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Read Poetry to Gain Quiet and Reflection in a Hectic World

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The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

[Title page of Henry D. Thoreau, Walden; or life in the woods, 1854, showing Thoreau's hut at Walden Pond, Massachusetts]
[Title page of Henry D. Thoreau, Walden; or life in the woods, 1854, showing Thoreau’s hut at Walden Pond, Massachusetts]
With all of the busyness of life brought about by course load, extracurricular activities, and employment, as well as the influx of news and media via smart phones and the Internet, our students often do not have the opportunity for quiet reflection. Similarly, teachers may keep up a rapid pace of instruction in order to prepare for standardized tests or deliver all of the material deemed necessary for students to be successful. However, it may be possible to give both students and teachers time each day for reflection through reading poetry.

Before beginning a practice of reflective poetry experiences, consider sharing these words by Henry David Thoreau in which he calls for simplicity:

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail. (Walden, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”)

Ask students to write about the part simplicity plays in their own lives or to comment on why it does not. Ask them to share their reflections anonymously in writing if they are reluctant to share with the class.

Begin the first reflective poetry experience by reading a poem that connects to the theme of simplicity, or quiet reflection. Consider “The Good Life” by Tracy K. Smith, “The Meadow” by Kate Knapp Johnson, or “Proof of Life” by Tony Hoagland from the recently updated Poetry 180 collection curated by Billy Collins during his time as Poet Laureate. Either read and project the poem or ask students to just listen. If time allows, read more than one time to allow students to immerse themselves in the language more fully. Follow the reading by asking students to reflect on what they heard in any way they are comfortable. Ideally they will come to appreciate these quiet moments when they can listen and think about what they have heard. They may be moved to ask questions or write something of their own. As the practice of listening to poems evolves, ask students to bring in pieces they have discovered or written that relate to simplicity, reflection, or peace. Encourage them to influence the direction of the reading each day.

How might you encourage students to enjoy quiet moments with poetry?

Comments (3)

  1. Thank you for this beautifully expressed post — and for your recommendations on how to invite students to experience the power of poetry in their own lives. Wonderful!

  2. Ditto to Sherry’s message. Sometimes the most simple of ideas or techniques can bring out the most in students, I have found. And here the quiet method certainly matches the intention!

  3. Thanks a lot for this awesome post for recommendations on how to invite students to experience the power of poetry in their lives. It’s really awesome!

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