04 April 2012

Memorizing Poetry & Preparing Students to be College and Career Ready

With all the work around preparing students to be college and career ready, one today might say a student like my grandpa, who never finished high school but went on to fight in World War II and then to own and run a successful excavating business in Michigan, had no reason to memorize poetry.   I disagree.

One of my favorite memories is of my grandfather reciting for me The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes.  I last heard Grandpa, at the age of 86, recite this poem, a couple of months before he died.  I asked him what inspired him to learn and remember that poem; he said it was his tenth-grade  English teacher.   Because he had committed The Chambered Nautilus (and other poems) to memory,   he gained an opportunity to share that memory with me, his granddaughter; I gained an experience of a special time with a great man.  Since I was a high school English teacher who, for many reasons, asked students to memorize poetry, I liked to share with my students this story of my grandpa reciting poetry at the age of 86.  This story was also inspiring to some of my speech and debate students who competed in  poetry interpretation.

True our world today is different from the days when my grandpa was in high school in the 1930s.  Workers need to be better educated to fill new jobs that don’t even yet exist, and they need to be flexible and adaptable to be literate members of a 21st century society.  However, let’s not forget the soft skills associated with being successful in the 21st century and beyond.  As conversations continue about the economy and the bottom line, we cannot lose sight of the important benefits one can reap from memorizing poetry.  The practice of memorizing poetry can even help us prepare students to be college and career ready. 

Memorizing poetry can…
  • provide you an in-depth understanding of a poem (if memorized thoughtfully and with repeated readings)
  • help you through a hard time (important if you don’t especially want to wake up and go to school—or stay in school)
  • provide an occasion to celebrate (important in life to celebrate one another, achievements, life itself)
  • help you survive heat (literally and figuratively—and another post on that coming soon…)
  • help you remember history (We need to learn from history, right?)
  • move you beyond your comfort zone—a learning place
  • help you build memories
  • improve analytic abilities (Obviously, one must be taught how it can do this—not just told to memorize)
  • improve comprehension and learn vocabulary (Again—one must be taught)
  • help you learn about culture
  • keep you in touch with ideas and experiences
  • allow you to enjoy the beauty of words aloud (Think of all the poetry aloud and speech team competitions that continue.)
  • help you think about the world in which you live
  • provide you interesting party conversations
  • help you learn about language, grammar, syntax
  • help you make sense of life
  • help you tell a story (Stories are still important, right?)
  • provide you opportunities to connect with others
Maybe we could even consider connection the 5th C in 21st century learning because it is an integral part of being a globally aware and responsible citizen.