One School, Many Poems: Transactions With Walt Whitman's "When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer" In Grades Pre-K Through Twelve
The site for this study is a private, alternative school in Poughkeepsie, New York, where classroom teachers within and across grades (pre-k-12) seemed very different from one another in their approaches to the teaching of poetry. The study derives from a school-wide experiment in which teachers at every grade agreed to teach their students the same poem, Walt Whitman's "When I heard the learn'd astronomer." The study itself constitutes a narrative inquiry into how different teachers teach a poem and why they teach it as they do. The study specifically examines the role of a teacher's literary training, literary experience, pedagogical orientation, and adaptation to perceived student needs, as these factors shape a teacher's own way of reading a poem and as they determine instructional choices. The study focuses most intensively on the researcher herself, who is positioned as the study's main case. The researcher portrays her attempts to make sense of and reconcile the diverse approaches to poetry she encounters with her own work and biases throughout the course of the study, specifically as the researcher focuses on three teachers as they plan to teach the same poem, interpret the poem for themselves, implement lessons designed to teach the poem, and reflect both on their experience of teaching it and their sense of the impact of their teaching on their students. Data analyzed in the course of the study include transcripts of interviews with teachers, notes and reflections on classroom observations, artifacts from classrooms (such as student writing or drawing), lesson plans, and teacher writing. The study is framed by Louise Rosenblatt's transactional theory, which, like the study itself, attempts to account for the ways in which readers bring their associations and experiences to bear on reading transactions, and describes the ways in which a text both guides an interpretation and invites differences in interpretation. The concluding discussion considers the implications of this work for teachers designing curriculum for poetry instruction across the grade levels.