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Do English teachers still teach poetry?I teach 9th and 11th grade English and have been...

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sboeman | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted September 12, 2010 at 4:01 PM via web

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Do English teachers still teach poetry?

I teach 9th and 11th grade English and have been noticing the dwindling emphasis on poetry in our district.  Our "reason" for this is, of course, to free up a few weeks to prepare our students for standardized testing, and since poems are not used hardly ever in our standardized tests, I assume "the powers that be" wonder why bother teaching the students about it?

Do you still teach poetry?  If so, is it a separate unit or do you tie it in with other lessons?  Also, where is the future of poetry headed?

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 12, 2010 at 4:44 PM (Answer #2)

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I would have to agree that poetry as a curriculum is under assault by national standards testing, but it is alive and well.  Poetry has been stubborn over the ages, and in the public schools.  That being said, I think you'd find less classes of poetry and short story alone taught outside of the large schools that can afford to offer it.  More often, it is a large unit within an English curriculum.  AP English Literature still has a pretty good poetry emphasis.

At my school, which is one of the holdouts, our 11th grade English classes publish their own poetry chapbooks.

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted September 12, 2010 at 5:23 PM (Answer #3)

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I agree as to the shifting emphasis in English classrooms. As brettd pointed out, AP English Literature requires a rather extensive background in poetry analysis, as at least two of the multiple choice passages, and one essay question focus on the genre. I begin my year in AP Lit with a 3 week intensive study of poetry. I also have an exclusively poetry unit when I teach 9th grade. I've found in makes a nice lead-in to Shakespeare. In teaching other grade/ability levels, I generally use poetry in connection with other longer texts. It's difficult for me to remain entirely focused on poetry itself for too long.

However, whenever my students mention writing they produce, they always name poetry. Females especially seem to enjoy the freedom inherent in the form and structure. I would like to develop a unit (or at least assignments within other units) that taps into this interest.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:07 AM (Answer #4)

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Unfortunately, for me, I have recognised that there is a dwindling focus on poetry. This is such a shame because when it comes to AP Lit it often assumes a background knowledge that just isn't there. I try to have at least one discrete poetry unit but then I also try to include poetry sneakily in other units (looking for similar themes etc to draw poetry in). Poetry is of course essential to the study of English Literature.

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copelmat | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:05 AM (Answer #5)

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Yes, I believe most of us do still teach poetry. I personally do a short (three or four day) poetry unit early each school year to review the basics and brush up on literary devices and techniques. But then poetry is woven into the thematic units that I teach throughout the year. Admittedly, I would love to teach more poetry than I do, but time and competing priorities always interfere.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:14 AM (Answer #6)

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At our very large high school where testing matters and we in a divided campus situation, I think we have seen the near-death of poetry, especially at the 9th and 10th grades.  I find that even the teachers say "it is not their thing" and do short compulsory units at best.  I love poetry and teaching poetry, and luckily I teach AP Literature where it can be not only covered but discovered and enjoyed.  So many students come in with trepidation, but leave realizing that poetry can be pretty awesome!  I am always trying to talk-up poetry with my colleagues -- maybe some of my excitment will rub off??

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 13, 2010 at 3:00 PM (Answer #7)

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I'm surprised that your standardized tests don't include poetry--it's a huge part of our 9th grade end-of-course exam and also of our state's exit exam. Even if our tests didn't focus on poetry and poetic elements, I would teach a significant amount of it. It's challenging, and it forces students to discuss tone, syntax, diction, and many other devices that are pertinent to reading anything and being able to interpret it.

I'm not really sure how someone could thoroughly teach American Lit. or British Lit. and avoid poetry. Likewise, as Post 4 mentions, poetry is a significant part of the AP Lit. exam; so if someone is teach honors students and not addressing poetry, he or she is doing a disservice to those pre-AP students. I even teach poetry in my nonfiction-focused AP Lang. class. It's a concise way of building up my students' skills in close reading and identifying an author's purpose; plus, my students take AP Lit. the next year; so it helps prepare them for that.

I will admit that poetry is not and never was "my thing." I've come to enjoy it more over the years, and if you have a lot of freedom to choose the poems that you teach, that really helps.

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besure77 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:36 PM (Answer #8)

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I have a daughter who is in an honors english program and her instructors have always placed a lot of emphasis on poetry. I think this is great because I too have noticed that teaching poetry doesn't seem to be as important as it used to be.

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arioux | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 14, 2010 at 7:12 AM (Answer #9)

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Do English teachers still teach poetry?

I teach 9th and 11th grade English and have been noticing the dwindling emphasis on poetry in our district.  Our "reason" for this is, of course, to free up a few weeks to prepare our students for standardized testing, and since poems are not used hardly ever in our standardized tests, I assume "the powers that be" wonder why bother teaching the students about it?

Do you still teach poetry?  If so, is it a separate unit or do you tie it in with other lessons?  Also, where is the future of poetry headed?

I've found that the reason there is so much "poetry fear" is similar to the reason for "Shakespeare fear:" many teachers aren't comfortable or fluent with it and therefore bungle the delivery of it.

I teach First Year Composition and gen-ed literature classes at a small university in New Hampshire and I use poetry in both. When I assign a poem for the night's reading or put one up on the screen in class, I watch them cringe and start to shut down. I'll read it aloud, my tone and pacing fitting the (perceived) intention, stopping only at punctuation (so it's read like a paragraph). The students survive the experience okay, and some even like poetry at the end of the semester. I also make sure to tell them that as long as they can support their opinion (regarding meaning) with text-based evidence, they're right.

Poems used to be on standardized tests - I remember coming across them in high school and I recall liking that I didn't have to read an entire essay (poems are usually more succinct).

I think the real question might be, with all the emphasis on standardized testing, where is the future of education headed?

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huntamy | Middle School Teacher | eNoter

Posted September 14, 2010 at 8:40 AM (Answer #10)

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I actually do still teach poetry.  I have found it most useful to tie it in with figurative language.  In my district I teach both the reading and writing state standards even though I am technically just the writing teacher.  I think the students can more easily identify with figurative language through poetry.  In my poetry unit students must read several types of poetry and write their own versions as well.  In the end they type up their poems, illustrate them, and bind them in a book.

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gwendaward | High School Teacher | Honors

Posted September 17, 2010 at 1:05 PM (Answer #11)

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How refreshing to read that teachers are still teaching poetry. To me, it is as essential to the English classroom as reading, or pens and pencils.  I love it and kids will too if a poem is read properly and if they understand the highly condensed nature of poetic language.  Poetry is language at its best, and kids need the training to understand how words can mean so much more than a cursory glance can reveal.  My enthusiasm usually nudges them into giving the poetry a try, and once students have tried their hand at writing it with frustrations and all, they usually get hooked.  A whole new world opens up.  What a joy that becomes for me.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 21, 2010 at 7:16 PM (Answer #12)

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Absolutely!  And if not, they should.  I do think it's one of those kind of scary areas for some teachers, much like teaching writing, to some degree,  "What if I don't teach it right?"  I'd rather have the exposure and some hesitant teaching than nothing at all, I think. 

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kamiegoldstein | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted October 15, 2010 at 4:50 PM (Answer #13)

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Poetry is not taught as much as it should be. I think standardized testing is killing poetry in our curricula. Ironically, the type of critical thinking required to discuss and interpret poetry is exactly the type of thinking standardized testing is supposed to be measuring. Art, music, and literature are become less and less integrated in curricula. It takes much more brain activity to analyze a poem and evaluate it than it does to memorize SAT style vocabulary words.

I wish I was permitted to teach more poetry. Honestly, when my administrators check my lesson plans they are looking for standardized test preparation and not lessons on poetry. Educators are expected to teach critical thinking skills not how to think critically. This are two different types of thought processes.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:38 PM (Answer #14)

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Sadly, I think there are some English teachers who have gotten the idea that kids hate poetry and they don't teach it.  Kids LOVE poetry.  New poetry, the masters, any topic.  Kids love writing it, and they love reading it.  It's all in the development.

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