“We experience a poem in two ways: we hear the sound we make when we say the words of a poem; and we think of the meaning of the words we have said. So get your ears ready.” – Brod Bagert
After spending several years traveling around the country — sharing my ideas about the value of poetry in the curriculum and in children’s language and literacy development — it occurred to me that something was missing. I had not personally taken the time to look at what happens when poetry is taught in a classroom on a sustained basis. This interest in learning about elementary school children’s experiences with poetry led me to conduct an informal teachers’ survey at a regional conference of the International Reading Association. Although the survey was not designed to yield generalizable data, it was helpful to me in revealing some of the notions about poetry held by the teachers who responded:
(1) Most teachers said that they were teaching more poetry each year primarily because this gave their students’ enjoyment; (2) Most expressed the need for more poetry resources, including teaching materials and strategies for including poetry in the curriculum; (3) Teachers in the early grades reported spending much more time on poetry than those teaching at the intermediate levels and beyond.
My Poetry Instruction Survey, coupled with my personal experiences and readings in literary theory, caused me to further reflect on how teachers situate poetry into their language arts programs. For example, much has been written about the links between oral and written language. As I explored the theory and research about these relationships, new questions arose. Child language researchers make a strong case for the interdependence of listening, speaking, reading, and writing on children’s language development.
In Language Stories and Literacy Lessons, Jerome Harste, Virginal Woodward, and Carolyn Burke characterize this interdependence as a “linguistic data pool” in which everything children learn about oral language is stored and retrieved to aid in the development of written language and vice versa.
Because poetry often involves both oral and written language, it can serve as a natural bridge for all forms of communication. My experience suggests that reading, writing, and reciting poetry have the potential to provide valuable support for developing literacy skills. My question became: Do classroom teachers recognize the potential for linking oral language and literacy through poetry? How, if at all might that be reflected in the classroom?
This is why am am excited to explore the interrelationship between oral and written language, which provides a key part of the framework for my future studies.
“Poetry, whose material is language, is perhaps the most human and least worldly of the arts, the one in which the end product remains closest to the thought that inspired it.” – Hannah Arendt