A few months ago, a pre-service teacher I know asked me to give her some feedback on a poetry unit she’d written. Her mini-unit, a 25-page document filled mostly by her professor’s formatting requirements, troubled me for a few reasons.
First, as Amy established, poetry is more than a unit–it’s a powerful way of teaching linguistic precision, the art of writing, and the freedom of expression. It shouldn’t be a two-week item to scratch off a curricular checklist.
Further, pre-planning a unit in such a detailed way takes the power out of learning. “You’re doing too much of the thinking in this unit, and your students aren’t doing enough,” I wrote to her. She had selected every poem, every genre, and every skill for her students to learn–in doing so, she took away a valuable opportunity for her students to seek out, evaluate, and share found and original poetry.
Second, this teacher’s unit was full of contradictions. I loved seeing her ideas about including slam poetry, spine poems, blackout poetry, and other engaging, unique poetry possibilities. However, I was confused by what seemed to be an obligation she felt to teach every literary and poetry term ever. “Focus on getting your students to learn how to WRITE poetry by studying other AUTHORS of poetry,” I advised. “When Dickinson was writing poems, it wasn’t because she was like ‘oooh I love metaphors’–it was because she had a broken heart.”
In teaching poetry, it seems like too many of us are yoked to an antiquated view of poetry–metaphors, dactyls, metric feet. We are focused too much on the HOW of poetry, and not enough on the WHY. As we teach our students, let’s focus on them as poets, not simple readers of poems.
Join us tonight at 8ET for a #poetrychat about ways to transform our students into poets by getting poetry off our shelves and into their hands, introducing them to mentor authors, and encouraging play with nontraditional poetry forms.
Warm-Up: Your favorite line or phrase from a loved poem
1. Why do you think many students find poetry intimidating or inaccessible?
2. When you teach poetry, how do you balance the students’ READING of poetry and WRITING of poetry?
3. What are your favorite genres of nontraditional poetry (prose poetry, spine poems, etc.)?
4. Who are your favorite mentor poets? How do you use them to teach your students?
5. What can our students gain from novels in verse? What are your favorite in-verse titles?
6. Let’s finish by sharing our most successful poetry teaching stories. What’s yours?