Monday, June 8, 2009

Topic: Perspectives on Teaching Poetry

10-second review: Enduring questions about poetry: “Whose poetry is worth teaching?” “Why teach poetry at all—of what real educational value can it be?” “Is it even possible to teach poetry so most students will enjoy and understand it?” The authors studied issues of English Journal from 1912 to 2005 and discovered two approaches to teaching poetry: Formalist and Populist. The authors favor the “Populist’ point of view.

Title: “The Other Tradition: Populist Perspective on Teaching Poetry, as Published in English Journal, 1912 – 2005.” M Faust and M Dressman. English Education (January 2009), 114-134. English Education is a journal concerned with teacher education and is published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).


Formalist Perspective—“The best of the English language’s power and range of expression.” Emphasizes “correct interpretation and taste.” Studies rhyme, meter, literary allusion. Acquires appreciation of the cultural heritage. Poems are timeless, self-contained, precious objects. Teach about the lives of poets. Select the greatest poets to teach. p. 116.

Populist Perspective: “Do not explain poems to students. Do not give tests on poetry. Do not be overly concerned with poetic techniques. Do not approach a poem with historical matters. Do not impose the critics on students. Expose students to beautiful, powerful language. Allow time for multiple oral readings of a poem. Lead discussions that encourage a personal relationship with a poem. Teach contemporary poetry first and then go backwards in time. Teach poems you do not fully understand. Teach poems that are accessible to students. Allow students to sometimes choose their poems. Provide opportunities for students to write poetry.” D. Lockward. 1994. “Poets on Teaching Poetry.” English Journal 83(5), 65-70.

Comment: To put this Populist point of view in perspective, I have found that the editors of publications from the National Council of Teachers of English tend to encourage articles that resist the current thinking in the classroom. Since the current thinking during those years (1912 to 2005) was the Formalist and the New Critics’ thinking, you would expect the NCTE’s journal editors to favor the Populist point of view. I’m a middle-of-the-roader, mixing elements of the Formalist and the Populist points of view in teaching poetry.

This article is a “keeper.” If you can purchase it, you should. Go to RayS.

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