Poetry, Critical Literacy, and the Classroom

For many, poetry can be the bane of English class. Having to interpret passages of complex and figurative language nonliterally can often seem confusing (especially to those who tend to think linearly), and interpretations on a single poem may vary considerably from person to person. However, the act of interpreting the meaning of the words—the thought process behind forming an opinion on the piece—is more complex in poetry than in most other written art forms, which gives it a distinct advantage. When the mind is forced to innovate in order to make sense of the information it receives, that newly reshaped perspective can influence far more than the scope of a single reading or assignment. Queen’s University professor Rebecca Luce-Kapler writes,

“Poetry is a crucible that can forge an appreciation for the aesthetic, an ear for rhythm, a discipline for rewriting, an attention to the senses, an ethical witnessing of experience, and an understanding of many of the metaphors that have come to populate language.”

Luce-Kapler, Rebecca. “Why Is Poetry Still Relevant in School?” James, Kedrick, Teresa M Dobson and Carl Leggo. English in Middle and Secondary Classrooms. Toronto: Pearson, 2013. 192-196. Essay.

These practical and broad-reaching results demonstrate that poetry examination is far from a fruitless and arcane exercise; in fact, it fosters the growth of critical thinking skills that apply to all disciplines of life.

With a new perspective fashioned by experiencing and interpreting poetry, and the realisation that a single word may have multiple interpretations, students may feel compelled to analyse other texts they encounter in their lives, even those that are not necessarily poetic in nature. For example, they may detect the use of a particular synonym that makes an advertisement evoke an emotion, or they may start to question the content of the information they hear on the news or in other media. This analysis may even take place without the student being aware it is happening, an outcome that would truly demonstrate the power of poetry.

Poetry can be introduced into the classroom in a variety of ways. Certainly an English teacher could design a poetry-related activity for the class or assign a poetry analysis for homework, but there are several other excellent applications for poetry in other content areas as well, many of which are far from contrived. For example, if a social studies class were studying a particular culture or period of time, the teacher could recite a poem written by someone who experienced that time or culture firsthand; this might help students appreciate the thoughts and circumstances they learn about from a different point of view. Also, short rhyming poems are frequently used as mnemonics and learning guides in math and science classes to help student grasp and retain complicated data, and many art classroom walls are peppered with artistic works inspired by poetry. The potential for poetry integration in the classroom is endless.

As students become able to write and analyse poetry more expertly, their critical thinking skills expand, which ultimately furthers their educational development and helps them better appreciate other systems of values (perhaps even re-evaluate their own). Therefore, educators have a unique opportunity to provide a more holistic learning experience for their students by integrating poetry into their curricula, since the students will be better equipped to lead tomorrow’s world with a broadened awareness of how to effectively process and think.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *