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Mrs. McKeown's Poetry
Poetry and Comprehension - Why Bother With Poetry?


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Poetry and Comprehension

Julie McKeown

T&L 558 Improving Comprehension Through Literature

Washington State University, Tri-Cities

May 5, 2002 


 Poetry and Comprehension 

Why bother with teaching poetry? This was my attitude as a student and I even felt this way as a teacher.  Not long ago, I went from teaching Physical Education and was thrown into a classroom to teach Literature to 6th and 8th grade students.  I stepped into that classroom terrified.  I was supposed to teach literature and yet I had no background in what I was teaching.  I knew nothing about strategies that would help students who were struggling readers. 

I frantically dove into the texts and novels that accompanied those texts and tried to teach the concepts that went along with the series. I felt very frustrated at first, but as time went on I felt like I was doing a pretty good job.  I felt like I learned a lot and so did most of the kids.  There were still those struggling readers who I dont think I helped because I had no idea how. 

The literature series had a lot of helpful ideas how to deal with the text and novels and made teaching the information pretty easy.  The literature series was broken into thematic units and always had some kind of poetry selection or selections for each theme.  But whenever poetry would rear its ugly head I would flip passed those pages in the literature book and hoped the students wouldnt notice.  I did attempt to read a few of them to begin with, but the meanings of the poems seemed so far over my head that I surely didnt think the students would be able comprehend them.  Needless to say no love of poetry was passed on to my students. 

Up until this last year did I realize the importance and need for teaching poetry to students.  I took a poetry class this last fall.  I reluctantly took it only because it was an online course and I would be able to work from home.  I tenitavely looked over the course syllabus and read the assignments.  I was very worried and not too sure I had made the right choice.  I looked at the list assignments and realized that I hadnt heard of any of the poets listed.  I also realized that before the class was over I was actually going to have to write my OWN poem.  I was terrified and thought I knew just how my students felt when the material was new to them.

I must have checked almost every poetry book out of our school library.  The class I ravenously read through books and anthologies looking for just the right poems to complete the assignments.  And you know it was loads of fun.  I also got a chance to be creative by posting the assignments on a web page. I have a genuine love for the kinds of poetry we explored. I would hope that this feeling will rub off onto my students. 

 So what does this mean? How does this tie into helping with students reading comprehension?  I hope to show you some ideas in my web site that will help students look at poetry in a different way. I think using the site for a class poetry page would entice those who love the computer.  It did me.  I also think that a lot of the poetry activities suggested with the poems themselves will help move the students beyond just reading poetry.  They will put themselves in others shoes.  And finally not only will it be fun, it will give them a chance to increase their comprehension skills.

I added sections to the web site  that  focus on helping with student comprehension.  I added a large list of poetry links and lesson plan sites that would help teachers to teach poetry and other sites that would help students understand more about poetry. I also added a section called Thirty Days of Poetry. (Still under construction) These plans include various fun ways to increase the students content knowledge and integrate their schema into their own poetry.  An example of this is the poem I finally wrote. If you read My Poem, you can see where my schema fits into poetry.  I am hoping that my students who are afraid of poetry now will feel the same when they finally get a chance to write their own poem.