Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teaching Poetry

Every teacher has at least one topic that she has to fake her way through tolerating for the sake of her students.  For me, that topic is poetry.  As a student, I do not recall my teachers over-emphasizing poetry.  I consider myself lucky as I always found the task of trying to analyze a poem's meaning to be rather tedious.  Nonetheless, I have spent the past two weeks teaching poetry.

Poetry is a difficult concept for English language learners to grasp as it is full of figurative language.  My general strategy to teaching poetry is to engage in "close reads" and work with the students to break down the poems stanza-by-stanza.  Rather than teach poetry as a separate unit (as advocated by the school district), I tie it into larger thematic units in order to give the students some context to work from.  Our current unit revolves around identity.

When I announced that we were going to begin our identity unit by reading poetry, the sound of the students' groans was deafening.  Fearful that my lack of enthusiasm had an impact on the students' attitude, I immediately readjusted my mindset and carefully showed my students how to break down a poem stanza-by-stanza and unwrap metaphors.  Between my enthusiasm and the engaging topic, the students were soon beating me to the punch when it came to summarizing each stanza and explaining each piece of figurative language.  It was truly a joy to see my students navigating their way through The Lesson of the Moth, Identity  and a poetry collection by Sara Holbrook.  The students wrapped up this section of the unit by writing biographical poems.

As promised, the students will continue to read poetry throughout the year.  While I am not sure this will ever become my favorite topic to teach, I am definitely encouraged by the amount of progress that my students have made over the past two weeks.  They proved that they have the grit to tackle a difficult topic and come out on top.  While this victory may soon be forgotten by the students, I will be quick to remind them of it as we are bound to hit some rough patches every now and again.

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