What is not said on hearing poetry in the classroom

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This article considers an exchange between pupils in response to heard poetry, approaching it through a "conversation analytic mentality" informed by the theories of Basil Bernstein. Using his terms, it describes an existing "pedagogic device" of poetry study for schools, to which responses under discussion do not easily correlate. This is more than an issue of discourse, as the modality of the classroom encounter with the poem - in sound - and the ensuing public discussion present distinctive questions of meaning-making extending beyond semantics to intonation and participation, elements not said. These are salient for the epistemology of classroom interactions with poems as audio texts and related discussion between pupils. The nature of responses can be viewed as entirely apt to the context and the nature of the stimulus, and may constitute subtle insight and imply sophisticated cognition. The discussion is developed with attention to current issues in UK poetry teaching, in particular the difficulties reported in examiners' reports that pupils experience in trying to write about poetry in a conventional analytical discourse. One interpretation of the transcript is that pupils can indeed respond sensitively to poetry, though in ways not easily acknowledged by this established discourse of poetry in schools.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-52
Number of pages13
JournalEnglish Teaching: Practice and Critique
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2010


  • Basil bernstein
  • Conversation analysis
  • Poetry
  • Response

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