Some Problems Students Face in English Poetry in Jordan: A Corpus-Driven Study of Students' Responses

Article excerpt

[Abstract]

Many students in Jordan who join the course on English poetry come to it with the conviction that it does not differ much from poetry written in Arabic, and that the knowledge acquired at school can help them with this course. This research presents the problems confronting Jordanian 3rd and 4th-year students at the Hashemite University majoring in English language and literature when studying English poetry, based on their own viewpoint. The research also offers some possible solutions to those problems.

[Keywords] teaching; learning; Jordanian sstudents; uuniversity sstudents; lliterature; ppoetry; English language; foreign languages, Jordan

Introduction

Poetry is one of the core courses of any faculty that teaches literature, and, therefore, it is important for instructors of literature to attempt to find the major problems students confront in studying this particular literary form. It is assumed that students in general, regardless of their language and culture, experience some dread of approaching poetry. For instance, Steinley (1982) asserts that when many students are confronted with a poem, they feel that reading it will involve some "mystical activity" (p.53) to which they are not privy. This observation, of course, applies to native speakers, as well as to those who study English as a foreign language. Young (2007) remarks that "cultural attitudes are often dismissive oí poetry" (p.50) and cites a survey carried out by the National Education Association (NEA) which revealed that roughly only 12% of society ever chooses to read poetry. Young describes the bias that a majority of students feel and express in their comments, such as "poetry is deep," "mysterious," or "all poets are depressed and wear black" (p. 50).

In addition to the faulty assumptions many people hold on poetry, Peskin, Allen, and Wells- Jopling (2010) point out that mistaken beliefs and perceptions about teaching poetry may partly create negative attitudes in teachers and students alike. According to Peskin et al., some teachers misperceive the idea that poetry has a quite subjective and personal nature. This perspective, if taken to an extreme, means students can only acquire an understanding of poetry through their own silent and unexpressed perceptions (p. 498). Such a view can undermine the whole educational process and reduce it to a futile endeavor to teach an unteachable subject.

The study of poetry usually comprises the basic tools that help students understand, appreciate, and evaluate poems; thus, the process involves several areas that relate to criticism and the means by which poems can be analyzed in order to be appreciated and comprehended. Moreover, because poetry manipulates various rhetorical devices, figurative language, symbolism and syntactical tricks, the subject requires from the learners the basic knowledge of all these components in order to handle effectively the material they study. As Linaberger (2004) observes, poetry can be daunting to some students (and some teachers, too). The concepts and complex language in poems may be difficult for students to grasp or it can be confusing, at best (p.366).

In diagnosing the problems Jordanian students confront when enrolling in the English departments at different universities in Jordan, it appears that many factors hamper their progress towards the achievement of their objectives, in spite of their great enthusiasm to specialize in English literature. Many students who join the department of English language and literature at the Hashemite University, opt to take poetry courses on the assumption that their earlier study of Arabic poetry may help them understand English poetry, as well. The first problem that confronts them arises from their limited knowledge of the language itself. Most of the students have a limited knowledge of English language and in many cases, know little of its literature, or literary terms. …