I teach a 10th grade Brit Lit course
that mostly focuses on poetry (books get pushed into the Great Books course in 11th-12th). I end up spending most of time 1)
either spending an entire class period EXPLAINING the meaning of the poem
or 2) trying to incorporate more discussion/activity/analysis/synthesis and having students totally
lost. Either way, students may learn the meaning of one
poem, but have no transferable skills for understanding the next poem.
Any recommendations for
teaching poetry without losing the beauty & joy of the poem – but still learning strategies which will help students understand/engage with future poems?
When you say analysis does this include teaching close reading skills/annotation? Close reading helps the students understand the poem as well as analyze it. It helps to engage the students in asking questions about the poem or text (Why did the author use this specific word? How does the rhyme scheme or metric line used contribute to the poem’s meaning? What words or phrases are repeated? Why? etc.). For example, leading students in a Socratic way to recognizing that the metric line used in Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” mimics a horse’s trot, brings both understanding of the poem’s artistry as well as a sense that there is more going on in the poem than what is there at first glance. Once students can learn to see in this way, they can transfer these skills to any poem and to books later on. Unless you have tried this already, it seems it is along the lines of what you are looking for.
Yes, I do a lot of close reading skills. We spend a lot of time trying to just understand the poem. But spending so much time in defining and explaining seems to remove the JOY of poetry. And I may explain it and students really understand what’s going on in the poem – but they don’t seem any stronger at understanding the next poem we read! They are just as bewildered. I feel as though I need to enable them to just enjoy poetry while also allowing them to understand the poem – and neither is happening. (Perhaps this is the literature version of the cram-pass-forget cycle that I see in so many other cycles?)
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