Since Robert Frost encouraged our founder Marie Bullock to “get poetry into the high schools” in the 1960s, we’ve been assisting teachers in bringing poetry into the classroom in a variety of ways, from launching the first Poets in the Schools program to providing teacher training to an Online Poetry Classroom that evolved into Poets.org, to our award-winning series Teach This Poem, which we’ve adapted for remote learning for this school year.
We know that it’s often teachers who introduce poetry to young readers and spark their interest in the art form. And we know that when students engage with poetry, it can have a powerful effect. At a convening of young poets from the National Student Poets program, Poetry Out Loud, and Youth Speaks held a few years ago, young poets in attendance were asked what poetry meant to them. Their answers were compelling: “It’s how I make sense of the dark places;” and, “When I read poems sometimes I feel found—it’s almost like a biological reaction, like a leaf unfurling inside of me.”
It’s by reading poems that we gain insight into fundamental human questions, witness the power of language to portray experience, learn about others’ lives, and hone our ability to pay attention. For young people, especially, poetry helps them make connections to others and their world, and leads them to think in synthesizing ways, as metaphors require, and encourages the development of their unique voices.
To assist teachers in sharing poetry with their students, in 2015, we launched Teach This Poem, a free weekly publication emailed out to teachers each Monday morning, as well as archived on Poets.org. The package features one poem from the Poets.org collection accompanied by a primary source, almost always from the Library of Congress, which helps students develop observational skills; generate and test hypotheses; and ask questions that lead to more reflection; along with a set of classroom activities produced by a curriculum specialist, Ansely Moon. Our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer provides overall guidance to the series, which she helped develop.
Dr. Holzer and our Education Ambassador Richard Blanco recently created a video about using Teach This Poem and teaching with primary resources, which you can view here.
Teach This Poem, which won the 2018 Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation, aims to make it as easy as possible for teachers to plug in a poem to what they’re teaching. Toward that end, poems selected to be featured each week are topical. The series is rooted in eight goals:
- engage all students with the art of poetry in a meaningful and experiential way;
- offer students multiple entry points into a poem;
- demonstrate that there are a number of ways to interpret a poem;
- foster compassion and understanding;
- help students develop a “poetic sensibility”—the ability to see what’s behind the words, to take imaginative leaps, and to begin to employ creative and critical thinking skills;
- to introduce students to a diversity of poets writing today, as well as historic poets, promoting the fact that poetry is a living art;
- help students see how poetry can speak to historic and current events; and
- encourage a lifelong passion for poetry and reading.
In July 2020, we surveyed Teach This Poem subscribers and learned:
- 75% are english or language arts teachers, 10% ESL, and 15% social studies, science, and math;
- the majority teach grades 6 to 12 and an average of 50 students;
- Teach This Poem serves more than 25,000 students in all 50 states, including more than 326 Congressional districts;
- 51% of teachers incorporate incorporate Teach This Poem into their classroom lessons on a weekly or monthly basis;
- 68% of teachers teach the poem, primary source, and classroom activities.
But behind the numbers, it’s the teachers’ feedback that best tells the story of how Teach This Poem is having an impact:
I love TTP. I teach in a one-to-one school, and have used TTP for several years. Right now, we're doing school through Google Meet video, and summer school is going strong. During summer or the school year, at school or at home, my students benefit from intermittent doses of poetry and from the diversity of your topics and poets. The extras--collections, etc--you've put together during the pandemic have also been valuable. Sometimes, I just need a quick activity (or reading) to fill ten minutes. Poetry to the Rescue! Love Love Love TTP. I recommend it to everyone!
During remote learning I used the resources to keep students engaged and interested in learning. It had a tremendous impact on both their communicative and written abilities. The topics are universal and relatable - so important and essential for student learning.
It’s been helpful for incorporating topical and more diverse material. It’s easy to tuck in a poem and have it speak to a moment or historical anniversary, etc. It’s very welcome to get the kids outside of the anthology which can be very programmatic and not always as inclusive as it seems to be, or rather outdated in its approach to inclusion.
I love when a poem has a recording of the author reading it because the students really love it—it brings poetry alive. Poems and poetry in general can seem so foreign and maybe even impractical to students (although I don’t think that’s how they’d articulate it). So any resources that make the poem more than just “something else we’re reading in English” is of great value. Photographs, recordings, artwork, and interviews do that. It’s hard to quantify whether these resources and experiences with poetry improve student test scores or anything like that. But I know for sure that helping students see how poems (& poetry in general) represent lived/shared moments of the human experience as well as the importance of observation, word choice, and connections—is one of the most important ways my students grow as reflective, empathetic thinkers who seem themselves as part of a global community of readers, writers, and creators.
I love to use TTP as part of our daily warm-up routine, but what's so amazing is that sometimes the lesson is special enough that we extend our discussion and end up having an entire class session around the poem. I think that learning to appreciate and enjoy poetry without expectations is genuinely transforming my students' experience with and conceptions about poetry.
The best thing TTP brings to me as a teacher is convenience, a school-appropriate poem delivered to my inbox rather than one I've had to dig back out of a collection. The students love being introduced to contemporary poets in particular, and when I tell them "Hey, this just came in my inbox", it shows them I am actively enriching their education with new material.
Teachers and families can sign up for free. When they do, they’ll become part of a community of more than 37,000 teachers who are joining us as we Teach This Poem!
We’re grateful to the Teaching With Primary Sources Consortium, Waynesburg University, and the Library of Congress for their support.