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Each word counts when all thoughts matter

Research leads CMU student to create a poetry guide for teachers

Contact: Heather Smith

Emily Assenmacher is thinking about the kinds of words that will enhance her future career in teaching long before she graduates from Central Michigan University in 2018.

Through her senior research project, the elementary education major ultimately developed a guide for teachers on how best to teach poetry to their students who need an emotional outlet.

“One thing I found really intriguing was the willingness for adolescent writers to create their own poems after they are told that they can write about whatever they would like,” Assenmacher said. “Being told that they have freedom to write shows them the teacher values them as human beings, not just as students.”

Her research was done as part of her honors program capstone project. Assenmacher, a passionate poetry enthusiast from Dexter, Michigan, researched and developed strategies for how teachers can use poetry to help students express themselves and overcome internal struggles.

The senior project is the cornerstone of the CMU honors experience. Each student closely collaborates with a CMU faculty member to pursue a special project within their respective discipline with the goal to professionally present or publish their results.

“This project allowed me the opportunity to receive a great deal of depth on a subject that is near and dear to my heart: poetry,” said Assenmacher, one of nearly 800 CMU honors students. “In addition to learning about different ways to improve my personal writing, I learned a lot about how to carry out effective and meaningful poetry instruction so students can become lifelong poetry readers and writers.”

Assenmacher spent much of the academic year working with Susan Griffith, her English language and literature professor whose academic interests include creative arts in learning and the role of reflection in teaching. In the conclusion of her project, Assenmacher offers insights to teaching poetry.

"Poetry is created to suit the needs of the reader or writer,” she wrote. “It is not up to teachers to rate students’ work as ‘good’ or ‘inadequate.’"

She added that it is key to create a stress-free environment where the poetry experience is about the students, not the teachers’ preconceived notions.

“If educators want students to be lifelong poetry readers and writers, ease them into the world of poetry and help them to see that each student has poetry inside them,” Assenmacher wrote. “They just have to learn how to release it with the help of the teacher.”

Her research primarily focused on interviews with three poetry teachers: Jill Fyke, eighth-grade language arts teacher at Dexter Community Schools; Betsy VanDeusen, chairperson of the CMU teacher education and professional development department; and Robert Fanning, associate professor of English at CMU.

Assenmacher said the research experience gave her a greater appreciation for what her role and responsibilities will be as a teacher.

“This project has helped equip me with the necessary tools to aid students in expressing themselves,” she said. “My hope is this will help foster self-confidence, which in turn will allow them greater chances to succeed in the future.”

Assenmacher expects to present her work at events and conferences next academic year.

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