English 501-04: Teaching Romantic Poetry

ENGL 501-04
Teaching Romantic Poetry (3 Credits)
Instructor: David Sigler
June 16 - July 11, Monday - Thursday, 1:30p.m. - 4:20p.m.


David Sigler
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This course will take up British lyric poetry of the Romantic period (roughly, the 1780s to 1820s), with special attention to developing innovative, sound, and engaging ways to teach this poetry in secondary schools. Part of this course will focus on how to read a poem—and how best to help someone learn how to read a poem. We will read works by Charlotte Smith, Robert Burns, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mary Robinson, Anna Letitia Barbauld, John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Felicia Hemans--a mix of names already to the secondary classroom and others, especially women, who will add to this conversation richly. Verse forms studied will include the ode, sonnet, ballad, heroic couplet, blank verse, and ottava rima.

We’ll talk extensively about close reading, form and structure, the integration of knowledge and ideas into poetry, and the function of complexity or simplicity. We’ll learn to pay attention to form, meter, rhyme, tone, diction, syntax, and figural language. We’ll discuss best practices for introducing students to prosody. We’ll take up the great Romantic themes such as innocence and experience, pedagogy, nature, labor, gender, domesticity, exploration, and imagination.

We’ll talk about what poetry is and why it’s so demanding, what British Romanticism was and why it remains important for students, how texts emerge out of contested historical contexts, and whether poetry can plausibly save the world. We will consider how students can learn to read closely, for detail, and how to connect these details to a bigger interpretive picture; how to identify (and cite) textual evidence and draw inferences from a poem; how to recognize ambiguity and discern its ramifications. We will consider how poems respond to and build upon each other; how subtle shades of meaning and specific word choices impact reading and interpretation; how irony functions and how students can gain access to it.

In addition to the poetry itself, we’ll consult Steven Adams’s Poetic Designs to learn more about how poetry works, scholarship about Romantic poetry and about best practices for teaching Romantic poetry, and, for context, The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry. We’ll work through the Romantic Circles Pedagogy Commons to think about effective lesson planning, adapting some of this work to the needs of the K-12 curriculum. Students will discuss poetry in-depth, design and lead discussions, share and critique lesson plans, and think through the implications of poetry for a twenty-first century language arts education.