A Reflection on the Poetry Inside Out August 2020 Teacher Workshop

By Barrett Rosser

I had the pleasure of attending a 3-day virtual Poetry Inside Out (PIO) Teacher Workshop presented by Center for the Art of Translation on August 11-13, 2020 (see PhilWP’s May 2020 blog). I attended with 7 other PhilWP TCs to learn about this awesome program and plan for implementation in virtual settings. This was a powerful way for me to start my journey as the PhilWP scholar. 

Poetry Inside Out is “an innovative language arts curriculum that provides students with essential 21st-century skills.” It presents:

  • A cross-cultural literacy program that embraces—and relies upon—the cultural and linguistic diversity in classrooms and schools.
  • A world literature program that treats great poets as teachers and their work as models.
  • A language arts program that builds close reading skills and unlocks creativity.
  • A collaborative environment of inquiry, where students gain skills to make evidence-based arguments.

(Poetry Inside Out Teacher’s Updated Teachers’ Guide 2020)

Each day of the workshop offered different strategies, ideas, practices, and even mindsets teachers should consider to successfully launch PIO in their classrooms. Each 90-minute daily session refreshed my memory on the importance of PIO as it centers writing and literacy, and it offers a practical way for teachers to design, plan and teach culturally responsive experiences for students. 

Day 1

It was awesome starting our virtual time together watching a video of children engaging in PIO. They were in, as Mark Hauber, the Program Director of The Center for the Art of Translation and our workshop facilitator, stated, a “productive struggle” as they translated poems line by line. The highlight of the video was the creative interpretations of the poem they had deciphered; some poems were even performed as songs with accompanying instruments. 

Next, it was our turn. In our Zoom chat, we were assigned breakout groups of 4 to translate our assigned poem titled “Bagan Pazar” by NÂZIM HİKMET. The poem was in Turkish, and it was my very first time encountering this language.  So, we started, line by line, translating the poem, using the ‘Translator’s Glossary’ which provided the part of speech of the word, a definition, and synonyms for words and phrases in each line of the poem. We spent most of our time in this section, which with kids, we were advised, may take a few lessons, depending on the length of the poem. 

Next we were ready to “Make it Flow”. This section prompted us to consider the form, sound, and syntax of the poem. This part was so much fun! It was fun, I think, because of the dissonance that presented itself amongst the group when we started to provide rationale or justify our interpretations of word choice and sound. The discord we felt is what made it fun, in my opinion; however, I definitely think kids could struggle here without clear expectations for how to engage in conversation especially when there are disagreements. What are ways that teachers can ensure all students feel heard and they can contribute meaningfully to making the poem flow?  Secondly, our choices raised further questions amongst our small group: What do we owe to the poet? What does it mean for us to make sure the poem is still “poetic”? What is poetry, anyways? What biases and mindsets do we have that might manipulate the meaning of the poem? Because we all hold different identities, we all bring a different set of lenses to the text that influence or shape our interpretations; grappling with these perspectives and differences were important for our group to highlight and for us to get to a more nuanced understanding of the text as we moved through the protocol. 

The remaining time together was spent sharing group interpretations of the poem and debriefing the experience. It was really interesting to hear the different variations of the poems and hear groups unpack their decision making. I left feeling really pumped up and inspired to learn and experience more on Day 2. 

Day 2

We started the day where we left off. Many people had done further reflection and inquiry around the experience and its implication for students. I’d like to share some of our reflections, gleanings and questions: 

  • How do we do this online? Perhaps it’s best to start independently, then in pairs, then in small groups of 4?
  • This work requires sensitivity, empathy, respect for different cultures and genders.
  • Understand power dynamics and lift equity of voice: establishing agreements, teach skills around negotiating, respectfully disagreeing, justifying and building on ideas.
  • Teachers should start with thinking about our students?
    • Who are they culturally, linguistically, individually, and collectively?
    • Why are we here? What are we doing? What is the goal? What do we cherish or value as a group?
  • Who are they culturally, linguistically, individually, and collectively?
  • Why are we here? What are we doing? What is the goal? What do we cherish or value as a group?
  • It’s imperative to build a sense of community before doing PIO.
  • For struggling readers, the definition of words in the ‘Translator’s Guide’ may be challenging to understand, so differentiate – we may  offer more than one form of the translation. We don’t want students to feel like that can’t contribute fully. 
  • Know your class. Which language should we engage with first? Why? Translating poems in one’s own language may be empowering or burdensome. Know your students. 
  • Getting others to read the poems like parents, other teachers, students who speak the language and would like to share. 
  • Prioritize depth OVER breadth; this is a productive struggle.
  • There are so many Common Core State Standards covered within this activity!

Mark Hauber did an awesome job of helping us understand how to think about organizing PIO units. At the end of our session, he left us with this:

Teachers implement the program in a variety of different ways!

  • The fundamentals: translate the poetry, talk and listen, collaborate
  • Key practices: read aloud, depth over breadth
  • Core values: language learning, understand poetry’s work in the world

Day 3

The final session was super relevant. A lingering question we had was: How does PIO happen virtually? Luckily, Lisa Yao, PhilWP TC shared her and her students’ experience with PIO in a virtual setting. She shared Google documents and note-catchers that students used to collaborate with line by line and make it flow sections of their interpretations. One challenge was thinking about publishing their work online. She shared that this felt more permanent for students. They thought the internet might “keep this forever”. However, the virtual implementation of PIO offered further parent engagement; some parents shared the poems orally with students. Lastly, Lisa felt PIO, whether virtual or in-person, empowers her students, as it gives them an opportunity to see themselves on the page. 


I have to admit. I was a little jealous. I’ve never had the opportunity to do Poetry Inside Out in my own classroom. The possibilities for empowerment that Lisa mentioned seem evident. I am, though, excited to learn from other Teacher Consultants who will implement PIO in their classrooms this year. PIO will continue to give students the opportunity to engage in rigorous learning that centers writing and literacy in a very joyful way!


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