Children's boos should be at the core of any literacy program. The benefits of immersing our students in good literature are countless. I can't imagine teaching without them. The best of my teaching moments stem from a piece of literature. I can honestly say that. Regardless whether you have English language learners in your class, all students benefit from a good story. The possibilities? infinite.
Wonderful mentors like Donald Graves and Lucy Calkins encourage teachers to choose books that have some connections to students' lives, relevant to their background (especially powerful with English language learners). Well...where do we start? how do we go about finding out more about our students as individuals before we start diving them into children's books?
We have to take the time to get to know them. Well, here is an activity we have done with the ELLs in my class and the classroom teachers at my school. Check it out...
I am sure that you have encountered once, twice, too many times with this statement: when children write from the heart, their writing becomes relevant, significant, different. I couldn't agree more. But how do I know what my students care for? how do I find out what worries them, what makes them happy, what they fear, what they look forward to? Taking the time to know our students is a must. But it sure does take time. In my case, with 69 students this past academic year, it was sure a challenge (my huge plus is that I get to see them again next year ;) lucky me. )
After reading, Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard, I was totally inspired to take my poetry units to the next level. Her wonderful idea of heart mapping is one that many teachers are familiar with. The idea is for students to look inside their hearts and find out what truly matters for them. They can capture this idea with words, pictures or a combination of both: pictures and words. First, I ask my students to just brainstorm in their writer's notebook the possible ideas that might go into their heart mapping. Usually the list is too long, and not everything can fit in their heart mapping. Therefore, it is time to do some "thinking & choosing". I really emphasize on this idea, it is not just "crossing things out". I encourage them to think about what is really close to their heart and it will be just wrong or incomplete not to have that.
After some "thinking & choosing" it is time for the design of the heart mapping. Children enjoy this process a lot where creativity runs free! While all this is going on, my students and I have extended an invitation to their classroom teachers to be part of our "Writing from the Heart" project. Like I said, it was an invitation. Teachers are very busy people, so it is understandable if they decide to "pass" on this project. My purpose for inviting their teachers was because I think it is very important for students to see their teachers as writers as well. We are truly "role models" when our students see that reading and writing is part of our lives as well.
So, the invitations were sent to their teachers and their responses were outstanding. Most of our teachers were participating (I was so proud of them!). So, now as students and teachers (myself included, of course) were working on our heart mapping, we were also working with an "I Am" poem that would support our heart mapping project. For this poem, we have to put our "hearts" out there because the "I Am" poems are a deep inner journey on what we hold dear to our hearts.
So students look at their heart mapping to come up with the ideas that would go into their "I Am" poems. For students who are just not sure where to start, I found this wonderful poem starter at the Read*Write*Think website.
I don't usually like to use writing starters but when I look at this poem starter, I noticed right away that this has potential. Why? Because this is a true invitation to dig deeper, when you ask students to share what they fear, or what makes them cry, we are truly asking them to write from their heart.
So, we embarked on this journey together: students & teachers writing, creating, digging deeper in their hearts. I must say that although, I get to work with my students year after year, after we finished this project, I can truly say I found out a lot more about my students as individuals. And this helped me tremendously when it was time to choose children's books for our units of study in writing workshop, or literature circles. I knew better how to connect my
students' lives with the literature I was about to bring to my classroom. And that made all the difference in the world in my teaching.
Our final projects (the heart mapping and the poems) were displayed at one of our "longest" wall in the school. One of the 4th grade classes has decided to do this project as well as a whole class. I was glad to see that they wanted to be part of this project as well. Everyday I would see a parent, a grandma, a teacher, our secretary, the principal stopping by and reading their work. I will never forget a Dad's reaction when he found his daughter's work up there, he said, "this is my girl right here! wow!" and he took his cell phone camera and took a picture of his daughter's work right there. That moment was priceless.
I honestly can say that after this project I...
- learned more about my students' lives
- learned more about the teachers I work with
- learned that we all have fears and hopes and sometimes it just really helps to put it in writing
- children LOVED seeing their teachers as writers
- we are so different but there is one thing that we ALL had in common:
We All Have Stories to Tell.