Literacy teachers should aim to embed poetry into their routine, however there are different ways to approach it at each year level.
This is the advice of literacy experts Phil and Sharon Callen, who believe that poetry plays a key role in literacy learning and should be embraced by teachers.
But firstly, the duo said that before teachers can develop their lesson plan, they first must understand the purpose of poetry.
“Why do we teach it? Why poetry? When we immerse our students in rich, lively poetry, we’re really introducing them to this intensity and this concise, skilfully crafted language. So students can then really learn how writers or poets convey a maximum amount of thought and feeling in the fewest carefully chosen words,” Sharon said on episode 29 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy.
“In a way, everything we need to know about reading and writing actually exists within a poem because it’s there in this smaller, tight and concise world.
“So to appreciate poetry is to appreciate the art of language. So through it, students can really appreciate the sound and imagery of language. It invites students to really understand and view themselves and their world in new ways because of how language is used. It certainly enriches students’ lives as they discover words and sounds and rhythms in unique and creative ways.
“And I think that is such a powerful thing for our youngest writers who are as capable of that as our older writers, of how to use language, to create the meaning that we’re trying to get to. So I think it’s just an invaluable quality that it brings to our lives.”
With poetry being a crucial part of literacy learning, Sharon and Phil recommended dedicating ‘intentional time’ to poetry through daily, weekly or fortnightly workshops, depending on the year level.
“We might feel like we’re being intentional. We want to do a unit of work on poetry, but intentional time means that we can actually make it an essential and integral part of our English block, English teaching and learning,” Sharon said.
“So for our reception or kindergarten or prep, we’re bringing a lot of poets of that to our students on a daily basis or weekly.
“For our year three to six students, I would also make it a weekly piece, but if not weekly, at least fortnightly. And people are going to say, ‘well, how am I going to have time to fit poetry in here?’ Well where I have my readers and writers workshop, why can’t I make one day of the week or the fortnight a poetry workshop? So we’re still using the elements of that workshop model of the mini lesson – having read aloud or shared reading, having time to read for ourselves, having time to see some shared writing of poetry or modelled writing, writing some poetry for ourselves and sharing, all of that can still happen.
“And so for our years three to six, that as a complete readers / writers workshop around poetry makes sense. We don’t ever leave any of those other aspects to just a one time of five week unit. Like if we want them to be writing informational text, we’re not just doing that once in a year. We’re doing that across content areas. We’re teaching that all the time.”
Furthermore, when teaching years seven to ten, Sharon encouraged teachers to expand their use of poetry into different content areas.
“If we’re wanting them to write poetry, [we need to be] linking it to the reading and the discussing and looking at poetry. I don’t think that’s going to be a new thought for secondaries, but if we’re having a poetry unit, then we’re absolutely combining both of those things,” Sharon said.
“And what are the features of the Australian curriculum? Poetry is across that. We’re looking at language, we’re looking at language devices and features of literary language, so it’s to be able to build our knowledge around those.
“We’re definitely also reading widely in that area. I think that’s probably an important part of it is that for secondaries, we might be looking at a bigger poem or we may be studying a poet, but we really want to be bringing poetry to our students in as many forms and ways and different poets as possible across a year.
“The poetry may link to other things that we’re doing. How can we bring information around a topic in another content area in secondary, if I’m doing a unit on a particular something or rather (and not just in English), why can’t I bring poetry to that? Why can’t I explain something through poetry? So say I’m a secondary history teacher. Why can’t I use poetry to explain the intensity of a particular event? Poetry is a way for us to use language, and to be able to use that in secondary schools is fantastic.”