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Poetry as Reflective Practice & Instrument for Student Voice

headshot of Sunita IyerAuthor:

  • Sunita Iyer, she/her, Associate Teaching Professor, School of Nursing and Health Studies Bothell, University of Washington, Bothell campus




Project Description

The goal of this project is to explore how poetry, as an expansive genre, can be a critical piece of reflective practice, brainstorming, and a tool for writing across disciplines. We will discuss different styles of poetry that can be easily utilized in any discipline, and how poetry “works” as a distillation method in learning. In this discussion, we will work backwards from a final project or paper, and what we want students to produce as a formal testament to their learning in our courses. With those final assessments in mind, we will discuss how crucial elements in these projects such as student connection to concepts, student voice, and student empowerment can be (better) generated by reflective poetic activities as opposed to or as a predecessor to formal outlines and when we begin with students writing from their resonance, connection, and heart, we can pull those threads into their final product and see more of our students in their own work.

Project Question

One of the challenges for our students with our final papers or projects is the formality of the exercise. Many of us use reflective activities, and yet it is not uncommon for their final products to “meet criteria” but lack student voice, connection, and empowerment. How do we get our students to put more of themselves into their final products? How do we encourage them to show up more powerfully in their papers or presentations? How do facilitate our students finding and using their voice? What is a genre or modality that is poised as an instrument for all of these things? Poetry.


The classes that I utilized poetry in ranged from 26 to 48 students and included students in both Health Studies and Nursing. The classes were Healthcare Systems, Healthcare Policy, and Social Justice in Healthcare. These activities can be utilized in any discipline, although may have limitations in highly specific projects (i.e. writing code for precision). This can be used with students at all levels, and lends itself to both online or in-person teaching. While this may not completely satisfy W requirements, these activities can be used to support a course that is writing-oriented to meet those goals. I have used this in my health policy, social justice, and translation research courses.


As described briefly above, the goal is to work backwards from final paper/project guidelines and to determine how student connections, voice, and empowerment can be visualized in the final product. As we explore these elements, we will also look at elements of poetry such as style, word choice, lyricism, and visceral and kinesthetic effects, and link to those to connectedness, voice, and empowerment.


The intended impact of this project is to encourage and prioritize student connection, voice, and empowerment to their final papers or projects. Where I observe greater connection to their work, there appears to be more learning as integration of concepts to their world, greater pride, and possibly a product that is more useful as a contribution to their portfolio than simply a fulfilled didactic exercise. Ultimately the measurement of these results would be from student reflection and qualitative evaluation of the final assignment overall.


In a university and time that is oriented toward social justice, and working with students who are much more concerned with their ROI in higher education, it serves us in every discipline to make connections between what we are teaching, what we are assigning, and the world outside of our walls. Whether we are writing instructors, poetry enthusiasts, or not, students want us to help them connect what we require them to do in our courses with the world they live in. That requires assignments that embed connectedness into them, and include having students illustrate those connections in writing in this ongoing hybrid, often faceless life. Being expressive in writing, in the way that we have desired students to show up in class, is the next important skill set for us to utilize in our courses and the brevity of poetry lends itself nicely to the brevity of “younger than us” communication.

Most or all disciplines utilize student reflection as part of the creation and evaluation of a project, paper, or other deliverable. The goal is to describe and demonstrate how poetry can be utilized as a reflection tool that captures more of the holistic student experience. For example, writing a reflection after a project is complete about what went well, what could be improved, and what did we learn does encourage students to think about future integration. Poetry is seated in the experience and feeling of creation, and how learning is already integrated into the students’ life and creation. By having students connect through poetry, they are encouraged to see what they already have learned and know, which is potentially more empowering than being better/different in the future. Additionally, there are exercises I will share where students can pull studies/data on a topic and then try to find a poem that expresses that experience of the data, humanizes it.


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