Pause for Poetry to Lift Writing in All Genres
Reviewed by Erin Corrigan-Smith
Let’s be honest: teaching poetry is a subjective art because finding meaning in poetry is a subjective art.
Poetry is one of the hardest genres to comprehend and to teach because interpretations can be so varied. Bridging the reality of what poetry is, across genres, helps students see the music in literature and the poetry in music.
Brett Vogelsinger is a 9th grade English teacher in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he has taught for over twenty years. In that time he has seen reading and writing instruction change though the core concepts remain the same.
Teaching literature through engaged writing is a passion of his, and he has blogs and the book Poetry Pauses: Teaching with Poems to Elevate Student Writing in All Genres, which are all about it!
Poetry Pauses is an interesting text because it goes beyond the “tried and true” strategies of teaching poetic styles and having students recreate them. Instead, the text aims to help educators engage with their students so that true creation can happen, even at a smaller level like a limerick.
Engaging students in poetry
Finding both relevant and appealing poetry is often what holds teachers back from being effective with their poetry instruction. How many times have we all heard “This is dumb!” or “Why do we have to ALWAYS read Shakespeare?”
If teachers want to hook their students, they need to do so in a thoroughly engaging way that makes the material approachable, engaging, and relevant to the students in the room.
This is where Vogelsinger’s text shines! Within the pages are amazing resources and ideas focused on getting those students interested and engrossed with the poetry so that they can see how these skills are transferable to a multitude of other academic (and life) situations.
Poetry Pauses is very well organized to help the reader find resources for the task at hand. Need to teach narrative skills? Go directly to Chapter 3. Need to review Literary Analysis? Why, that’s covered in Chapter 2! The organization helps readers navigate to focus on specific skills, rather than poetic genres, so the material contained within each chapter is more relevant to any classroom setting.
Fortunately, Vogelsinger makes everything easy for the reader. He has included a full appendix with reproducibles and an additional link with access to over 100 relevant poems for every genre. Each chapter also includes digital QR codes that take the reader to helpful resources and companion websites.
Putting students’ poems to work
There are also examples of student work peppered throughout the text and ideas on how to scaffold the lessons for all learners. The text focuses on how to make the included materials work for any teacher in any grade. Just as there is no “one size fits all” approach to education, this text acknowledges realistic student needs, and Vogelsinger attempts to mitigate those with focused ideas on how to do so.
Overall, this text is great for new (and veteran) teachers who need fresh ideas and resources centered around poetry and literacy instruction. Teaching poetry can be difficult – this resource will make it a lot easier.
Erin Corrigan-Smith is a secondary ELA teacher in a suburb of Atlanta. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English, and her focus of study is children’s literature. She has recently returned to school to earn an Ed.D. in Reading and Literacy. In her downtime, she enjoys going to her family’s cabin in the North Georgia mountains with her husband and dog, to read, to complete her never-ending piles of homework, and to relax.