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Teaching children poetry can be both challenging and exciting. Hence, it is always important and appropriate for us teachers to ask ourselves the inevitable question: How do we teach the students/ pupils "Poetry?"
This post is focused on providing you the teacher, with some useful insights into how you can teach poetry to your students inductively. In achieving the purpose of this article, I will undertake a brief examination of the nature of poetry, then some practical suggestions on what to do with and how to go about the teaching of poetry will follow.
Take note, this discussion is based on teaching children between the ages of nine and fifteen. Where you find yourself teaching a class outside this age bracket, you will need to change your approach accordingly.
What Happens When We Read Poems?
Poems work differently from stories, creating their effects and evoking responses peculiar to the nature of poetry. Poetry confronts its readers with a riddling quality. In poetry, words are laid out or chosen carefully and specially. The full interpretation of poem is therefore not dependent on an authority, such as the teacher. Poems are like objects crafted in the medium of riddling word play, with a range of meaning.
Our approach to poem must therefore be easier linear compared to that of a story. The very presentation reveals this. Contrary to the eye being channelled to regular lines of print with predictable margins, it is invited to a more or less varied activity where the shape of the text of the page assumes a special significance. The variety of ways in which poems are presented indicates different emphases where the sense of space is often part of the reader's response.
The reader of a poem moves about within it to discover what it means to him and enjoy the way it makes the meaning. It is comparable to looking at a sculpture, we are impelled to move around the object and, in doing, acknowledge that part of the meaning we make depends upon the vantage point we adopt and our appreciation of the way spaces have been employed.
The Experience of Reading a Poem
To answer the question about what happens when we read poems, we will identify four attributes of poetry that are uniquely blended to give the children aesthetic experience that they will not find elsewhere. Let us consider the following poem by Kwesi Brew; Read the poem aloud to yourself:
Lest We Should Be the Last
Lest we should be the last
To appear before you
We left our corn🌽 in the barn
And unprepared we followed
The winding way to your hut
Our children begged for water
From the women bearing golden gourds
On their heads
And laughing on their way from the well;
But we did not stop.
Knowing that in your presence
Our hunger would be banished
And put thirst assauged
By the flowing milk of your word
Now we have come to you
And are amazed to find
Those you have loved and respected
Mock you to your face
Language, form, observation and feeling are the qualities that poems uniquely embody. They are key concepts in understanding the indirect approach to a poem that involves building up a reading from several different perspectives. One obvious implication for teaching emanating from this is that if you are to enable your students' mind to take a walk around within a poem, as if looking from different perspectives at a sculpture, then the line-by-line approach must be suspended if not abandoned.
Instead, encourage your students to explore a poem, let them respond to the bits that that interest them, and slowly piece together the parts into a sense of coherent whole.
Poems need to experienced rather than explained. The main emphasis of the teacher's job is not, in fact, explication of poems but the cultivation of individual and shared responses to the text.
The following starter questions will therefore underpin your work with children:
On language: What words, phrases or lines stood out when you were reading or listening? Why?
On Form: Can you say anything about the shape of the poem, how the words are laid on the page? Do you notice any pattern? What effects does such a shape have on you?
On Observation: What is the writer really looking at, either outside or inside himself?
On Feeling: What feelings are conveyed during the poem.at different points? Do you share them?
I'll stop here for now, hope you found this piece insightful, interesting and educative!!
Lest We Should Be Last by Kwesi Brew