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St. Louis Fourth Graders Describe Poetry Inside Out in Their Own Words

In July of 2017 we traveled to St. Louis to kick off a partnership with the St. Louis Poetry Center. During our week we met with principles, members of local arts organizations, and conducted a workshop with teachers from across the St. Louis area. Among those in attendance were a group of teachers from The Soulard School, an independent Pre-K – 5th grade school located in the historic Soulard neighborhood of the city. The teachers at Soulard have been successfully implementing Poetry Inside Out in their respective classrooms ever since. The entry that follows is a description of the Poetry Inside Out experience at Soulard as told by Anna Elwood and Jarrid Kraft, 4th grade teachers in the Thrive classroom. We are very honered to be working with the St. Louis Poetry Center and the teachers of The Soulard School. We look forward to contuning our work together.

At The Soulard School, the Thrive (4th grade) classroom has been working in conjunction with the Center for the Art of Translation and St. Louis Poetry Center through CAT’s program called “Poetry Inside Out.” We choose from a database of hundreds of poems in many different languages. A protocol for working with the poems takes us from increasing background knowledge about authors and cultures, all the way to presenting and reflecting on a new version of the poem translated to English. So far we have worked with Tzotzil (a Mayan language), Italian, and Chinese.

The process: We start with a step called “Phrase by Phrase.” At this stage students work in pairs and try to write a straight translation for each word in the poem using a glossary provided with the poem. Evan explains, “we look at the glossary, and then we try to find a word that matches.” It can end up sounding really choppy, but there’s more to come!

The next step: “Make It Flow,” generally takes longer because partners work with another pair and have to make decisions on what they think their final translation should be. Here, Darius says, “you have to work with more people, and sometimes it’s harder. But sometimes it’s better because you have more people that might understand what you’re thinking.” Thrivers go back and forth in open debate and discussion, trying to make the poem sound and look the way the author intended (or the way they want it to!).

Key words which always come up during the “Reflect and Share” steps are: compromise; cooperation; discussion; argue. We’ve learned a lot about what it looks and sounds like to have a productive discussion. We are excited to choose more poems and work in more languages as we hone these important language and social skills.

How it feels: “It was fun, but it was kind of hard because sometimes someone didn’t want that. Sometimes they (another group) did something else, like we had ‘jaguar prances’ and they had ‘dancing jaguar.’ It was fun because I liked choosing the words. The definitions were cool,” said Thriver Lydia.

– Anna Elwood & Jarrid Kraft, Thrive Teachers at The Soulard School