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Pearson’s new poetry guides

| September 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

Title: X-kit Achieve! Literature Study Guides for Grade 12 Prescribed Poetry (English Home Language) Authors: Mignon Gulbrandsen and Glynis Lloyd Publisher: Pearson South Africa ISBN: 978-1-776-10164-1 Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers

“Hot off the press” is how Camilla Costa, market specialist: schools for Pearson South Africa describes the company’s X-kit Achieve! Literature Study Guides for Grade 12 Prescribed Poetry. They’re the newest additions to Pearson’s X-kit Achieve! Range.

I always find myself saying of a good study guide, “I wish I’d had this book to help me through matric!” and Pearson’s offerings are no exception. The books are big and bold, and comfortingly (for students), they’re thin and therefore easily carried about. That doesn’t mean that they’re not crammed full of useful information, though. Says Costa, “We are quite excited about them, and the team has worked hard to release them as soon as they could, because they include all the new poems as prescribed by the state Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS)1 and cover all the knowledge and skills tested in the final Grade 12 English and Afrikaans literature examinations.”

I have always regarded poetry as the most enigmatic part of any secondary school syllabus. In my day, the section on the examination paper most dreaded by students was called “Unseen”. The point was clearly for students to bring all their analytic skills to bear on interpreting a poem they had never seen before. Amusingly, in this regard, American author and poet Valerie Strauss said in January 2017 in an article entitled: “I can’t answer school exam questions about my own poems!” “Any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead. I protest.”

Strauss is not alone. Thousands of students must fulfil the requirements: having been told what the poem is all about (in the “seen” section, as it were) in class, they must repeat it all back to the examiner under stressful conditions. Well then, let them have the very best of guides to prepare for this peculiar form of assessment. This happens to be Pearson. I looked at the Grade 12 Prescribed Poetry English Home Language Guide and was pleased by the variety of poets included: Christina Rossetti, Mazisi Kunene, Roy Campbell, Jeremy Cronin, WH Auden, Cecil Day Lewis, David Rubadiri, Ben Okri, EE Cummings, William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Chinua Achebe.

These poems are prescribed for the national state Grade 12 Home Language examination in 2017. Pearson’s Study Guide is meant to support the prescribed poetry anthology, which is why not all the poem texts are included in the Study Guide. This particular guide kicks off with Emily Dickinson, one of my favourite poets. The poem in question is “I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain”. General tips explain to students what poetry as a literary form is all about. The poem is then presented to be read (aloud, one hopes) and then the poet’s life is briefly discussed. Students are then taught how to do a close reading of a poem, looking at form and structure, diction, imagery, sound devices and tone and mood. Finally, students are advised that in the examination, they will be required to demonstrate an understanding of the overall meaning of the poem.

After making thorough use of Pearson’s guide, Grade 12 students will feel more confident when facing daunting questions, such as the one on page 27 of the Prescribed Poetry English Home Language guide: “Discuss the effectiveness of the extended metaphor used in stanza 4.” I started to sweat a little when I read that. Gulp. Perhaps Strauss and I both need copies of Pearson’s excellent X-kit Achieve! Literature Study Guides for Grade 12 Prescribed Poetry.

1. See: comparitive_analysis.pdf
2. See: poet-cant-answer-questions-on-texas-standardised-tests-about-ownpoems- a7519411.html

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