Mary Lou L. Narowski
There are two basic pedagogical strands that rise to the surface and which should underpin our study of poetry: basic reading comprehension skills where connotation and denotation could sometimes swallow my students, and prosody skills where the rhythm, stress, meter, and the acoustic effects of intonation should be heard, recognized, explored, and bring joy, not irritation. These are huge undertakings especially considering the students in my classes. Because my students are typical adolescents, they are unwilling to spend time with the "heady" and intellectual exercise of answering the theoretical question, "What is poetry?" I need to proffer a different framework and different kind of question. It would be difficult for them to suppose and imagine what something is, without anything concrete in their hands. They need a scaffolding question which helps bridge this gap. "What does poetry sound like and how are these sounds expressed?" is much more concrete and bridges this gap while lending itself to personal discovery. They need to come to this knowledge independently. They need to recognize it. They need to own it.
My unit will be based on discovery rather than direct instruction where they are told the definitions of poetic features, and then asked to "find" these features within a poem itself. These sound elements need to become second nature to my classes. At the outset, I plan to simply ask small groups of students what poetry does and what its sounds are. My supposition and expectation is that their answers will fall into the tone and tension categories. Students will most likely say something like, "It's a sad poem about the break-up of a couple." This will reflect the emotion (sadness) or tone of the poem as well as the conflict (break-up) or tension involved. Giving them a sample poem to discuss will increase their list of how poetry sounds especially if the poem has obvious acoustic features or even rhyme. They might actually be able to recite some nursery rhymes learned in the lower grades or literary poetic features from memory as a way of introduction. Knowing that they might already recognize some elements of tone will be crucial to their understanding.
Literary feature or, in this case, poetic device is a staple in our basic reading curriculum yet there is little asked of students involving their role or use other then casually noting them or recognizing one of them on a district test. There is little in the way of in depth analysis or understanding. Throughout the school year, as a safeguard against this, I will need to emphasize and remind students of these aspects by including the introduction of them in mini lessons and the practice with them in writing assignments. These elements add richness, meaning, and sound to the language of poetry as well as literature. The disconnection between knowledge and application, between knowing the definition of these features and recognizing and understanding how they are used within literary text must be eliminated. They need to experience these elements for themselves. They need to see, hear, and speak them often. They also need to apply and practice them as they write.