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Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization [Book & CDs] Review by Angie Wright

Andrew Pudewa
Institute for Excellence in Writing
8799 North 387 Road
Locust Grove, OK 74352

Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization is a simple spiral bound 80 page black and white book. Simple to the eye, yet filled with over 75 complete poems and a 12 page introduction encouraging and instructing on the how and why of memorization. An emphasis of speech and soliloquy recommendations is reinforced with a CD which is included that allows the student to hear each poem read. Resources such as memory charts, certificates and poet biographies give extra tools for the teacher and student.  You will want a system for the CD. It plays in the car, computer or portable player.

At first glance, one might think this is a collection of poems for the Classical learner to memorize or perhaps a list of poems for the Charlotte Mason learner to copy. The words in the title of the book “Linguistic Development” should give an indication that there is more to this book than mere poems.

In the first 12 pages of the program’s book, Andrew Pudewa shares his heart regarding the prerequisites for effective communication, the why of memorization and poetry, his approach to mastery learning, details on how the program is set up and how to teach it to your student. In the first section, effective communication, Mr. Pudewa stresses that no matter how brilliant and effective at teaching writing one might become, one fact keeps showing itself: “You can’t get something out of a child’s brain that isn’t in there to begin with.” This is interesting, coming from the leader of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Stated in the first paragraph, this caught my attention.

Mr. Pudewa talks in depth of how the use of lyrics eases a student into memorization. The sophisticated words and grammatical patterns needed to form the phrases forces the student to step outside of our everyday vocabularies and language patterns commonly used by friends and television. The lines of the poetry create a predictable pattern that aids in memorization.

I learned a great deal about mastery learning, in particular the difference between non-ability and ability mastery. Starting with non-ability mastery, this is what is commonly found in a larger classroom. An example is given of a weekly spelling test. A student is given the spelling list in the first part of the week, and tested on Friday.  It matters little if the student gets 65% or 100% of the test correct, they will be handed a new spelling list during the next week. Long lasting mastery learning is shown through ability development or talent development. The student stays in one spot until the topic mastered. When one does move on, he still practices the previous learned materials. In this program, charts are given to review the previous poems every day, every other day, or every third day. An example is given of a child learning to speak by starting with one word at a time such as Momma and Daddy, using those words and building on them, yet never discarding a word fully captured. It is hard to put several pages of great thought on mastery learning into a simple paragraph. I trust you will enjoy this section of the program and be encouraged.

For this poetry memorization program it is recommended that any age child start with level one and proceed through the three levels in order. Older students that do not want to start at a lower level might be encouraged to build fun quirky poems which will help entertain younger children at gatherings.

There were several criteria listed for the selection of poems: humor and enjoyment, vocabulary and linguistic quality, classic and cultural literacy, and character and message. Mr. Pudewa shares that there is no distinctly religious content so this should qualify for purchases and use by public school programs.

When we received the program, I was unsure if my younger son would be a willing participant. He is in the sixth grade. He had a few years of a memorization scripture program when he was younger, but had not participated for three years. I knew from experience, that the memory was like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.  After reading, underlining, highlighting and staring several passages of the introduction I was eager to start.

Our first poem, “Ooey Gooey, author unknown” was silly enough to grab my son’s attention. He enjoyed repeating the words. He enjoyed the reaction of others. He quickly saw how easy it was to store these words in memory and eagerly moved on to the second poem. We placed the CD in our car to listen to during trips to town. Sitting close enough to the controls, my son would rewind the poem when he missed a word. The entire family ended up being familiar with the first five poems very quickly.

Familiar is not the end goal. Mastery is the goal. We spent a few minutes each day going over the poems in order. Correct pronunciation of the words took time. Delivery of the poem in an entertaining manner took practice. We have a friend that enjoys Open Mic Poetry nights and used him as inspiration for how one might deliver the words to an audience. Mr. Pudewa notes that over time, the recitations might become mechanical or silly, very fast or rushing through the poems, and he says this is not a problem on the path of maintaining a repertoire of poems. We practice while learning the poem for the first time, as if we were getting ready for an event with special emphasis on volume, clarity, locution and feeling. Mastery has been obtained for five of the poems so far.

I would consider us an eclectic mixture of learning styles. We are heavy on Charlotte Mason, intentional relaxed learners who love a good unit study. I received this program in the mail while a charter school friend was visiting. She did not understand why I would force my boys to read poetry while having a bent for unschooling. I hope I have shared enough above to give the difference in handing a child a book full of prose while forcing him to use it for spare time reading and using these poems as a resource for so much more. I would not see a child in the unschooling or scheduled full curriculum type having the time or inclination to pick up this program on their own. We had to explain the why and give encouragement that it is on the “to do” list to start. If I slack in encouragement, my student slacks in the daily recitations and committing a new selection to memory.

I recommend this program to my fellow learning families.  I think it would be a fun program for a co-op or small class setting. They offer additional books for $29.00 for each family participating. Reciting in a group setting may help with the accountability to move forward each week. I am thankful to have this program as a resource to our family.

Product Review by Angie Wright, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April, 2013