The road not taken: memorizing poetry

Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

Dear English teacher,

I’m thankful my teacher had me Memorize poems in middle school.

Memorize is a dirty word when used in the field of Education and I don’t think it is right. It is a skill. An important skill that should be developed along with other skills.

There is such value in pouring over smaller works of literature with great care. I think all English teachers realize this. I think the practicality of fitting it it into the demands of the curriculum are a uphill battle for most. It has in a way become “the road not taken”, whether because of a closed road sign put up by a curriculum or just the everyday practicality of implementing it into the classroom.

10 the road not taken

Not enough instruction time

The dreaded poetry unit conducted by most English teachers, many times through no fault of their own, flashes by in the bustle of the end of the year rush. With the curriculum demands put on them, poetry units end up at the end of the year. You can move more quickly poem to poem and pick up and keep things moving in a classroom with distracted kids.

I’m not judging. I’ve done it and watched others do it. Most teachers are surviving today with all the demands placed on them by the system and kudos to those who are able to rise above, but that is not the majority. Especially so if you are a new teacher and trying to get your legs steady and survive your first couple of years.

Memory lane

I will never forget my 7th English teacher, a nun with a stern look which usually was followed by a warm genuine hearty laugh. She was a phenomenal person who I remember fondly. She had us memorize and recite “Two Roads Diverged in A Yellow Wood” by Robert Frost – a classic. I love that poem. There are so many reasons I am thankful she had me memorize.  

The poem stays in your mind

In the physical sense it will stay in your memory when you are young. When you are young, your brain is a sponge. I remember things from middle school better than some things I learned in college (Or let’s face it – last week for that matter).

The poem stays in your heart

I loved this poem when I first heard it. As many do – its a classic. I didn’t understand it as well as I do now. Over the years, I would refer to it time and time again. I would always gain new insight to a line, or be able to apply it to an experience I was having. It was comforting to turn to in appropriate circumstances.

The confidence one builds in beyond invaluable

There is so much emphasis about self esteem. Working towards something challenging and then achieving it by your own merit is the ultimate self esteem booster.Memorizing a piece of work can do this for a student.

Informal learning is fun

Keeping it informal with the students would be my advice. Have it be a grade booster. It can relate to the curriculum you are currently working on, but be a side project. You could make it a “mandatory” extra credit to help boost their grades – aren’t they ALWAYS ASKING for extra credit.

Keep trying

I know how difficult it is and how many demands there are. I think the best advice I ever received was “close the door to your classroom and teach”. Its so difficult to tune out the noise and demands of everyone else. But it is ultimately your classroom, and you make the final curriculum decisions each day you walk in the room.

Be confident in yourself and have the students memorize poetry to gain confidence in themselves and fall in love literature, as you and I did.

To taking the road not taken,

Your sister


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