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The impact of formal training and personal experience on teachers' attitudes, understanding valuation and presentation of poetry in the elementary classroom: Case histories

16 February 1990


The author attempts some preliminary ground work in the form of case studies of elementary teachers in order to gain some insight into why Americans in general and students in particular, find poetry so difficult and distasteful. The inquiry is based on the questions regarding how teachers' opinions and personal experiences with poetry might impact how they approach value and use poetry in elementary grades 2, 3, 4, and 5, and the implications of that approach for students.

Interviews were conducted with 10 teachers in a study that remained "blind" until the contact commenced. The teachers were first asked to respond to a checklist of words a positive/negative association check. The teachers were then interviewed for the remaining 40 minutes. Major areas of questioning were followed exactly, but probe questions were dependent upon responses.

The finding was essentially that teachers use poetry in the early grades principally as an enrichment activity, and naturally lean heavily toward authors and forms both they and their students characterized as "fun". It was also found that the teachers' experience with and exposure to poetry was minimal in 90% of the cases, and generally lower than what would be encountered by an average liberal arts major. The implication drawn by the author was that elementary teachers seem to be doing as much as their own experience and their students' readiness will permit, and essentially that, if the findings relative to this small group were to hold up in quantitatively larger surveys or numbers of interviews, it would be difficult to fault these elementary teachers for students widespread disinterest and resistance.


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