Tag Archives: linda rief

Mini-Lesson Monday: Connecting to Poetry with Heart Books

Today is my first day back with my students, since my excellent student teacher departed on Friday.  Having observed their learning and their needs for the past six weeks, I have lots of goals for them in mind.  But, most urgently, I am struck by how much I want readers to connect more authentically to literature–to nurture their investment in, and passion about, literacy.  I want to begin helping them do that by creating and curating Heart Books, which I heard the excellent Linda Rief present about at NCTE in 2013.  Thank you to the very thorough Vicki for this excellent description of Heart Books.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Identify a topic/theme to explore in heart books; Collect and display a variety of poems about this topic/theme over time; Connect your poems to your topic and yourself.

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My heart map

Lesson — We’ll begin the lesson by returning to the Heart Maps (here’s a great handout on those) we created early on in the school year.  “Choose one topic on your heart map that you’d like to explore further.  On my heart map, I think I’m going to choose my students–this kind of includes themes of learning, growth, and teaching, too,” I’ll explain.

Once students choose topics from their heart maps and expand on what themes they might include, we’ll create a new section in our writer’s notebooks called HEART BOOKS.  Then, we’ll browse various poetry anthologies and collections (check Amy’s selection out if you seek inspiration for building your poetry shelf!), searching for poetry that matches their selected theme.  I’ll ask students to copy the poem into their notebooks once they’ve made a selection.

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My poetry shelf, unshelved

From there, Linda Rief suggests having heart-bookers illustrate the poem, write a response about why it was chosen, and research the poet to find out what he or she might have to say about reading and writing.  I’ll encourage my students to do the same, but also will ask them to make a note of their favorite bits of language from the poem–words, phrases, or even punctuation.  The craft moves poets make are valuable teachers of writing.

Follow-Up — Next class, I’ll ask students to share in groups their Heart Books.  Perhaps we’ll have a notebook pass in which we write in one another’s notebooks, responding to each other’s poems.

For the remainder of the year, once per month, I’ll set class time aside for curating Heart Books.  By the end of the year students will have created a personal anthology of ten poems that help them explore a key theme in their Heart Maps.

What routines do you have in place that help your students connect to literature and explore personal themes?

How to Respond to All Writers–Students and Professionals Alike

In a workshop classroom, all authors are mentors.  They are teachers of the craft of writing, and the foundation of the workshop model is built on acknowledging and celebrating them as such.  All writers are apprentices of other writers–Stephen King notes this in On Writing, Katie Wood Ray points this out in Wondrous Words, and Penny Kittle champions this in Write Beside Them.

This week, we’ve practiced treating two types of writers as mentors in our classroom–published authors and student writers.

Once we set up our writer’s notebooks, we began filling them with all things personal to us.  Heart maps, important photos, our hands, lifelines, reading histories, and more.  Then, we turned to adding the words of other writers.

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My writing atop Jacqueline Woodson’s

I wanted to show students the power of other writers’ words.  I wanted to teach them to read poetry not to “torture a confession out of it…to find out what it really means,” as Billy Collins writes, but to celebrate the act of simply reading that poem.  So, we glued in an excerpt from Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.  I modeled for students how to respond to Jacqueline as a real writer, to notice and note her craft moves, to be inspired by her ideas and write more about our own feelings on those topics.  We wrote atop her poem, prioritizing our responses, reactions, and ideas rather than some analysis or “dulling down” of her meaning.  Responding personally and authentically to published authors will become an important part of our daily routine in our writer’s workshop.

I invited students to enter into a written dialogue with the authors we read.  So, as I settled down this weekend to begin reading a tall pile of student writing that had been turned in, I knew I had to walk the talk, as Amy always reminds me I must.  I ask students to treat authors as real people worthy of critical response, so why would I treat my student writers any differently?  I’ve always struggled with how to grade/evaluate/respond to student writing, but I’m thinking about it in a new way this year.  I just want to have conversations with my students about their writing, whether it’s in the form of a writing conference or in a weekend session with a stack of papers.  I know that when these conversations occur, student growth will follow.  In the excellent Portfolio Portraits, edited by Don Graves and Bonnie Sunstein, Linda Rief writes in an essay IMG_9248titled “Finding the value in Evaluation:”

I have discovered that students know themselves as learners better than anyone else.  They set goals for themselves and judge how well they reach those goals.  They thoughtfully and honestly evaluate their own learning with far more detail and introspection than I thought possible.  Ultimately, they show me who they are as readers, writers, thinkers, and human beings.

My thinking aligns with Linda’s.  When I remove myself from the role of “grader” or “evaluator,” I become an authentic reader of my students’ writing.  I invite students to assess their own writing, which in the words of Linda Rief “shows the value in evaluation.”

So this weekend, I read my students’ writing like I read books.  I noted beautiful lines they wrote, jotted down spiffy words they harnessed, and responded to thought-provoking ideas I saw them getting at.  I asked them questions, wondered about their meanings, and looked very much forward to reading more of their words in the future.  I will confer with students as I return their papers, and we’ll talk about how they might move forward with some of the topics, ideas, and stories they’d begun in these early writings.

In our classroom, we consider our responses to published writing as important as the writing itself.  The value of reading and writing lies in the interaction between the reader and the words, as Louise Rosenblatt describes.  When I transfer that value from the way I want my students reading writing to the way I want to read my students’ writing, new and important opportunities for student learning occur.

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