re contradicting your own rules, but children and adults alike respond better and learn more when they are enjoying what they do. Until we make joy a central part of literacy (and all education for that matter) we’ll continue to have pupils who go dead behind the eyes when they think of reading and writing, and teachers will have to keep fighting to force feed stuff that would be gobbled down if there was some love shown for it.

I’m a teacher. I know I need to know those seven basic things. I also know that they are nothing if my pupils don’t feel excitement when they pick up a book or a pen. I wish the people in charge, and those who meekly follow their dogma whilst pretending to have minds of their own, would know this too.

Joy. Literally, joy!



Karl Handy

Family, football, cars, gardening, art, music, travel, cloudspotting, meditating, learning new things, & finding warm shade. At other times, I teach at