Academic journal article English Journal

"When It Rains a Puddle Is Made": Fostering Academic Literacy in English Learners through Poetry and Translation

Academic journal article English Journal

"When It Rains a Puddle Is Made": Fostering Academic Literacy in English Learners through Poetry and Translation

Article excerpt

Recent national assessments reveal persistent opportunity gaps between English language learners and their English-dominant peers (Wright 10-12). To address this critical situation, school districts with high numbers of English learners have made a commitment to academic language and literacy development, which are also the foci of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and English Language Development (ELD) standards. Academic language and literacy refer to more than linguistic capacities and word-knowledge. They also include specific higher-order thinking practices such as reasoning, interpreting texts, and weighing different options for meaning.

The CCSS and ELD standards present a need and an opportunity for teachers of English learners to implement innovative, intellectually rigorous, and language-rich curricula. We propose that Poetry Inside Out (PIO) is one example of such curricula (Rutherford). Developed by the Center for the Art of Translation in 2000, PIO is a poetry- and translation-based literacy "practice" (including, but broader than, a packaged curriculum) where students translate world-class poems from their original language (e.g., Spanish, Chinese, etc.) into English. Eventually students use the translated poems as a springboard for writing poems in the language of their choice. Although PIO has been used in elementary and high school classrooms and with monolingual English as well as bilingual and multilingual students, this article focuses on the implementation of PIO with English language learners.

In this article, we-two university-based researchers and two English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers-share what students and teachers learned from Poetry Inside Out. Our purpose is to describe PIO and illustrate the ways in which English learners responded to the curriculum. We also discuss the possibilities for and questions about using poetry in the service of academic language and literacy acquisition. Despite the body of work on poetry in the classroom (see Fisher; Jago; Jocson; Morrell and Duncan-Andrade), we believe that more research and resources need to illuminate the relationship between poetry and English learners' literacy and language development.

What Is Poetry Inside Out?

In PIO, students work with a poem page and a "translator's glossary" (see Figure 1 for a sample poem page and translator's glossary). The poem page contains not only the poem but also a short biography of the poet. Before students engage in the work of translation, they read aloud the biography of the poet, written in English, and the poem in its original language. If the original language uses an alternate orthography, students rely on a transliterated version to help them "read" the poem aloud.

The translator's glossary offers a definition and possible synonyms for every word or linguistic particle that makes up the poem. Take as an example the character/word ? from a Japanese haiku by Mizuta Masahide. The translator's glossary contains not only the definition in English (building where things are stored) and possible synonyms (storehouse, storage room, warehouse, barn) but also the pronunciation guide (kura, n.) for students who cannot read kanji or kana. Using the translator's glossary, pairs of students work on what is known as a "phrase by phrase" translation. Then a group of four students comes together, with their "phrase by phrase" translations in hand, to generate a "make it flow" translation. It is here, when the group is working to make their translation "flow," that we have seen students grappling not only with the meaning of the poem but also with issues surrounding fidelity in translation (i.e., What words can we add to make the poem sound better?). We have also seen students use bilingual dictionaries so that they can better understand the nuances of word choice (e.g., barn, storehouse, and warehouse). Once all groups have generated a "make it flow" translation, there is a public reading of each group's translation followed by a whole-class discussion that usually focuses on the meaning of the poem, and the differences and similarities across the translations. …

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