Emma Reynolds ’17 is spending this summer pursuing one of her passions – poetry. The comparative literature concentrator is doing Emerson Grant-funded research on the construction of poetry syllabi at the college and high school level.
The idea for her project came together when Reynolds took a Poetry and Poetics class with Professor Benj Widiss, her faculty advisor on the project. Reynolds, who hopes to become a high school English teacher, became intrigued when Widdis said that he wanted to revamp his syllabus for the class.
“I’m looking at how high school teachers teach and incorporate poetry into their curriculum,” Reynolds explained. “High school is very different because they can’t teach a semester-long course on poetry, so I’m looking to see what we—at the college level—can learn from the way poetry is taught in high schools.”
Reynolds elaborated, “In high school, teachers are very much concerned with giving their students access—exposing them to myriad literary forms. In college,” she said, “we have the privilege of taking in-depth classes. It’s the difference between laying the groundwork (high school) and building up in areas of passion and specificity (college).”
Faced with getting through an entire curriculum in a school year, high school English teachers can’t teach just poetry so they often incorporate it into another literary unit. “For example, they might read Romantic poetry alongside Frankenstein,” Reynolds explained. “Many of their poetry assignments (especially presentations) are creative and involve students teaching mini-lessons to the class.”
Major: Comparative Literature
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Co.
High School: Fountain Valley School
For her research Reynolds is interviewing seven Colorado high school teachers about how they teach poetry. “I’m asking them to give me their syllabi, assignments and in-class exercises and quizzes. Then I’m going to create three syllabi for poetry at the high school level consisting of 4-week units,” she said. “Each syllabi will have a different focus (ceding responsibility to the students, a historical approach of form, and one based on imitative and hands-on engagement with the craft of poetry itself),” Reynolds explained.
Reynolds expects that this Emerson project will reinforce her desire to be a high school English teacher and then help illustrate her experience to potential graduate programs. She hopes the syllabi she constructs will eventually help her create a semester-long class on poetry at the high school level.