A Cinderella story

Poetry instruction in Estonian literature education


Keywords: literature didactics, teaching poetry, basic psychological needs

In recent years, discussions about the modernization of literature education have gained prominence. However, there persists a lack of insight into the actual practices occurring in schools. From the perspective of poetry education, it is crucial to delve into the reality of how poetry is taught in Estonian schools. There is a dearth of information on which authors are being taught, how poetry is approached, and how students are supported in their reading. This article is the first to address these questions. It offers a comprehensive analysis that maps the position of poetry within Estonian schools and thus points to potential future scenarios concerning the societal role of poetry. It is worth noting that our research is not meant to examine the entirety of poetry education but specifically focuses on the treatment of poetry collections.

The study is based on a semi-structured survey conducted in the autumn of 2022, involving 84 literature teachers from across Estonia. The questions addressed the poetry works covered, preferred authors, approaches to poetry collections, and the challenges encountered in poetry education. These aspects were examined within the context of decades of research in poetry didactics.

Teachers report students’ limited appreciation for literature, infrequent reading habits, difficulties in grasping figurative language, and a restricted vocabulary. Furthermore, they highlight a lack of suitable teaching materials for poetry. Teachers acknowledge their own limited knowledge of poetry and poetry collections. This creates a cycle where teachers’ prior experiences with poetry collections hamper their enthusiasm for teaching, thus perpetuating the absence of a tradition. Contemporary and foreign poetry is frequently avoided. One-third of teachers fail to provide adequate support during independent reading. A significant portion of teachers concludes poetry collection instruction with creative projects.

This study reveals that poetry, particularly in the form of poetry collections, occupies a marginalized space in literature classrooms. Around a quarter of students complete their basic education without ever having read any poetry collections. Teachers grapple with a shortage of suitable teaching materials and require substantial support. Given these challenges, fostering an enhanced poetry education hinges on collaboration between literary studies and didactics to unlock the pedagogical-poetic potential of poetry and make it more visible. In summary, both teachers and poetry are in need of assistance, and this study underscores the challenges that underlie poetry instruction.

Marie Udam (b. 1991), MA, Narva Estonian School, literature and Estonian language teacher (Hariduse 3, 20307 Narva), marie.udam@nerg.ee

Joosep Susi (b. 1989), MA, Tallinn University, junior lecturer of Literature Didactics and Estonian Literature (Narva mnt 25, 10120 Tallinn), jsusi@tlu.ee

Merilyn Meristo (b. 1975), PhD, Tallinn University, associate professor (Narva mnt 25, 10120 Tallinn), merilyn.meristo@tlu.ee


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