Poetry in the English Class-room

Design, Realization and Analysis of a Questionnaire

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

17 Pages, Grade: 1,8


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Planning the Research Project
2.1. Developing the Research Question
2.2 Its Relevance for the Language Classroom
2.3 Research Design Development

3. Carrying out the Project
3.1 What really happened?
3.2 Data obtained

4. Evaluation of Data

5. Reflections
5.1. Chances and Limitations of Design and possible Improvements
5.2. Significance of Research Project for the Language Classroom

6. Individual Evaluation of the Project
6.1. Benjamin Türksoy’s individual Evaluation
6.2. Jascha Walter’s individual Evaluation

7. Works cited


1. Introduction

In the seminar dealing with poetry in language education we decided to investigate contemporary students’ attitude towards poetry, furthermore their experiences with poetry in school. The most appropriate way to achieve reasonable results to this question seemed to be a questionnaire, which we planned to hand in in class and analyze later on at home. With regard to a useful target group we finally decided to deal with a grammar school’s senior class, close to university campus in a wealthy district of Hamburg and with a strong probability of a high educational level in the family background. In an area with such conditions we assumed to find students that had come in touch with poetry more often than students with a less sophisticated background. Beginning with developing a research design, the main research question and the questionnaire, we aimed at the students’ personal interest in poetry, their experiences with poetry in their leisure time and their poetry experiences during English classes. The core of our project lies in the verification or falsification of a thesis by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, containing that most students’ experiences with poetry at school, especially the way poetry is taught at school, have a demotivating effect on the students’ general attitude towards poetry.[1]

Since this project was supposed to be based on team work, we shared not only the practical realization but also the theoretical analysis. Jascha was responsible for chapters 1, 2, 2.1, 5 and Benjamin wrote chapters 2.2, 2.3, 3 and 4.

2. Planning the Research Project

In regular team meetings as well as during the seminar we chose our core thesis and collected ideas and methods in order to prove or refute the thesis. We also thought about the best fitting and most productive target group and dismissed the idea to investigate two groups of students from two different schools and to compare the results. Beginning with the questionnaire’s content and structure, we quickly noticed how important it was to know exactly what we wanted to find out. Moreover we needed to formulate questions or statements in a way that would aim only at information which would be relevant for our project. We then shortened the questionnaire and compressed the statements to make sure that only relevant information would be sought. The general endeavour of shortening was also meant to avoid a useless complication of the projects aim and the final results. To design an appropriate questionnaire we looked up methods and advantages of different formulations and ways of letting the students answer. When we presented our project in the seminar, we realized that a shortening in view of the possible answers would be useful, too. The feedback the seminar gave us in the discussion confirmed our basic ideas and let us improve and round off some details which we had neglected. This way we could reflect and improve our project in a very productive way.

2.1. Developing the Research Question

Being future teachers and being interested in practical aspects we could make use of in our future workplaces, we quickly became aware of our personal interest to learn more about students’ attitude to poetry and the way poetry is taught at school. This we brought in connection with a theoretical text we had encountered a few weeks before, Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s “Modest proposal to protect the youth from proposals of poetry”.[2] Here Enzensberger states that poetry and furthermore its interpretation are used as tools to demotivate students and to discourage their interest in poetry. According to that, many teachers hold the opinion that a poem can have only one correct interpretation, what disheartens the students and makes them feel forced to deal with poetry, not only at school but even for their whole future lives.[3] Although we lack the possibility to investigate a representative target group and to achieve representative results, we want to try to find out whether Enzensberger’s thesis can be verified or falsified. To do this, we designed a questionnaire that aimed as clearly and exclusively at aspects that are included in Enzensberger’s statement. These are the students’ experience with poetry and the way it is taught at school, the students’ personal opinion of poetry and the students’ tendency to be occupied with poetry in their leisure time, which represents a more concrete image of their personal opinion.

2.2 Its Relevance for the Language Classroom

Enzensberger’s thesis, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year, has not yet lead to banning poetry from the classroom, as he demanded so strongly. If we can trust Enzensberger and the thesis he put forward, then what is the relevance of poetry in our schools today? Should the curriculum and the teachers try to keep poetry alive or live with the fact that most students feel demotivated to deal with poetry as Enzensberger mentions?

The focus of our project lies on the students’ personal attitude towards poetry. What we want to find out is whether the students of our target group really are frustrated and demotivated by poetry as in Enzensberger’s thesis or not.

This research project will not have any significant importance for the general situation of language classrooms in German schools. Unfortunately, the target group we are analyzing is too small to give useful information for the whole situation English classrooms are facing in Germany right now. Moreover, the target group is not representative for all the different school types that exist in Germany. Since we are only dealing with a class of the “Gymnasium”, the level of knowledge will supposedly differ from other school types, such as “Hauptschule” or “Realschule”. However, we think that the results that we will be receiving can give an outlook to the current situation and serve as an example to either prove or falsify Enzensberger’s thesis.

We personally feel that the subjects of education should fit the needs of the students and get them motivated to engage with an issue at all times. Poetry can of course do this, but if the students have a similar attitude towards poetry as Enzensberger, then it would be very difficult to teach poetry in school.

2.3 Research Design Development

According to the rules and instructions of Louis Cohen[4] and Werner Stangl[5] we have chosen to develop a questionnaire in order to prove or falsify Enzensberger’s thesis. We plan to give the students a short oral introduction on the subject but we also have a short written introduction on the questionnaire itself. The questionnaire consists of seven statements which the students are supposed to answer in four different categories that will be ranging from strong disapproval to total agreement. For a long time we were not sure whether we should have a category in between approval or disapproval but in the end we decided to leave a middle category out because we feel that the students who are undecided would use this category instead of having to decide for either way. When we first started to develop our questionnaire, we had planned to offer the students six different answering categories but after we had a feedback session with the seminar, we were recommended to minimize the answering categories to a total number of four because they felt that by using too many categories we would confuse the students. Additionally, the seminar said that too many categories would lead to the fact that we would not get definite answers.

When we first started to come up with possible statements we could use for our questionnaire, we also thought that we should use more statements in order to analyze our research question. Once more, the seminar recommended us to shorten the questionnaire for the students’ sake. Furthermore, the seminar recommended to put the statements we chose into different categories according to the content. The rough-draft of our questionnaire did not differentiate between the different fields of interest we wanted to investigate on. This is the reason why we decided to re-organize our questions into three visibly separate units that each deals with a different topic: the first unit deals with poetry during the students’ leisure time; the second unit deals with the students experiences with poetry during English classes; the third unit deals with the students’ personal opinion about poetry.

The seminar mentioned another interesting idea: they said that we should add a few open questions where the students would be able to say whatever it is they were not able to mention about poetry before. Thus, we added three open questions in which we asked the students what they like and what they do not like about poetry. In the third open question we asked the students to tell us anything about poetry that they were not able to express before.

3. Carrying out the Project

In this chapter we will describe in detail what really happened when we carried out our project in school. Additionally, the data we obtained with the survey will be described in detail.

3.1 What really happened?

On Monday, May 18, 2007 we had an appointment with a teacher at the Wilhelm Gymnasium. She is the teacher of our target group and we met her at 8.30h in front of the faculty room where she invited us to go ahead and have a seat.

After she welcomed us to the school and after we thanked her for letting us conduct a survey in her class, we started to interview her on the target group. The teacher said that her class has a total number of 16 students, six male and ten female and she told us that she really likes the class and that the students are very nice to her and to each other. We were also highly interested in the standard of knowledge of the class so she said that her class has a relatively high standard of knowledge because 14 of 16 students have had a “year abroad” which highly impressed us. However, the teacher added that the written skills of her students are not nearly as good as the verbal skills. This is why we figured that many of her students supposedly are very fluent in speaking the English language since they have been in an English speaking country for a year but lacked to learn all the grammatical rules and the right spelling. She said that at the beginning of the semester the spelling among some of the students was very poor but she was very happy to tell us that the spelling fairly improved towards the end of the semester.

Regarding the subject of our project we had to ask the teacher about poetry as well and she told us that they dealt with poetry only once as a little excursion when they dealt with their main subject “South Africa”. The teacher said that she had only begun to teach the class this semester so she does not have any idea about how much the class has dealt with poetry before.

After this little interview which took only about fifteen minutes, the teacher had to run a few errands while we were supposed to wait for her in the hall. Then, she picked us up and we started to walk to her classroom. She said that she had already informed her students that we were going to survey them this morning. When we arrived at the classroom, the students were already waiting for the class to start so she quickly introduced us and we told the students what we were about to do with them and introduced us ourselves. After this short introduction, we handed out the questionnaire and gave some instructions to the students. Unfortunately, the students did not seem very motivated to fill out our questionnaire as they did not raise any questions or show interest in the questionnaire in any other way. However, most of them answered the questions carefully.

After about ten minutes everybody was done with the survey and they handed them back to us. We thanked them for their cooperation and also thanked the teacher again for letting us conduct this survey in her class and then we left.

3.2 Data obtained

First of all, it is important to mention that most of the students answered the questions faithfully and carefully. Only one of the students wrote down answers we cannot take into account for our results in the part of the questionnaire where we were asking open questions. However, the rest of the class clearly put an effort into answering the questions in a way that we as the conductors of the questionnaire are able to evaluate.

In the following, we will describe the results of each question in detail. The overall result will be dealt with in the following chapter.

Our first block of interest deals with the students’ interest in poetry during their leisure time. The first statement during my leisure time I read poetry was totally disapproved by almost all the students. Three of them said that they were reading poetry seldom and only one of the students said that he occasionally reads poetry during his or her leisure time. However, the second statement, during my leisure time I write poetry, was totally disapproved. Nobody in this class ever actively writes poetry for themselves.

Our second block of interest deals with the students’ experiences with poetry during English classes. The first statement during English classes we often deal with poetry was negated and respectively told to be true only seldom in most cases. Again, only one student claimed that the statement is occasionally true. Our fourth statement dealing with Poetry is fun was partly rejected and partly supported. Eleven students showed strong and weak disapproval, and only five supported the statement. Our fifth statement, our teacher explains us the right interpretation of a poem was supported by nine students, whereas seven students showed disapproval.

Our third block of interest deals with the students’ personal interest in poetry in general. Here, one of our most crucial statements there are different ways to interpret a poem was totally approved by thirteen students and only three were of the opinion that the statement is only partially true. Still, none of the students disapproved of the statement. Our last statement, I would like to read more poetry in the future was only totally supported by a single student. However, six other students said that they would like to read more poetry occasionally, and nine other students did not show any interest in reading more poetry in the future.

The second part of our questionnaire, where we asked open questions, was also taken seriously and the questions were answered carefully.

In the first question we wanted the students to tell us what they liked about poetry. Seven of them claimed that they really liked the different ways in which a poem can be interpreted. Two mentioned that they liked the rhyme-scheme that many poems follow. Others mentioned the humour, the complexity of poems, the form and the sound, and the many associations. Even others said that they like the fact that there is no right or wrong when one deals with poetry. One student wrote that he likes the mood that a poem can convey.

In the second question we wanted to find out what the students dislike about poetry. Here, we received a lot more different answers than in the first open question. Some students mentioned that they do not like the fact that many poems are written in a language they either do not understand, or in a language that does not touch them. Others complained about the fact that they do not even understand what a poem is about due to the language. Some others said that they do not like the romantic, and from their perspective, exaggerated mood a poem can convey. Some said that they do not like the schemata in which a poem can be analyzed because they feel that these schemata rob the poem of its individual character. Others criticized the fact that poems are often analyzed and interpreted for too long and then sometimes they feel that the resulting theories about the poems are not matching the ideas the poet might have had. One student mentioned that he or she feels that sometimes teachers would be too intolerant towards other ways of interpreting a poem.


[1] Hans Magnus Enzensberger (1988), „Bescheidener Vorschlag zum Schutze der Jugend vor den Erzeugnissen der Poesie“. In Mittelmaß und Wahn. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp. 31-33.

[2] Hans Magnus Enzensberger (1988), „Bescheidener Vorschlag zum Schutze der Jugend vor den Erzeugnissen der Poesie“. In Mittelmaß und Wahn. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp.

[3] ibidem p. 31-35.

[4] Louis Cohen ed. (2001), Research Methods in Education. Routledge Falmer.

[5] http://arbeitsblaetter.stangl-taller.at/FORSCHUNGSMETHODEN/Fragebogen.shtml (4.6.2007)

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Poetry in the English Class-room
Design, Realization and Analysis of a Questionnaire
Hamburg University of Technology
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Poetry, English, Class-room, Design, Realization, Analysis, Questionnaire
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Jascha Walter (Author)Benjamin Türksoy (Author), 2007, Poetry in the English Class-room, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/128336


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