NOTE: This is not a poetry analysis or study course. It is a poetry-memorization course.
Test-oriented learning has done modern children a disservice by teaching them to retain information only long enough to pass exams. Decades ago the attitude was much different: learning was for mastery, information was intended to be retained for life and so material was hashed and rehashed until firmly planted in young minds.
Today we balk at repetition. Everything is fast-paced, forward-moving, leaving no time for delay. The thought of spending days or weeks memorizing a handful of poems seems like a waste of time. Andrew Pudewa attempts to show instead that such memorization is extremely important, contributing to the learning and speaking abilities of children.
How Do These Work?
Older folks complain all the time about the inarticulate younger generation. More and more kids speak in fragmented, disjointed sentences and make less and less sense. Pudewa believes this is because their "linguistic development" is no longer shaped by good literature and intelligent teachers, but by low-quality media and their peers who are no better off than they are.
Speaking clearly and thinking clearly are strongly linked. If the information in the brain is not confused, chances are the presentation of that information will also be clear. In order to produce good linguistic habits it is necessary to present examples of good speech to children, and to help them model their speech patterns after those.
Memorizing poetry isn't so much a cultural education in the context of this program, it's a way to develop "sophisticated speech patterns" in young people that will lead them to be effective and articulate communicators. The first poems students memorize in the course aren't even what are considered great poems—many are simply ditties or children's rhymes, but Pudewa argues the natural rhythms and sentence construction of poetry are inherently more sophisticated, whether the poems are especially good literature or not.
Like most of Pudewa's educational materials this is very much a teacher-intensive course. The parent reads a lengthy introduction, and if so inclined watches a DVD introduction in which the author explains his philosophy of language acquisition and relates it to the act of writing. After that the student starts memorizing poems.
There are five levels, each with more complex and longer poems than the last. No matter the age of your student they should start with level one and progress accordingly. There are over seventy-five poems for levels 1-4; level five contains several suggested soliloquies and speeches. Brief poet biographies are included in the workbook for reference, and there are record charts to measure progress. Purchase of the Teacher's Manual provides access to a free student e-book (also available in print) and seven MP3 lectures.
The CDs come in a handsome leather case and include all the poems for levels 1-4 read aloud by Pudewa. These can be very helpful for on-the-go memorization, and so you don't have to personally monitor all activity. Pudewa reads the poems in a very affected manner which many may find annoying or even distracting. Even so, they can be quite useful.
Our Honest Opinion:
A lot of learning, especially in the early years, is predicated on an ability to memorize material. Organized memorization activities will focus a child's innate ability to retain information while enlarging and stabilizing the existing skill. Pudewa's system is easy to understand and to implement, and will set your child on the path to good communication and good learning.
If you're put off by the prospect of so much memorization in a relatively short span (more than 75 poems in four lessons is a lot), remember that memorization becomes easier the more you do it. The CDs are an invaluable resource in that they make repetition much easier (and are portable), and since memorization is so important a skill this could be one of the most important parts of your child's early education.
This is not a poetry analysis course, it is a poetry memorization course. If you're looking to teach the fundamentals of poetry (including tropes, meter, and scanning) Matt Whitling provides examples and exercises in The Grammar of Poetry.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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