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There is no one correct answer: notes from a Philadelphia Poetry Inside Out classroom

For the past couple of years we’ve trained a group of teachers in and beyond the Bay Area in the Poetry Inside Out world poetry and translation curriculum, helping them teach the program in their classrooms in San Diego, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Worcester, Massachusetts. Poetry Inside Out introduces students to translation, builds reading and writing skills, and transforms classrooms.

In all of these cities, our teachers work with an incredibly diverse group of students, many of them immigrants and English language learners.

The beauty of the Poetry Inside Out program is that each student’s experience is not only valued, but vital to the process of translating poetry from another language. In the spirit of today’s “project based learning”, students work in pairs and small groups to translate poems and then decide on a finished version of a translation. They have to defend and debate their choices, and in the process they learn to appreciate the expertise and opinions of their classmates.

Sara Primo, one of our teachers in Philadelphia, recently wrote a blog post on Medium—complete with photos of students’ notes—about her experience with Poetry Inside Out in her classroom (the photos alone are an amazing illustration of the learning process).

She writes that the best part about the program is that “there is no one correct answer. This was one of my biggest learning moments of the entire activity. Translation is murky, and therein lies its power and its art.”

Primo says that Poetry Inside Out is “a remarkable leveler…it turns quieter students into leaders and talkative students into listeners. It turns teachers into (humbled) students and students into (emboldened) teachers, demonstrating correct pronunciation or giving just the right amount of cultural context to unlock new meaning. It shakes up the group dynamic and revitalizes the actual space of the classroom.”

The elements of Poetry Inside Out that she thinks have the most impact? Here they are:

  • It teaches about conviction, negotiation, and compromise (which we could all use more of these days).
  • It celebrates people who have personal insights into their native cultures.
  • It fosters attention to detail and appreciation for others.
  • And the program helps students think bigger about the world in which they live.


We’re grateful to Sara for sharing her experience, and you can read the entire blog post here.

If you’d like to find out how to get Poetry Inside Out in your school or district, contact Program Manager Mark Hauber.