Poetry Unit: Keep or Cut?

Semester 2 always brings with it a few things: snow days, exhaustion after exams, a desire for some change and poetry. Several of those things I cannot control, but poetry is one of those that I can. Each year, our poetry until runs for about three weeks and centers around the national Poetry Out Loud Contest. I’ve been an advisor for this competition for the past 5 years. And loved every bit of it. Recently, one of my colleagues shared with me that each time he asks his seniors why they hate poetry so much, they tell him that the Poetry Out Loud unit ruins poetry for them. We as teachers have to walk a very fine line of giving our students things that they like and things we know are necessary for them because those things are often times not the same. But, I do have to wonder if the skill of memorization and recitation is a necessary skill any longer. Will my kids need this in the future? Am I just doing this unit because I love it? 

The unit asks students to select a poem from the POL database, commit it to memory and participate in a class run contest. This is usually done with some whining and groaning, but each and every student completed this task. The winners from each class then move on to the school round, which we had last night. We had a total of 30 kids participate and it was probably the best contest I have seen. A few parents approached us afterward and thanked us for helping them to see their kids in a new light.  I also love the fact that the students that win the class contest are not typically the top in the class. In fact, this year, one of my autistic students won and a young girl in one of my honors classes who has been in tears and struggling to maintain a C- all year won for her class. I’ll never forget the moment I told her the good news – the (good) tears in her eyes and the look she gave her best friend (who has had an A all year). She owned it and deserved it and I wonder if she would have had her moment if I cut this unit.

But is all that reason enough to require it of all my kids? 

I suppose the easy answer could be that it meets several sections of the Speaking and Listening strands in the CCSS. I just cannot help but feel that this is the unit many kids simply jump through hoops during. Maybe using poetry to teach writing like we do in semester 1 is enough. Or, my colleague proposed a solution this other day: require students to recite something in front of the class, either a poem they wrote themselves or a POL poem. Maybe that’s meeting them halfway. Maybe that’s enough.  


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