Teaching Poetry

Teaching may be regarded as providing opportunities for students to learn. The content of learning may be facts, procedures, skills, and ideas and values. A teacher's goals in teaching may be gains in knowledge and skills, the deepening of understanding, the development of problem solving or changes in perceptions, attitudes, values, and behavior. Students' goals, on the other hand, may be more pragmatic, such as passing examinations. Given that teaching is an intentional activity concerned with student learning, it is sensible that teachers spend some time on thinking and articulating their intentions in teaching a particular topic to a group of students and on checking whether those intentions are realizable and were realized.

The various methods of teaching may be placed on a continuum. At one extreme is the lecture in which student control and participation is usually minimal. At the other extreme is private study in which lecturer control and participation is usually minimal. It should be noted that each type of teaching contains a rich variety of methods involving varying proportions of lecturer and student participation.

Some people see learning only in terms of its immediate practical utility and how employable it makes the learner. Others seem to judge learning only by its quantity. Learning actually may bring enlightenment. At times, it might be sufficient for students to memorize something and recall it on demand, but at other times, they need to grasp an in-depth understanding of a subject, to be able to think through issues and solve problems.

Understanding is often assumed to be a good thing and potentially worth more than memorization, especially when it comes to topics such as poetry. Poetry is a form of literary art which uses evocative language, rhythm, sometimes rhyme, to evoke emotions beyond its apparent meaning. Poems are written as self-contained, often brief insights into the human condition, but also occur in dramas and in songs, and is published in anthologies and magazines.

When taught, poems cannot be condensed, systematized, or quantified. Poetry is normally taught as part of an English literature course and curriculum, part of a school or university's arts program.

Poetry can be taught to the youngest of children, even babies. Simple nursery rhymes are used, by parents and at nursery schools, with pre-school children in play and in unstructured manner, often even before a child can talk. Lullabies, simple lyrics put to soothing tunes, are used to ease babies to sleep. Playground games use rhymes and songs, teaching poetic rhythm, counting and speech development.

As children attend the primary or junior schools, they will learn verses from the likes of Edward Lear, the Victorian writer who popularized the Limerick, the popular nonsense poetry of Spike Milligan, or the Japanese form haiku. They will often be asked to write poems of their own in the style they have read, which becomes an exercise in writing, comprehension and imagination.

By seventh grade and on through to university degree courses, the study of poetry begins to be formalized, with the works of more "serious," poets - from William Shakespeare, John Dryden, Walt Whitman, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Betjeman, T.S. Eliot - being read, the poets' form and intentions analyzed in class. Teachers keen to engage their poetry classes may look to use more contemporary writers of verse - pop or rap musicians - as the source material, encouraging their students to compare the work with other poets on the syllabus, in terms of the use of rhymes, meter and meanings.

Reading poetry to students and trying to explain a poem is not enough when it comes to teaching poetry and still many teachers do not approach the teaching of poetry writing at all. Often, when teachers choose only to read poems with students, the students become confused by the complexity of the poetry, which often makes them reluctant to try writing their own poems.

The techniques used in teaching poetry are rarely "measurable," and therefore it presents a problem to teachers when they are trying to plan and evaluate learning merely in terms of observable behavior.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Teaching the Art of Poetry: The Moves
Baron Wormser; David Cappella.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
The Poetry Handbook: A Guide to Reading Poetry for Pleasure and Practical Criticism
John Lennard.
Oxford University Press, 1996
Crossing Over: Teaching Meaning-Centered Secondary English Language Arts
Harold M. Foster.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Six "Teaching Poetry"
Read My Mind: Young Children, Poetry, and Learning
Fred Sedgwick.
Routledge, 1997
Exploring Poetry: The Reading and Writing Connection
Ediger, Marlow.
Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 30, No. 2, June 2003
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Phonics and Poetry in the Curriculum
Ediger, Marlow.
Reading Improvement, Vol. 37, No. 2, Summer 2000
Poetry for Social Studies: Poems, Standards, and Strategies
Vardell, Sylvia M.
Social Education, Vol. 67, No. 4, May-June 2003
The Art of Teaching Secondary English: Innovative and Creative Approaches
David Stevens; Nicholas McGuinn.
RoutledgeFalmer, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Romantic Words and Worlds"
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