"That's schoolified!":how curriculum, pedagogy and assessment shape the educational potential of poetry in subject English for black high school learners
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This article explores the teaching of English poetry in two Gauteng high schools, one a suburban, former Model C school and another in Soweto. Both schools are attended predominantly by Black learners for whom English is not their first language. Nine in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with educators at the two schools. The choice of poems, pedagogy and assessment emerged as important themes in making poetry relevant and educational in South African schools. Writers from similar backgrounds, with common "race" or class-based identities, helped make poetry relevant, but were no guarantee that learners would relate to these poets. Teaching poetry was described as an intimidating experience both for learners and educators, resulting in many teachers retreating to the safe space of a defined set of teaching practices focused on figures of speech, literary devices and a line-byline analysis of the poems. While some intentions existed to teach poetry in a way that encouraged a range of interpretations and possible answers to assessment questions, the standardised matric examination shaped pedagogical practices, as educators wanted to support learners to excel. These findings are interpreted in a post/decolonial context where a range of disparate "Englishes", identities, learners and histories exist, and neoliberal education policies and practices increasingly standardise assessment processes, with implications for the teaching and learning of poetry.