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Poetry promotes self-understanding and acceptance

Published: 15 June 2020

High school students who read poetry in their spare time do so for the strong aesthetic and emotional experiences. The poetry reading also entails increased self-understanding, acceptance and community during difficult periods. This according to new research at Luleå University of Technology.

− The motives that the young readers state for their reading indicate that there is an important relational dimension in poetry reading. Through poetry reading, you relate to an experienced other who is always described as being on one's side, a helping guide in life, and this other gives a new perspective on life or your own situation, says Anna Sigvardsson, PhD student at Luleå University of Technology.

Personal relevance a main reason

The research presented in her dissertation Encounters with the poem: Poetic reading practitioners inside and outside the upper secondary school revolve around how high school students read poetry in school and at leisure. The study examines both school reading and leisure reading of poetic texts as well as what kinds of reading practices - ways of reading - that students and teachers cultivate in these contexts. The study includes a systematic literature review of international research as well as two interview studies with special sample groups of poetry-interested students and teachers.

− What I can see in the two interview studies with students and teachers is that they have a very similar view of poetry and that they basically state the same reason for poetry reading in their spare time. Strong aesthetic experiences and the personal relevance of poems appear as the main reasons. Therapeutic functions should not be forgotten either. Many describe how poetry works as a support during difficult periods, says Anna Sigvardsson.
Poetry reading at school is, however, according to the teachers' statements, unlike the leisure reading, more focused on text-analytic reading practices.

− Here you may need to think further about which reading practices the teaching promotes and for what purposes. Are the students given the opportunity to develop a breadth of reading methods and how do they respond to the psychological needs that guide leisure reading? However, further studies of teaching are needed to know more about how teachers actually work with poetry in the classroom.

Need studies on what engages students

One of the motives behind the study is that there is no satisfactory research on poetry education in school.

− It has long been an important part of the teaching of literature in the Swedish subject, but very little research has been devoted to this type of teaching. There are indications from research that many teachers are uncertain about how to get students engaged by poetry. Therefore, studies of what engages students are needed when reading poetry of their own volition in their spare time and studies of how to work with poetry in ways that engage students.

Anna Sigvardsson believes that the uncertainty for teaching that has been demonstrated in previous studies can have many partial explanations.

− Teachers say, for example, that they themselves do not read poetry in their spare time and that they have too little subject knowledge. Then some studies indicate that you get too little preparation during teacher training. Both teachers and students can experience poetry as something difficult and inaccessible, says Anna Sigvardsson and continues.

− Some of the teachers 'and students' uncertainty about poetic texts seems to have to do with a strong respect for the poetic genres. In school, it may be that you need to remove some poetry from the pedestal and other more popular poetry may need to be supported.