Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2012

Document Type

Thesis

First Advisor

Dr. Anne Dipardo

Second Advisor

Dr. Julie Carr

Abstract

This project began my senior year of high school when my favorite AP English teacher told me that he didn’t like poetry. I left his class confident in my prose-writing and analytical skills, intent on majoring in English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In my freshman-year creative writing class, I read radical poetry—the poetry of Jack Spicer, George Oppen, Sylvia Plath, Amiri Baraka—that confused, fascinated, and ultimately inspired me to apply to the creative writing program. I also decided, around this time, to become a high school English teacher. This project took form as I struggled to find a place within my education classes and practicum for the exciting poetry and student-based lessons that I was experiencing in my poetry workshops. I found myself repeatedly confronting, within the world of secondary English Language Arts education, the apprehension that my high school teacher expressed about teaching poetry. I began this project with the intent of identifying and exploring the importance of including poetry in the high school English Language Arts curriculum. I wanted to design a unit that would serve as a resource to wary teachers—I wanted to give them something that would make poetry less “scary,” more comfortable. I began my research by reading all that I could find—everything from lesson plans, to pedagogical theory, to the Common Core State Standards—about how and why to teach poetry in high schools. My research shifted to practical observation and experience as I began spending time observing and teaching in schools throughout Boulder Valley. This fall, I am student teaching at East High School in Denver, Colorado. I am working with both a general English Language Arts and a creative writing teacher. I am in the classroom, as a teacher and observer, full time, five days a week, for the duration of the semester. 
 
This project is a culmination of my theoretical reading, hypothetical planning, and practical experience. As I moved through the various stages of thinking, planning and teaching, my focus moved from making poetry less “scary” to exploring such apprehension and nervousness. My central question changed from “How can I prove that poetry is necessary, safe and approachable?” to “How can I prove that poetry is necessary because it is not safe, but ambiguous and challenging?” My project is composed of two parts: first, an essay that explores key debates and fundamental practices within poetry pedagogy; and second, a six week poetry unit plan. I do not intend to prescribe—through my suggested methodology and plans—a single, simple way of teaching poetry. Instead, this project is my effort to embody in my planning and teaching the vulnerable, creative, and critical processes with which I expect my students to engage in my classroom. My hope is that this project can serve as a resource for other teachers looking for new ways of understanding poetry, teaching, and the greater purposes of education.

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