Friday Dialogue from
Your Two Favorite Educators
As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss the merits of poetry in the English classroom.
1. What are the largest obstacles to teaching poetry?
Emily: I think students are inherently afraid of poetry because they are afraid the poet is playing tricks on them. While they might understand each individual word in a poem, there is something about the compact form and typically rigid structure that makes students doubt whether or not they know what the words mean. They begin to think that every word is a symbol and get frustrated and just quit. The largest obstacle is helping students navigate through a tough poem with confidence.
Aubrey: I feel as if students split down the middle, it’s either fear or the definitive belief that “short” texts are synonymous with ease. It’s very difficult for me to guide both groups to a middle ground. Parsing poetry should be difficult but not every word is a symbol.
2. What merit is there to teaching poetry?
Emily: I love how tight and specific it is. Poems are like taking a novel and cutting it down to the bare bones. What a novelist can posit in 200 pages a poet can do in 14 lines. I think this is the biggest benefit. Students can hone similar skills they would with the book they never pick up because it is too long.
Aubrey: What I wouldn’t give for some concision in student writing. I’d also like poetry to prove to them that a small turn of phrase can pack an incredibly large wallop. So many of my students are hung up on the idea of more, more, more. Poetry teaches patience and the value of writing in “small spaces.” Read more
All of my best “material” has an element of shamelessness to it. I’m not talking about the curriculum I’ve created or the copious notes I’ve constructed. I’m not talking about how I tap my face while I grade or helicopter over students until they annotate. No, I am talking about how I “clown” literature. I pantomime and quip. I physically reenact Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, even Robert Penn Warren.
I am an embarrassment unto myself. Read more
Often, I find that I’m forced to defend the teaching of poetry—to my students. It is as if they see poetry as frivolity, or worse, self-indulgence. In the world of Tumblr, Instagram, and Flipboard, where does poetry fit? Today begins our foray into resources that help teach students how poetry exists in spaces other than just textbooks and dusty bookstores.
One of the best ways to discuss poetry, popular culture and media literacy finds its shape in The Anthology of Really Important Modern Poetry: Timeless Poems by Snooki, John Boehner, Kanye West, and Other Well-Versed Celebrities. In this anthology, authors and siblings Kathryn and Ross Petras use the language of politicians and celebrities to create found poetry. The results are fabulous and humorous. While not all poems are appropriate for use in the classroom, there are enough to make the publication a useful resource. To begin, examine their Tumblr page. Each day, for National Poetry Month, they are posting one poem from the actual anthology. Then, peruse the two articles below that examine the poetry and purpose. Read more
I’m supposed to like teaching literature and that should include poetry. It should include poetry. I should like teaching poetry. P-0-E-T-R-Y.
But I don’t.
National Poetry Month should fill me with a certain type of English teacher glee. Like Shakespeare’s birthday or the National Book Festival. It should be sacred. Instead, I try to pretend it isn’t happening.
Poetry is difficult to teach well. If it doesn’t rhyme they don’t think it’s poetry. If it rhymes they think it’s easy to emulate. If it’s about love it’s too “gooey,” and if it’s about fruit, chickens or Emily Dickinson it’s “inconsequential.” While the joy of poetry seems like something easily captured in Disney’s multiple ads for What a Poem Is, I’ve rarely seen students enter my classroom feeling so enormously captured and captivated. It’s easy to see why sometimes it seems like a good idea to employ the gimmicks of Dangerous Minds.
The focus of this week is to examine poetry through a variety of lenses, specifically with the goal of teaching media literacy via poetry. For students who frequently question the role of literature, especially poetry, this week’s focus will serve as a supplement to pre-existing poetry units.