It can be difficult to find an engaging and diverse poetry curriculum because, for a long time, the ubiquitous authority on any literary topic was the classic textbook anthology. This text is a great resource, but it is important that as teachers we select a variety of texts to use in our classes, not just the established canon.
So how does a teacher, especially one who has been handed a textbook for their class, find material that incorporates diversity?
Today’s blog post is written by Rebecca Gettelman who is a middle and high school teacher from the Midwest. She has been teaching for over eleven years. Kristy has added in some of her ideas throughout the post.
Steps You Can Take For Diversifying Your Poetry Curriculum
Become a Poetry Reader
One of the best ways to become acquainted with new poetry to use in your classroom is to start reading poetry regularly yourself and keeping a list of poems that would make good material for your classroom.
In essence, start putting together your own anthology. Print out paper copies or save digital copies of poems you like.
You can start gathering poetry all at once – maybe have a “poetry summer” or a winter holiday filled with cups of cocoa, crackling fires, and verse – but I often find that I do better at appreciating poems and discovering unknown gems when I do it in much smaller doses.
Several organizations like Poets.org provide “poem-a-day” programs, either on their websites or delivered right to your inbox. America’s Library of Congress even has an amazing program called Poetry 180 that provides 180 poems (one for each day of the school year) that are appropriate for the high school audience. These are all great places to begin your search. You can also look at websites such as the Poetry Foundation and Poetry.org.
Ask Your Students to Bring in Suggestions
Some of your students love poetry already and will have a list of fifteen of their favourite poems to hand you as soon as you ask. Some of your students will bring you suggestions because they like having a say in what is taught. Some of your students will only bring you poems if you make it an assignment, but they will bring you new and wonderful material purely because that is what they stumbled across in a quick internet search. Even if you don’t use many or any of the poems your students bring in, their suggestions will give you insights into what kind of poems your students like and have been exposed to.
Pick a Theme and Make Use of the Internet
The internet can be an amazing resource. Maybe it is the first day of winter and you want a poem for class. Google “winter poem” and you will have a thousand at your fingertips. Maybe it is Black History Month or Halloween or Valentine’s Day. Hop on Teachers Pay Teachers; there are thousands of excellent resources there.
Even if you just start surfing on one of the big poetry databases like Poetry.org. Here you can get lost for hours in the magic of written verse. The internet is a treasure trove – make use of it!
I did an internet search and found these diverse resources you can add to your poetry curriculum.
Move Beyond Paper
Not all poetry is written down. Have your students explore spoken word poems. In my experiences, students readily engage with spoken word poems because they are more interactive than text on a page. See what spoken word poets you can invite into your school to perform.
Don’t Be Afraid of Your Textbook – Just Don’t Get Stuck in It
Lastly, it is worth pointing out that while your textbook is mostly made up of the traditional canon, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use any of those poems – there is a reason Frost, Byron and Blake have been read and taught for so long.
Textbook makers are improving at including a more diverse selection of poets and authors in their collections. But you know your students better than they do, and the one-size-fits-all model of a textbook is not going to cut it if you want true diversity and a curriculum tailored to your situation.
So use your textbook, just don’t only use your textbook – that is the first step in diversifying your poetry curriculum.