Revitalizing Poetry in the Classroom

One of the Favorite Poem Project's significant goals is to enhance and improve the teaching of poetry in the nation's elementary, middle and high school classrooms. The study of poetry, Robert Pinsky believes, is crucial in the modern world.

"Poetry connects us with our deep roots," says Pinsky, "our evolution as an animal that created rhythmic language as a means of transmitting vital information across the generations. We need to communicate not only with our peers but our ancestors and descendants, and the arts of poetry, writing, print, and digital media serve that communication. As the oldest of those arts, poetry in a deep-going way calls upon the very nature of human society, our interdependence upon one another not only in space but in time. We need the comfort and stimulation that this vital part of us gets from the ancient art."

Summer Poetry Institutes

Call for Applications

The poetry institute was a reaffirmation of why I love poetry as well as a reminder of why I became a teacher. I aim to spark the same kind of love for poetry in others. I believe this week-long institute has given me the tools to do just that! Thank you!—Tamara Dalton, Needham High School, Needham, MA

The Favorite Poem Project, in cooperation with the Boston University School of Education, is accepting applications for the eleventh annual Poetry Institute for Educators at Boston University, July 20-24, 2015. We invite teachers and teacher/administrator teams across grade levels—elementary, middle and high school—to apply. The Institute seeks a range of participants: new and experienced teachers, those who enjoy teaching poetry and those who've shied away from it.

For an application or for more information, please email Professor Lee Indrisano. (Admissions are rolling. The final deadline for electronic and mail submissions is July 5, 2014.)


FPP Materials

The level of excitement generated by bringing the Favorite Poem Project to my classroom is astounding.—Virginia Dent, Lansing High School, Lansing, NY
The Favorite Poem Project videos provoke interest and conversation among students and are wonderfully helpful as an introduction to poetry.—Frannie Moyer, Newton South High School, Newton, MA

The Summer Poetry Institute, led by Robert Pinsky, builds on the principles of the Favorite Poem Project. Participating teachers receive teaching materials, including a DVD featuring project participants from across the country each reading aloud and speaking about a poem they love. Many of the lesson plans developed by Institute participants are made available to a national audience of teachers through this Web site.


A Unique Opportunity

Poetry discussions led by "real" poets added depth and a scholarly aspect to the institute that is often lacking in teacher workshops. I find the teacher-as-learner aspect very rejuvenating.—Merri Jones, Frank Sokolowski School, Chelsea, MA

The graduate-course-like discussions were engaging and exciting.—Lauren Marganiello, Wilmington High School, Wilmington, MA

The Institute offers participating teachers a remarkable week-long opportunity: to study and discuss poetry with renowned practitioners of the art.Past faculty include poets Mark Doty, David Ferry, Louise Glück, Gail Mazur, Heather McHugh, Carl Phillips, and Rosanna Warren. Each faculty member meets with teachers to look closely at excellent poems in a seminar/discussion setting. Each day of the Institute wraps up with a poetry reading given by faculty.

In addition, participating teachers work in groups throughout the week with leaders from Boston University's School of Education. Based on the Institute seminars, and incorporating their own skills and ideas, the teacher-groups develop innovative and energizing lesson plans with the aim of invigorating the teaching of poetry in their schools and classrooms. The Institute encourages dialogue among teachers about past successes, difficulties and insights they've had in bringing poetry to students in their various communities, seeking to build on participating teachers' experiences.

At the end of the week, teachers present lesson plans they've created, and take part in a "Favorite Poem" reading event, sharing a favorite poem along with a brief reflection. We encourage participating educators to organize similar Favorite Poem reading events in their classrooms, schools, or broader communities during the academic year.

The Favorite Poem Project has caused us, as a department, to rethink our teaching of poetry, connecting it directly to the kids.—Ronna Frick, Department Head, Wellesley High School, Wellesley, MA

The collaboration at the summer institute produced a number of excellent lesson plans. One particularly successful lesson involved creating anthologies and sharing favorite poems. All fifty-eight of my juniors completed this project—unheard of, and fantastic! The at-risk students, the low-functioning, the highly-skilled, the creative, the disenchanted, the normally unmotivated, ALL presented their favorite poems for this project and were delighted to discuss the choices they had made. It was, quite simply, empowering. Rest assured that the "buzz" has started here at Watertown High School.—Monica Hiller, Watertown High School, Watertown, MA


Tuition

The $300 fee for the Summer Poetry Institute includes materials and continental breakfast daily. On the first day of the institute, teachers receive a canvas tote containing:

  • A binder filled with information, along with copies of the poems to be presented by the poet-faculty during the week.
  • Poems to Read: A New Favorite Poem Project Anthology, edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz (W.W. Norton & Co., 2002).
  • An Invitation to Poetry: A New Favorite Poem Project Anthology, including a comprehensive classroom guide, edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz (W.W. Norton & Co., 2004).
  • A DVD featuring Favorite Poem Project videos.
  • The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide by Robert Pinsky (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998)
Following the Institute, participants receive a complete, edited set of lessons developed by teacher-groups at the Institute and a "Teachers' Favorite Poems" anthology compiled from entries collected at the Institute.

Institute participants will be awarded 30 Professional Development Points.


Housing

Overnight accommodation for the week (Sunday through Thursday nights) is available on a first come first served basis at Boston University's new Student Village (10 Buick Street, Boston, MA), walking distance from the Institute.

The apartment-style residence features four-bedroom suites. All bedrooms are single occupancy. Each suite has two full bathrooms. Bed and bath linens are provided.

Room rates are $67 per person per night for guests of Boston University (a total of $335 for five nights). We will do our best to accommodate suite-mate requests.


Parking

Garage parking is available for commuters at a rate of $8 per day. Overnight parking is available, price to be determined.


Facilities

The Summer Poetry Institute takes place at Boston University's School of Education, Silber Way, Boston, MA. Institute participants will have access to a special poetry reading library as well as a computer lab.


Favorite Poem Events in Schools

The text below is from the comprehensive classroom resource for instructors that accompanies the textbook edition of the Favorite Poem Project anthology An Invitation to Poetry.

Asking students, as the Favorite Poem Project asks people in general, to read poems aloud and say something personal about them demonstrates that those processes can be joyous rather than intimidating or dry. To recite a poem aloud fulfills a natural need, stimulated by the pleasurable, moving experience of the poem.

There are different approaches to organizing a Favorite Poem reading, but the goal remains the same: autonomous, individual connection with a work of art, and the ability to communicate that connection by speaking the poem in one's own voice and by saying something about it in one's own words.

Favorite Poem readings tend to create an atmosphere of respect and attention, as students listen to their peers share poems that mean something to them. The format for a reading within a single classroom is simple: each student reads a poem and says a few sentences about why this particular poem is important as a personal choice. (Our advice is to rule out written statements or notes: the only piece of paper allowed would be the text of the poem itself.) It may seem risky, but our inclination is to allow all sorts of material such as song lyrics, nursery rhymes, or anything that has found its way into print. If the student chooses to start with the words of a silly song—even in a defiant or teasing spirit—the requirement to say something to one's peers about the importance of the choice can lead to the fulfillment of the educational goal.

For the students' in-class reading, photocopies can be useful, but there is much to be gained from careful listening, with no text to rely on, and for welcoming the idea that a poem or parts of a poem can be heard over again, the way one plays or sings a favorite song more than once.

The anthology assignment (detailed elsewhere in this guide) is good preparation for a Favorite Poem reading, perhaps at the end of the term, with students choosing one poem from their collection to share with the rest of the class. It may be beneficial to have a Favorite Poem reading early in the term, and then again toward the end, with students choosing a different poem each time. Perhaps their tastes or interests will have changed over the course of the semester. Another option would be to begin each class with one or two students presenting a favorite poem.

A more ambitious step, beyond an in-class Favorite Poem reading, would be to organize an evening event inviting others from the university community to participate—several students, the high school principal or university president, custodial staff, administrators, professors of various subjects, maybe a coach. Another approach would be to extend the reach even further, finding readers from the broader community, the city or town—a mayor or alderman, a grade school student, a radio or TV personality, a doctor or banker or librarian. Students might get involved in tracking down readers and helping put together such an event. Many schools, colleges, and universities have presented events of this kind with wonderful results.

By involving the school community, or reaching out to the broader community, a Favorite Poem reading can help build important ties between a school and the community that supports or contains the school. For more information about planning an event that involves the community, visit favoritepoem.org/getinvolved.html. These readings demonstrate that poetry is part of life as well as an object for study. They create the opportunity to learn something more about poetry from people who take pleasure in it—not only or primarily scholars or poets, but anyone who loves a poem.

Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz

Below are additional, specific ideas for a variety of school events, designed by teachers who've written to us about their successes:


Poetry Lesson Plans

The Favorite Poem Project seeks to improve poetry's place in American classrooms by encouraging active, engaging poetry lessons that emphasize a direct, vocal connection to poems. The lessons below were developed by teachers as part of their participation in the Favorite Poem Project summer poetry institutes hosted by Boston University.

In keeping with the goals of the Favorite Poem Project, the lessons presented here focus on appreciating poetry—reading, discussing, and enjoying poems—rather than on the writing of original poetry. Several of the lessons emphasize pleasure in the words and sounds of poems as place to begin—reminding students that poetry is art, and that it is satisfying and exciting to discover a poem that enthralls you and to say it in your own voice. If poetry is first presented in classrooms as something to seek out and enjoy, rather than something to pick apart, label and decipher, students are more likely to become interested in developing a deeper understanding of meaning in poems, in looking more closely at forms, in learning the tools poets use and the terms that identify those tools.

Many of these lessons make use of the Favorite Poem Project video segments. The videos are available for viewing on this Web site, or may be purchased on DVD with the anthology An Invitation to Poetry. The book/DVD set is also available in a paperback textbook edition for use in high school and introductory college courses. A comprehensive classroom guide written by Robert Pinsky, Maggie Dietz, Todd Hearon and Jill McDonough is available to instructors who adopt the text for a course.

Though the lessons below are organized by grade level, many of them could easily be adapted for students in higher or lower grades.


Cross-Disciplinary Lessons

Poetry, deeply rooted in human culture, is intricately connected to many disciplines, such as visual art, music, history and religious and social studies. The Favorite Poem Project shows a great deal in particular about American culture at the end of the twentieth century—through the poems people choose, which span ages and cultures, and through the stories they tell, which are often connected to other art forms, social and cultural questions, and other aspects of contemporary life.

Teachers have found many ways to incorporate poetry into areas of studies other than Language Arts. Below are some of their ideas, including many which make us use of specific Favorite Poem video segments.

History Through Poetry

Liz Stinger, a teacher of mechanical drafting/CADD at Mount Joy Career and Technology Center wrote to us about her daughter's success in combining two disciplines in one paper:

I learned to love and appreciate poetry from an exceptional high school English teacher. I have never missed an opportunity to use poetry in everyday life.

This "lesson" gave my daughter an appreciation for poetry and earned her an "A" by combining a literature and a history assignment during her senior year in high school. Her English assignment was to select a topic and develop a research paper. Her history assignment was to write a paper on World War I. With both teachers' permission, she selected the weapons of WWI as her topic and used the poetry of WWI, along with other resources, to develop the paper. The poetry helped the information become alive. The names of the weapons and the words used in describing them, their sounds, gave a dimension to the research that factual prose could not. She titled the paper "The Weapons of WWI through Its Poetry."