PICK UP! (vol.7) Yaya Yao / Graduate School of Design

There are more than 300 diversed students are enrolled in “Future-Creation (MIRAI)” Course.
In this section, we will focus on students who are engaged in unique activities and introduce their achievements and activities from their own perspectives.

The Seventh student is Yaya Yao (D2) of the Graduate School of Design.


Do poetry and research have anything in common?

Yaya Yao (MEd, OCT) is a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Design, the author of Flesh, Tongue and lead writer of the Educators Equity Companion Guide. She completed her BA at McGill University, BEd at the University of Toronto, and MEd at the University of Ottawa.

I was born and raised in Tkaronto (colonially, Toronto), Canada. Growing up in an ethnically Chinese, multilingual family, poetry always attracted me because it was different from the rest. A lot of poetry “mixed” and played with language. It felt free. It was the only type of writing I felt like I could be myself in.

Some see research and poetry as completely unrelated. Good research is often defined as being objective, systematic, and replicable. Poetry is seen as wholly subjective, the product of human emotion, an erratic and unreliable beast. But as a poet, educator, and researcher, I see poetry and research as connected in fundamental ways.

In both, the text must have its own internal logic. Writing a poem, you can create a world in a few lines. To have an impact, that world needs to be internally consistent—even if you decide to break it apart, the more consistent it is until that point, the more purposeful the destruction.

A poem is a window into someone else’s way of experiencing the world; a sometimes dramatic, sometimes subtle shift that can render the familiar unfamiliar. This can be an energizing, even healing, disorientation. Similarly, research can offer a perspective on a given phenomenon that makes the familiar unfamiliar, building a world through the application of a defined system of thought. While in research this usually explicitly outlined, in poetry it is evoked less overtly.

No matter what I am writing, I aim to guide readers in a way that offers enough stability and authority to propose something concrete, and enough flexibility and humility to engage them.

For 20 years, I have taught and developed curriculum for students from kindergarten to graduate level, at schools, universities, and NGOs in Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, and Thailand. My research is now focused on enhancing English language education in Japan through creative processes that support teacher and learner autonomy and connectedness. My doctoral project looks at the possibilities of Exploratory Practice in Japanese high school English language education, and an additional study is on how translanguaging arts-based approaches can foster identity formation and relationality.

The doctoral study aims to support the quality of classroom life of teachers and students in high school English. Exploratory Practice, or EP, is a newer way of doing classroom research focusing on the “puzzles” or wonderings of teachers and students. Rather than testing a solution to a problem, EP asks us to deepen our understandings of the classroom and school context, extending the application of a growth mindset into research in an existential manner. Through this process, EP also calls us to deepen our communication and connections with each other.

In this vein, I look forward to collaborating with other MIRAI scholars in coming years.