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Because There is No One Right Answer

The University of Pennsylvania Annual Ethnography in Education Research Forum is host to ethnographers, educators, and academics presenting the latest research and papers. But last month’s meeting saw Poetry Inside Out high school students in the spotlight as well.

Six bilingual students from Worcester, Massachusetts traveled to Philadelphia to share their findings about the program. After being part of Poetry Inside Out workshops over the past few years, the students were asked by a team of faculty from Clark University to conduct their own research on the program’s impact on themselves and their classmates.

Through interviews, recordings of classroom discussions, and outside research, the student-researchers delved into the inner workings of Poetry Inside Out’s poetry and translation based literacy curriculum and discovered that they had a lot to say about the program.

“I learned a lot about myself,” summed up Safa.

“In Poetry Inside Out, self-expression is encouraged. This leads to safe and open communication” one slide boldly proclaimed. Individual students spoke about the importance of the supportive Poetry Inside Out classroom environment. Once they understood that their diversity was an asset, they made the translation process a collaborative investigation into language and meaning.

“Listening to others helped me clarify my own ideas,” Elvis explained to the audience.

Safa felt similarly. “I learned how to be open and caring for people’s ideas, experiences, and understanding for things that I might never knew before,” she shared. “I learned to be patient and love myself so I can love and understand others.”

This led the students to another observation: through partnerships based on finding meaning and understanding each other, we practice a “special” listening.

The process was more fruitful, they found, when each student brought something unique to the conversation. In one spectacular moment, the students talked about the difference between “listening” and “hearing.” As Elvis described, “We looked at ‘listening’ and ‘hearing’ from all of our languages–Arabic, Spanish, French…” As the group expert in his or her own language, each student had to figure out how to describe the subtlety of the words’ meaning to each other, collaborating in order to come to consensus.

Because there is no one right answer in Poetry Inside Out, there can be discussions on deep issues like identity, love and religion.

Besides looking at individual words, students discuss the larger meaning of the poems they translate and work to understand what the poet was trying to communicate with certain lines. The poems’ themes push them to reflect on their own understanding of identity and the world around them.

As Elvis told the conference audience, “I learned that bilingual students have a lot to share about themselves.”

We wish them luck as their research continues and congratulate them on their work so far!