Poetic Inspiration from #NCTE13 + a Book Giveaway

The selections in this post are excerpted from WHAT THE HEART KNOWS by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Copyright © 2013 by Joyce Sidman. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

The selections in this post are excerpted from WHAT THE HEART KNOWS by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Copyright © 2013 by Joyce Sidman. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

If you’ve never attended the NCTE Annual Convention, then I’ll let you in on a little secret: wear comfortable shoes!  You’ll be on your feet hustling between sessions, walking around the exhibit hall, and hoofing it around the host city.  And even when you’re not on your feet, your brain is operating on overdrive since there are so many talented educators feeding you information about their research and their classroom experiences.  It’s all good stuff, but it’s exhausting!

Two sessions I rushed to on-foot at NCTE were poetry-related.  I hurried to both for fear I wouldn’t get a seat.  (In one of the sessions, I literally had two people sitting at my feet since it was so packed!) Each session inspired me to not only write more poetry (e.g., I tried my hand at a poem-slice and a not-so-terrific haiku in the past couple of weeks.), but to read more poetry (i.e., Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems is next on my to-be read list).

I promised I’d blog about more of the sessions I attended when I wrote my quick recap post of NCTE.  As promised, here’s are some important take-aways from two of the poetry sessions I attended in Boston.

1)  Keeping Poetry Central to Our Core

  • Maureen Barbieri chaired the session.  She began with a bold statement worth repeating to anyone who doesn’t think poetry has a place in their life (or in the lives of students):
  • “If you embrace poetry, then your life will have more in it than other people’s lives have.”
  • Georgia Heard reminded attendees that poetry isn’t something that’s saved for April.  In order to nurture a love of poetry, it needs to be studied over time.  Students who study poetry over a length of time  learn how to appreciate poems for more than what’s on the surface. Heard asserted, “Incredible transformations can happen when poetry is kept central to our core.”
    • Here are some questions Heard asks kids to answer when they’re studying a poem.  She has found their answers become deeper after they spend more time studying a poem a day for a given amount of time (e.g., a month).
      • What makes this a poem? 
      • What is this poem about?  What is the poet’s message (big idea)?
      • What tools do you notice the poet using to help show his/her message.
  • Heard reminded audience members that there are three layers of understanding in poetry, with the second of them being the most critical.  She stated:

Help students connect to a poem by guiding them toward finding themselves and their lives inside a poem.

    • When this happens, Heard contends, students will become more engaged.  Students will be able to relate poems to their lives, thereby allowing poetry to have an impact on them.  They’ll also be better prepared to do higher-level work with poetry (i.e., close reading and analyzing the craft of a poem) as they move on in school.
  • Tom Romano taught me a new term, copy change.  This is where students imitate poems by using them as mentor texts.  Then, when they publish their poetry, they thank the poet about what they’ve learned.  It doesn’t matter if the actual poet will never see this.  The attribution is key since it’s teaching them to credit poets who’ve served as inspiration, who’ve taught them from afar.  By copy changing, or imitating, poets stretch themselves thereby becoming more sophisticated poets themselves.
  • Linda Rief quoted poet Tom Kooser who said, “You have to read 100 poems before you write a poem.”  (This reflects the feeling many of us have about immersing our students in any genre of writing before asking them to write it themselves.)  Using Kooser’s advice and Georgia Heard’s heart maps as inspiration, Linda Rief has her students create Heart Books throughout the school year (2-3 days/month).
    • Heart Books are blank books Rief’s students use to collect poems published in a variety of books that are connected to one issue on their heart map.  Students hand-copy the poems into their Heart Books and use a variety of illustration techniques (e.g., paper tearing, watercolor) to illustrate the poem in a way that holds value to the student.  Rief’s students have to write about how they connected to the poem.  Finally, the students have to research the poet and what s/he has to say about reading or writing.
    • At the end of the school year:
      • Rief’s students have seven two-page spreads in their Heart Books.
      • They have to reflect on their experience by completing a written reflection that answers the following questions:
        1. Before doing the heart book, what did you think/know about poetry? What made you think that?
        2. Since doing the heart book what have you noticed about poetry? What have you learned about poetry?
    • How much do you want to do Heart Books with your students next year?

2)  Celebrating Joyce Sidman: Winner of the 2013 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children

I learned about Joyce Sidman back in 2007 when I read This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness.  I shared the book with my students in our poetry unit of study and hooked them on trying out poems of apology and forgiveness.  In 2009, I was a Cybils Poetry Judge when I crossed paths with Red Sings Treetops. I was eager to attend the session honoring Sidman who given the 2013 NCTE Award of Excellence in Poetry for Children.  (Though I was mentally kicking myself for forgetting to bring my copies of her books with me to NCTE.  I would’ve loved to have had her sign them.)

During the celebration, Sidman took us behind the scenes of her most recent book, What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, & Blessingstelling attendees the story of how it came to be.  While I cannot take you on the same behind-the-scenes tour, I can share a couple of pages from What the Heart Knows with you:

Click on the image to enlarge.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Sidman gave us the back story on “Blessing on the Smell of Dog” with us.  While I cannot do justice to that back story, I can share the link to a writing activity from her website based off of that poem.  It’s one you might choose to do with your students.  (Whether they mentor themselves after the idea of the poem or copy change it… that’s up to you and to them!)

Here are some tidbits about poetry I picked up from Sidman’s:

Poetry helps us discover our
  • Voice: our own unique way of seeing things
  • Heart: what we care deeply about
  • History: experiences that have shaped us
Poetry can help students
  • Find their own voice — the power of the words they’re writing
  • Discover what’s in their heart — what’s important to them
  • Write their own history

Sidman’s new book is a treasure you’ll want to have in your classroom library.  For a chance to win a copy, please read the giveaway information at the bottom of this post.

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is a copy of  What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, & Blessings.  Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for sponsoring this giveaway.
  • To enter for a chance to win a copy of What the Heart Knows each reader may leave a comment related to poetry. All comments left on or before Thursday, December 26th, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. EDT will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Friday, December 27th.  I will announce the winner’s name at the bottom of this post later that day.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at HMH will ship the book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field.)

Comments are now closed.

Congratulations to Holly Mueller whose commenter number was selected using the random number generator. She’ll receive a copy of What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, & Blessings. Here’s what she said:

I’ve tried to read more poetry for myself this year, but it still isn’t anywhere near equal to the other genres I read more frequently. I need to increase it more – this post inspires me to do that! I loved the most recent poetry book I read, Dog Songs by Mary Oliver. I LOVE the illustrations in the book you’re giving away, and I look forward to reading the poems!