Studying Poetry in the Common Core Era
In the spirit of celebrating the diversity of voices in American poets both past and present, National Poetry Month was established in 1996. Today, Poetry Month is a springtime rite of passage, welcoming April by immersing students in reading and writing poetry. However, the Common Core has forced us to look even more carefully at our curricular decisions, including the one to honor poetry with a month-long celebration. In this week-long series, we will look at poetry though the lens of the Common Core to explore what role poetry plays in 21st Century classrooms.
Poetry and the Writing Standards
One of the biggest changes in writing instruction as a result of the Common Core is the shift away from a heavy emphasis on narrative writing to include more opportunities to write in ways that inform or argue for a particular perspective. The standards call for the following distribution among three types of writing:
In thinking about whether or not writing poetry has a rightful place in the Common Core era, we must turn to the document to see how, or if, the authors explicitly address writing poetry. According to Appendix A, “Narrative writing conveys experience, either real or imaginary, and uses time as its deep structure. It can be used for many purposes, such as to inform, instruct, persuade, and entertain. In English language arts, students produce narratives that take the form of creative fictional stories, memoirs, anecdotes, and autobiographies.“ (p.23)
In this description, poetry isn’t specifically cited; however, in a sidebar the authors note, “The narrative category does not include all of the possible forms of creative writing, such as many types of poetry. The Standards leave the inclusion and evaluation of other such forms to teacher discretion.” (p.23)
The language chosen here creates an aura of uncertainty around writing poetry. Some educators will interpret this fine print as a license to forge ahead, teaching as they always have, creating rich units of study where students fill pages with free verse and try their hand at alliteration, pentameter, and metaphorical language. Others, however, will feel the tug of writing to inform and persuade, unconvinced that Poetry Month is much more than a month of rhyming and playing with words. So, do we write poetry for a month, or even throughout the year, or not? Can teaching poetry address the achievement goals outlined by the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing?
One of the ideas central to the Common Core writing goals is that students use writing to clearly communicate their thinking, and writing poetry is an exercise in precision. Poets must meticulously consider words and how to organize them, considering nuance, meter, and imagery in an effort to convey their messages and appeal to the audiences for whom they write. When comparing these responsibilities of poets to the goals for writers presented in the anchor standards, one can see the following connections between the two:
Anchor Standard #3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Anchor Standard #4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Anchor Standard #5: Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, and trying a new approach.
Anchor Standard #10: Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, or audiences.
At a time when many educators are treading lightly over the Language Arts landscape afraid of a misstep that will force them out of alignment with the Common Core, poetry offers added texture to our writing instruction as it can legitimately serve as a platform for narrative, informational, and persuasive writing.
Previous post: Poetry and the Reading Standards
Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf
“National Poetry Month.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Aug. 2012. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Poetry_Month>.