Contemporary Poetry As Culturally Responsible Teaching Tool
Jill Fletcher contributes an article at Edutopia about contemporary poetry's value in the classroom. Her article, "The Value of Teaching Contemporary Poetry," reveals opportunities "to find deep personal and cultural connections" when students and teachers discuss new poetry together. Fletcher writes, "[t]eachers often use poetry only to discuss literary elements, styles of writing, or universal themes, rather than asking how a poem makes students feel." From there:
When we do this, we’re missing an opportunity: Our students should be discussing personal connections to poems, especially recently written poems, and using those connections to start conversations about important personal issues and also societal issues such as racism, gender and class inequities, and power structures.
Recently I asked my AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) class to read a contemporary poem, “Moana Means Home: A Contrapuntal,” by Terisa Siagatonu. I purposely assigned this poem without a set of “answers” about it, and I felt vulnerable reading it for only the second time as my class read it for the first time. When we finished, I asked them what they thought. The room was silent except for the buzzing of the air-conditioning units. Most of my students were looking down at their desks, feet, hands—anything to avoid eye contact. After an uncomfortable silence, one of them spoke up.
“It was really different,” he said.
“Can you expand on that?”
“It about things that are happening now,” he explained.
Once we had discussed how this poem was different from others they’d read, I asked students what questions they had about the poem, and we did some research to figure out what the lines “someone will / always want / my skin” might mean. We were horrified to learn that “some ethnologists from early last century had managed to collect the preserved, tattooed skin of Pacific people who had died.”
Read more at Edutopia.