Hello, humble Friday Carl here. I recently purchased a new keyboard, which, for some reason, resulted in a lot of missed letters and other such typos. For reasons beyond my fathoming, a certain web-based spell-check service failed to alert me to these very unprofessional goofs and they were only drawn to my attention by my ever-patient wife. Anyway, they have been amended now and the following post should no longer be an affront to the eye! Thanks!
Hello everybody! I had no idea that April was poetry month and just happened to find out while listening to a classroom tech blog. Anyway, it is and I thought it would be a good opportunity to write a blog post about teaching and learning about poetry in the classroom because I don't think it is done nearly enough.
Poetry appears in the National Curriculum for England and Wales as early as Year 2 (that's 1st grade for anyone over the pond), where it is stated that children should be listening to, discussing and expressing views about a wide range of contemporary and classic poetry, and that they should be developing positive attitudes towards and stamina for writing by writing poetry. By the time they hit Key Stage 2 (2nd and 3rd grade), they should be recognising some different forms of poetry (free verse, quatrains etc.) and by Years 5 and 6 (grade 4 and 5), should be reciting poems by heart.
So poetry is a big deal as far as the curriculum is concerned.
However, in my experience, few teachers are comfortable with the teaching of poetry. Some are not really sure what even constitutes poetry. And it's not just classroom teachers. I had a class of fairly deprived inner-city children using Tupac Shakur's fantastic poem, The Rose that Grew from Concrete, which is a beautiful poem to teach children, by the way, when the Executive Headteacher (so, someone who is in charge of lots of schools) pulled me to one side and asked, without irony, when I was going to 'stop messing around with silly poems and get on with teaching real English'.
I'll let that sink in for a while.
Needless to say, the children loved the poem and were very aware of Tupac's other work (their little minds blown by the idea that Rap could mean 'rhythm and poetry'. Sadly, that is a backronym and not true but we can dream) and so it did not take them long to accept the piece as being worthy of their time.
Similarly, with a different class of similar children, we spent some time in the Summer term looking at Coolio's Gangster's Paradise and exploring the allegorical merit behind its borrowed Bible verses and use of colloquial vocabulary. The very next day, we looked at Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat and they were very keen to draw similarities between the two.
Poetry and the discussion of poetry is a wonderful leveller. Poetry, like physical art, is subjective. Everyone can have an opinion. So long as you can back it up, it is valid, and there is great power in that for a child.
So how do you start to analyse a poem when the overall reaction is a unified groan?
Start small. No-one is going to get enthusiastic about deep-diving into Kubla Kahn if they've not had practise first! I begin with a smaller poem. Again, The Rose that Grew in Concrete is a great place to start. Or even smaller poems like the first stanza of Antigonish (Yesterday, upon the stair / I met a man who wasn't there...). Anything will work. Then I like to use an exploration grid to get things going with four simple questions:
- What do you like?
- What do you dislike?
- What patterns can you spot?
- What questions does it create?