Member Spotlight: Committed to Language Equality
We are excited to introduce one of our newest members, Poetry Inside Out, a national program of the Center for the Art of Translation, which is based in San Francisco. Poetry Inside Out (PIO) is a collaborative, cross-cultural language arts curriculum that celebrates classroom diversity, builds literacy skills, improves critical thinking, and unlocks creativity by teaching students to translate great poetry from around the world.
Working with middle and high school students in Oakland and across the country, affiliate teachers learn how to encourage students of all ages to translate poetry, talk, listen, and collaborate—through direct workshop support and access to curriculum materials and other resources.
We sat down with Mark Hauber, Program Director, to learn more about what makes PIO stand out as a unique and impactful writing and critical thinking program for often marginalized students in the Bay and beyond.
What do you think makes Poetry Inside Out (PIO) stand out?
I think it’s our cross-cultural focus. The curriculum itself uses creative writing, and a World Literature curriculum to celebrate classroom diversity, build skills and unlock creativity by teaching students to translate great poetry from around the world.
At its heart, the curriculum is really about literature, collaboration, and inquiry.
The program successfully combines academic skill building, literacy, and social emotional development with an emphasis on low income, students of color and English language learners. It’s built around hands-on, creative writing activities that require and cultivate dialogic listening, collaboration, and careful consideration of language and meaning. Our teaching materials include more than 70 poems and 30 different languages: everything from Arabic, Chinese Vietnamese Spanish Japanese. The languages are selected to reflect our students’ backgrounds. New poems and languages are added pretty regularly. Most often, they are suggested or requested by participating teachers.
By participating in Poetry Inside Out, students do a number of things. They read and explore multiple languages and points of view. They exercise their imaginations, as they offer translations and produce and perform their own original work. In addition, they develop vital reading and comprehension skills, as they become familiar with poetic styles and devices.
Moreover, they expand their understanding of cultural culture by building awareness of their own cultural and linguistic heritages. They sharpen critical thinking skills when they present in defense of their opinions and their word choices. Ultimately, they become engaged learners with an enhanced sense of themselves as readers, writers, thinkers and global citizens.
What do you think is PIO’s hidden talent?
Our hidden talent, I would say, is our partners and our affiliates. We have employed a trainer of trainers model. That has given us the ability to expand and work with other districts roaming around the country. We currently have partnering organizations and affiliates across the United States, including of course, in California, and in the Bay Area. This work really wouldn’t be possible without the collective effort of those folks- from the teachers, the administrators and other representatives from OUSD, SFUSD, and the Bay Area Writing Project in UC Berkeley, to Clark University and Worcester public schools, to the St. Louis Poetry Center, the Philadelphia writing project, and the San Diego writing project as well.
Those partners are the hidden talent. They help us deepen the curriculum, and provide different perspectives on the program’s impact- how to address the needs of students in a variety of different settings.
Could you share an anecdote about working with a student or teacher that really stood out for you?
I think the one though that the kind of hits home, and kind of shares the power of the program best, takes place in Worcester, Massachusetts. When PIO was first implemented within the district in Worcester, it was in combination with a teacher inquiry group.
The students who were working with this group of teachers wanted to know what it was and what they did. It was explained to them that they were reflecting on their own practices, and using that to deepen their understanding of their practices as teachers, and with PIO’s program. Well, these students also wanted to reflect on their own practices too!
PIO affiliate teachers were more than happy to run through with the students, what it means to do research and come up with a thesis- an idea or question you want to answer. They did those things, successfully completed, submitted and presented this research project paper to the ethnography conference at the University of Pennsylvania- actually the only high school students to do that.
In that audience, was the president of AERA (the American Educational Research Association), who was just fascinated and blown away by their presentation. She invited them to the AERA conference in Boston that year, where they presented their paper and their findings.
Two things came out of this which was wonderful; all the students that participated in the study went to college (not something they were necessarily considering). This speaks to the idea of having students who are marginalized for any number of reasons, really think about themselves differently as thinkers, readers, writers…and that their ideas, their thoughts have weight in the world. They have something to say, and their bilingualism is something that is a source of strength.
Subsequently, this also created a process that a number of students have gone through and done the same thing- presenting at the ethnography conference, and at AERA.
How has this kind of switch to distance learning worked for you in this past year? What are some of the adaptations that you’ve been able to make?
It was, it was definitely a challenging year for us as it was for pretty much everybody regardless of whether you’re students, teachers, or just humans in general. But for us, fortunately enough we were able to pivot rather well.
We were able to develop and successfully adapt our curriculum, so that it could be implemented within distance learning. Not only by tailoring specific pieces of the curriculum and tools to fit the Zoom world, but also by being malleable enough, so that for example, if one district was asking them to use Google Classroom exclusively, it could also be adapted and used within Zoom. Across the country, our different affiliates and partners had different requirements placed on them by their individual districts.
We also put together translation kits: smaller packets of information that students could do at home alone or with their siblings or with caretakers- whomever was in that physical space with them.
Why did PIO join the OLC as a member?
PIO and the Center for the Art of Translation has been familiar with the Oakland Literacy Coalition’s work pretty much since its inception. It’s powerful, and it’s necessary.
One of the things we have learned as an organization, getting back to what you’re saying about a hidden talent, is that this (work) is the act of collaboration, the act of creating communal knowledge, and then using that to meet the organization’s goals.
When more people are involved, more language, the richer it is. For us, it was the ability to add to this wealth- our experiences, our curriculum- while at the same time learning from others that are engaged in the same activities. Just looking at the OLC as a community- it’s just rich, it’s diverse, it’s vibrant. Why would you not want to become a part of that and contribute to the goal?
Is there anything else that you’d like our broader community to know about the work you’re doing?
Just to let you know as an organization, PIO is staunchly committed to language equality, and equality across the board. We gain more from working together than we do from working separately, and I think the people, and organizations that are part of the OLC all recognize that.
Poetry Inside Out and the Center for the Art of Translation is committed to the same goals. We are always open to partnerships. One of the other things that I personally am looking forward to is partnering and working with other organizations in the Oakland area, and with the Oakland Unified School District.