The Why and How of Teaching Poetry to Children

Poetry is our human inheritance. Children deeply know this and learn it avidly and with great pleasure. I will teach what I have done and seen and why it matters.

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The Role of Pleasure in Classical School Culture and Community

A silver thread that Lewis explores through his work (alongside the Argument by desire) is the tutor of desire–pleasure. He speaks and embodies frequently the benefit of small human pleasures in the salvation of our souls. In Screwtape the patient famously is rescued from the clutches of the demon by taking a walk and reading a book he genuinely enjoys. Wormwood is severely chastised for this lapse of judgment, which accomplishes much for the enemy (God). The patient recovers himself at the same time that he forgets himself, whenever we truly enjoy something we are self-forgetful which, in Lewis’ mind, is always a good and the ultimate goal—the starting place for humility. Our likes are the raw material through which God speaks to us, according to Screwtape; by recovering ourselves through the experience of pleasure we are protected from false friendships, from pretending to be something we are not, and thus from pride. We exist, for those moments, comfortably in our own skin and are glad to be alive. Often genuine friendships are formed out of such pleasures. Screwtape summarizes the design this way: “Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamor of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever (XIII).” The implications for this in our school are tremendous. We aren’t simply stuffing our students with valuable methods and information, we aim to give them primary contact with some of their deepest likings. What creates this in our classroom culture? Come ready to consider this together, bring a thought, event, experience to share from your contact with students. We will discuss topics as wide ranging as room design, tea drinking, instructor pleasure in learning, relationship of the material we teach to life, relationships within the classroom, co-curricular activity, classroom practices, and assignments designed with this in mind. This is a panel discussion with teachers from a variety of schools who will discuss how this principle has functioned in their lives as teachers and then open up the floor for Q and A and participant sharing.

Christine Perrin

Christine Perrin has taught literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Messiah College, Gordon College’s Orvieto Program, through the Pennsylvania Arts Council to students of all ages, and at the local classical school where her husband was headmaster for a decade and where her children a ended K-12. She consults with classical schools in curriculum development and faculty development in poetry. She is a two time recipient of the PA Arts Council Artists Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Fellowship. Her own work appears in various journals including The New England Review, Image, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, and Christianity and Literature, The Cresset. “The Art of Poetry” a text book for middle to high school students was published in 2009 by Classical Academic Press. She attended Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate and the University of Maryland for graduate school. She keeps a blog at: h p://blog.classicalacademicpress.com/poetry

Poetic Liturgy

This session employs poetry, music, and visual art to enter into the reality of a liturgical event. Covenant Christian Academy has used it throughout the school year to gather as an upper school to enter the reality of Epiphany, Good Friday, and other important events in the life of the historic church. It isn’t simply embodied learning; it is a disciplined marveling and dwelling together. We will show you how to do this in your school by doing it together. Come prepared to taste and see one of the most meaningful events in the life of our school. We use it in 7th, 9th and 11th grades every year.

Christine Perrin

Christine Perrin has taught literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Messiah College, Gordon College’s Orvieto Program, through the Pennsylvania Arts Council to students of all ages, and at the local classical school where her husband was headmaster for a decade and where her children a ended K-12. She consults with classical schools in curriculum development and faculty development in poetry. She is a two time recipient of the PA Arts Council Artists Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Fellowship. Her own work appears in various journals including The New England Review, Image, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, and Christianity and Literature, The Cresset. “The Art of Poetry” a text book for middle to high school students was published in 2009 by Classical Academic Press. She attended Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate and the University of Maryland for graduate school. She keeps a blog at: h p://blog.classicalacademicpress.com/poetry

American Classics: T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot represents high modernism and scares many of us with the difficulty of his work and the gigantic intellect that he applied to poetry, drama, and to literary criticism. Come to this seminar to spend a little time on the doorstep of the cathefral of thought and imagination he created, dwelling together. We will look at some of his poems and try to understand his legacy of how to read poems such as these. We will aim to see how finding a language adequate to the experience of the post-World War period involved such complexity.

Christine Perrin

Christine Perrin has taught literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Messiah College, Gordon College’s Orvieto Program, through the Pennsylvania Arts Council to students of all ages, and at the local classical school where her husband was headmaster for a decade and where her children a ended K-12. She consults with classical schools in curriculum development and faculty development in poetry. She is a two time recipient of the PA Arts Council Artists Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Fellowship. Her own work appears in various journals including The New England Review, Image, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, and Christianity and Literature, The Cresset. “The Art of Poetry” a text book for middle to high school students was published in 2009 by Classical Academic Press. She attended Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate and the University of Maryland for graduate school. She keeps a blog at: h p://blog.classicalacademicpress.com/poetry

Poetic Liturgy

This is a practice that we have used in our schools which uses poetry to consider a subject or a moment in the church calendar. It is a meditative and contemplative event where students prepare to read the poems (chosen according to their relevance and exploration of a subject or liturgical event) and meditations on the poems. They are often accompanied by musical interludes or paintings. We have discovered that employing literature in a manner that addresses its academic elements but leads us into worship is a type of embodied learning discussed in James Smith’s book “Desiring the Kingdom.” This is appropriate for all members of the school community: parents, board members, teachers, administrators. We encourage you to come and experience this liturgy with us and transplant it to your own school this year.

Christine Perrin

Christine Perrin has taught literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Messiah College, Gordon College’s Orvieto Program, through the Pennsylvania Arts Council to students of all ages, and at the local classical school where her husband was headmaster for a decade and where her children a ended K-12. She consults with classical schools in curriculum development and faculty development in poetry. She is a two time recipient of the PA Arts Council Artists Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Fellowship. Her own work appears in various journals including The New England Review, Image, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, and Christianity and Literature, The Cresset. “The Art of Poetry” a text book for middle to high school students was published in 2009 by Classical Academic Press. She attended Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate and the University of Maryland for graduate school. She keeps a blog at: h p://blog.classicalacademicpress.com/poetry

Jesse Hake

Raised in Taiwan by missionary parents, Jesse studied history at Geneva College (Beaver Falls, PA) and the University of St Andrews (Scotland) before marrying Elizabeth and taking his rst teaching job in Washington DC. Jesse has been teaching college and high school students for over nine years, with six of them at Covenant Christian Academy, a classical Christian school in Harrisburg, PA. At Covenant, Jesse has taught literature, rhetoric, theology and history as well as facilitating faculty development and overseeing upper school culture and discipline.

American Classics: Robert Frost

A seminar-long introduction to Frost using his poetry, his biography, identifying characteristics, and offering some assignment ideas. We will practice poetry reading together as we take a look at this classic American poet that so many have misunderstood. This seminar is especially appropriate for dialectic and rhetoric ages, but would also serve as exposure for grammar school teachers and parents.

Christine Perrin

Christine Perrin has taught poetry at Johns Hopkins University, Messiah College, Gordon College's Orvieto Program, Covenant Christian Academy, and through the Pennsylvania Arts Council to students of all ages. She is a two time recipient of the PA Arts Council Artists Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writer's Conference Fellowship. Her own work appears in various journals including The New England Review, Image, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, The Cresset, among others. The Art of Poetry, a text book for upper school students, was published by Classical Academic Press in 2009.

American Classics: Emily Dickinson

This is a seminar long introduction to Emily Dickinson, grandparent of American Poetry and one of the most distinctive voices in poetics. We will look at her work, her biography, her identifying characteristics, and consider some assignments by practicing poetry together – a disciplined marveling. Dickinson compels us to follow her into the dark after her. This seminar is appropriate for dialectic and rhetoric in particular, but would offer guidance to the grammar school teacher as well.

Christine Perrin

Christine Perrin has taught literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Messiah College, Gordon College’s Orvieto Program, through the Pennsylvania Arts Council to students of all ages, and at the local classical school where her husband was headmaster for a decade and where her children a ended K-12. She consults with classical schools in curriculum development and faculty development in poetry. She is a two time recipient of the PA Arts Council Artists Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Fellowship. Her own work appears in various journals including The New England Review, Image, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, and Christianity and Literature, The Cresset. “The Art of Poetry” a text book for middle to high school students was published in 2009 by Classical Academic Press. She attended Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate and the University of Maryland for graduate school. She keeps a blog at: h p://blog.classicalacademicpress.com/poetry

How Does a Poem Mean: Teaching The Poem, Practical Guidance

This session’s focus will be specific with particular suggestions on how to look at poetry with intelligence and curiosity alongside your students, without being an expert. Learn how to interrogate the poem, how to ask pertinent and provocative questions, identify the elements of the poem and look at how the poem makes its meaning.

Christine Perrin

Christine Perrin has taught literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Messiah College, Gordon College’s Orvieto Program, through the Pennsylvania Arts Council to students of all ages, and at the local classical school where her husband was headmaster for a decade and where her children a ended K-12. She consults with classical schools in curriculum development and faculty development in poetry. She is a two time recipient of the PA Arts Council Artists Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Fellowship. Her own work appears in various journals including The New England Review, Image, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, and Christianity and Literature, The Cresset. “The Art of Poetry” a text book for middle to high school students was published in 2009 by Classical Academic Press. She attended Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate and the University of Maryland for graduate school. She keeps a blog at: h p://blog.classicalacademicpress.com/poetry

Poetry – A Must for Classical Schools

Poetry allows the knowing of the imagination and reminds us that the rational alone will not take us to full knowledge. Poetry changes fundamentally our relationship to language as merely a serviceable vehicle. Poetry gives us an inherent sense of structure in a piece of formal writing (or even informal, like a letter). Poetry reminds us that the metaphor is the basic way of knowing the unknown and that we often discribe one thing in terms of another. Poetry gives us images to cherish and to invigorate our daily experience.

Christine Perrin

Christine Perrin has taught literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Messiah College, Gordon College’s Orvieto Program, through the Pennsylvania Arts Council to students of all ages, and at the local classical school where her husband was headmaster for a decade and where her children a ended K-12. She consults with classical schools in curriculum development and faculty development in poetry. She is a two time recipient of the PA Arts Council Artists Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Fellowship. Her own work appears in various journals including The New England Review, Image, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, and Christianity and Literature, The Cresset. “The Art of Poetry” a text book for middle to high school students was published in 2009 by Classical Academic Press. She attended Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate and the University of Maryland for graduate school. She keeps a blog at: h p://blog.classicalacademicpress.com/poetry

Five Steps to a Poetic Classroom

Read Aloud

Poetry was meant to be read using the body as an instrument. For centuries, even before written language, this is how people were taught poetry. This essential pleasure of poetry is also a skill which aids all kinds of learning objectives, including the ability to speak in front of others, a growth in the appreciation of language, and a lack of self-consciousness surrounding expressive reading. I recommend having students read poems aloud at the start of each day.

Memorize

Our relationship to language changes when we commit words, phrases and sentences to memory. We suddenly become aware of how the words in a sentence fit together or why a line break was chosen at a certain place or how the images relate to each other. We also feel the language and rhythms differently in our mouths when we aren’t working to read them. It requires many readings and real understanding to memorize a poem, and the poems students memorize will become dear to them simply for having memorized them. Start by having a class memorize a poem together then branch out to individual memoriza- tion and recitation. Take it a step further and have a recitation contest with judges and prizes.

Integrate Poetry with Other Subjects

Acquire a collection of good poetry texts for your library or classroom and lend them out to students. Start reading them yourself and excit- edly share a recent find with your students. Use the poems to clarify or reference a particular truth, idea or emotion that crops up in the course of your study of Scripture or history. Don’t simply choose poems for their ideas or treat them as a means to an end, however. Read them for beauty’s sake and for pure pleasure. Choose all kinds of poems— high serious poems (Keats, Milton, Homer) and less important, funny poems (Ogden Nash, for instance). Include the Psalms and discuss the biblical poetic tradition. Read poems from all time periods, giving students a taste of different eras, including our own.

Discuss Form and Meaning

Students see things that you can’t see, and the meaning of poems emerges in conversation. Reading a poem aloud and discussing it for a few minutes is a valuable exercise, even if there is more to learn from a poem. Identify formal aspects you can find (rhythm, rhyme, sound devices, structure, stanzas, line breaks, inherited forms), discuss what the meaning might be, and look for the inter-relatedness of form and meaning. Show how metaphor is central to poetry as it is to all human thought. In science, for instance, metaphor has guided our understanding of many concepts which we cannot understand without analogy— the atom, for example. In our understanding of God we use the analogies of the creeds—God as Father, Maker, King—to give us some sense of who I AM is.