Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Whispering in the Wind: A Guide to Deeper Reading and Writing Through Poetry

You can access our #G2Great Wakelet Artifact of this chat HERE

Written by guest blogger, Travis Crowder

On 9/15/22, we were honored that our good friend, Linda Rief, returned to our #G2Great guest host seat to discuss her incredible new book, Whispering in the Wind: A Guide to Deeper Reading and Writing Through Poetry (Heinemann, 2022) following a previous #G2Great chat on her book Read, Write, Teach: Choice and Challenge in the Reading Writing Workshop (Heinemann, 2014). We were also honored that our friend, teacher and writer Travis Crowder wrote this beautifully reflective blog post. Travis describes himself as a Reader. Writer. Teacher. Learner and author of Reflective Readers: The Power of Readers Notebooks. He blogs and is currently a Doctoral student at UNCW. We are so grateful to bring these two dedicated and thoughtful minds together:

Travis Crowder Reflections on Whispering in the Wind

“Stafford didn’t read his words—he spoke them. He delivered his poetry, simple but elegant words, riding on his voice and cupped in his hands as if saying, ‘Here, peek in, look what I noticed that I want you to notice. Feel what I felt at that moment. Taste these words in your mouth and feel how they slip right through to your heart” (Rief, 2022, p. 2).

“His [Stafford’s] voice said, ‘Here, take these words. Make them yours’” (Rief, 2022, p. 3).

NCTE. Atlanta. 2016.

            I scanned the event program, looking for names I recognized and topics of interest. I recognized Linda Rief’s name amidst a row of others. Seeking Diversity, Linda’s first book, gave deeper nuance to my thinking about reading and writing workshop. At this conference, she was part of a panel discussing poetry and response. Since I had always loved reading and teaching poetry, I was sure I would gather new poems and strategies for teaching them. And further, Linda was someone I wanted to learn more from. So, I picked up my messenger bag and headed toward the lecture hall.

            The room was quiet when I arrived—thirty minutes early—but found a seat as the lecture hall filled with eager educators. Right on schedule, the session began.

            We had all been given Maggie Smith’s (2017) Good Bones, and I cradled the stapled pages in my hands as Linda stepped to the podium. She directed us to the text, and with her eloquent, dulcet tones, she breathed life into the poem. When she finished reading, she invited us to pick up our notebooks. Write anything this poem brings to mind for you or borrow a line and let that line lead your thinking. I borrowed a line and took it into my notebook. I wrote and wrote into the line/idea I found, only coming up for air only when Linda told us our writing time was over. This approach to poetry was different. It was indelible. And wonderfully humane. I was no longer just interested in this session. I was riveted to my seat, craving more of what I had felt in those precious moments of writing.

            After we had finished writing, she discussed the importance of response and artistic expression, even sharing several examples from her writing notebook. Those examples were exceptional, and they demonstrated a way of exploring poetry I had never considered. Yes, I had always loved poetry, but my way of thinking about them had been so limited. With that single session, Linda showed me a different way, and it has made such a difference for me and my students. I shifted from teaching poems to sharing poems. And while I had carried my love of poetry into the classroom years before, students were only responding to the questions generated while the poet’s gorgeous words languished underneath the weight of my thoughts. Yet here she was, saying, Try it this way. See what ideas unfurl.         

Whispering in the Wind, Linda’s latest book, is a powerful ode to poetry and response that offers more of that difference. With this professional text, Linda holds the idea of poetry out to us, nudging us to peek in and look more deeply at a poet’s language. Softly, deftly, she encourages us to find as many poetry collections as possible, read as much as possible, and share with students…as much as possible. But even more, she invites independent reading around poetry for students to discover poets they love and decide what it is they are looking for.

As students find poems they love and connect with, they are asked to take those poems into Heart Books, which are completely blank books that students fill with poetry that matters to them. On one side of a two-page spread, they write or paste in a typed version of the poem, and on the facing side, they create an artistic rendering of the poem. Of course, this structural set-up is only a suggestion. As students create the two-page spreads in their Heart Books, some keep poem and art separate while others let their sketches and drawings blend with the poet’s words. The beauty rests in choice and ownership—it belongs to the students, and they decide what works for them. Students’ work is featured across multiple pages toward the middle of the book. We, her readers, get to see the result of a master teacher leading young people into deeper reading and thinking.

Linda writes, “I was most impressed with the way so many students were motivated to go back to poems again and again, thinking through what they noticed the poet did that touched personally or helped them garner ideas or craft moves for their own writing” (p. 41). One of the things I love most about this book is a focus on possibility. There is no set group of questions or guiding ideas to take students through poems. But like that NCTE session all those years ago, Linda continues to invite all of us to read, find lines that matter to us, and pay attention to what we notice. Something is there. Just look and you’ll see what the author has for you.

There is a focus on reflection, too.

Before students begin the Heart Book process, they take note of their feelings about poetry. Then, they spend time across the year gathering their poems and filling the pages of blank books with poetry and original art. Later in the year, there is an opportunity for students to reflect on changes in their thinking. She asks them to consider: How has my thinking about the concept of poetry changed? With such a humane approach to teaching poetry, I imagine students’ thinking shifts dramatically.

In addition to Linda’s incredible philosophy about poetry and Heart Books, she adds art invitations and ideas to get students thinking about their Heart Books. There is no right or wrong—just an invitation. I can hear Linda’s voice nudging all of us to grab our notebooks, find poems that resonate, and start building our own two-page spreads.

And I can also hear her reminding us that choice matters. Yes, share poems with students. Ask them to write what comes to mind or borrow lines and write from them. But, surround them with poetry, too. Find poetry collections and help them become familiar with poets as they read and write their way into deeper appreciation. Linda advises that we “help students find poems that connect to their very core” and “see the world in ways they don’t usually see the world” (p. 156). She reminds us that connection is powerful, but so is diversifying how we see the world. Poetry is that powerful. It has the energy to change what we see and how we think.

Yes, poems are critical.

They are microcosms of the world and they guide us into intersections of thought that we may not have known were possible. For me, poetry has been a light. A radiance that emanates hope out of darkness. A spark of something more. In a time of standardized teaching and learning, I encourage language arts teachers to listen to Linda’s words. Like Stafford’s voice did to her, I am confident Linda is whispering to all of us, “Here, take my words. Make them yours.”

When we do, we’ll find the poems that matter to us, feel the poet’s words slip right through to our hearts.

We’ll find, all over again, that poetry still affects our hearts in the most unexpected ways.

And if we listen to Linda’s gentle guidance, so will our students.

References

Rief, L. (2022). Whispering in the wind: A guide to deeper reading and writing through poetry. Heinemann.

Smith, M. (2017). Good bones: Poems. Tupelo Press.

We are so grateful to Linda Rief for hosting our chat and to Travis Crowder for sharing his personal reflections and learner, reader, writer and teacher. I have included our chat question with Linda’s wonderful responses below.

Q1 In addressing “Why Poetry” on page 3, Linda describes her 8th graders response when she asked about favorite poets: “They cringed at the word poetry.” Why do you think that many students have a visceral response to poetry? How can we change this?

Q2 Penny Kittle writes in her endorsement, “This book is a master class in poetry, teaching writing, and joy.” How do you approach poetry in a way that will allow you to teach poetry writing while you also create an atmosphere of joy around it?

Q3 Linda reminds us on p. 156, “…students can do their best work when given choices, time, mentor texts, and positive responses that keep them growing stronger both intellectually and emotionally.” How do you nurture these things in your classroom?

Q4 Linda emphasizes that in Heart Books, students “are responding to the poems they chose. Responding, not analyzing.” What do Linda’s words mean to you? How can this change their perception of poetry?

Q5 Linda says, “The more the students became involved in finding poems that spoke to them and spent time planning, playing with, and crafting their illustrations, the less the evaluation form mattered to them.” (pg 148) How will you bring Linda’s words to life this year?

Q6 As we close our #G2Great discussion with Linda, what are some key takeaways that have inspired new thinking or ideas that you plan to translate into your teaching this year?

LINKS

Order Whispering in the Wind: A Guide to Deeper Reading and Writing Through Poetry by Linda Rief (Heinemann, 2022)

Blog post by Linda Rief: What Changes Kids’ Minds About Poetry? (Heinemann)

Breaking Down the Walls of Mandates, Manipulations & Misconceptions

by Jenn Hayhurst

To read the archive of this chat please click here.

Steam is rising fast from my “back to the grind” coffee cup. It is early morning, I wanted a fresh head to write my reflection for our #G2Great chat Breaking Down the Walls of Mandates, Manipulations, and Misconceptions (Thursday, September 9, 2022). The words, Mandates, Manipulations, and Misconceptions are fixed in my brain and are truly at odds with this beautiful Saturday morning here in Northport, New York.

Today is one of those golden Long Island end-of-summer days; sunny, blue skies, and a cool 67 degrees. The landscape is still a lush green with only hints of orange and brown in some fringe trees that are determined to turn early. Now we are leaning heavily towards autumn, and I am taken aback by how much I am looking forward to the change. My head wanders back to Mandates, Manipulations, and Misconceptions and I am struck by a question, one that I needed to ask others:

These are the words that came back to describe the natural qualities great teachers possess:

This is a great website to make word clouds with your students: Word Art.com

As I wrote the answers into this word cloud, it felt like all of these descriptors were refining my own inventory of personal qualities. Then it occurred to me the qualities that so many educators are saying they share are really ways to define what we value most in our teaching. If we are all of these things, and then we juxtapose the words: Mandates Manipulations, and Misconceptions… it is no wonder there is so much tumult in education today.

Exposing Mandates

If you are looking outside of education, it would seem that mandates are based on research that is designed to generate positive educational reform. However, more often than not, mandates are underfunded and misinformed because they are not rooted in reality. It is no wonder at all as to why so many teachers find the word “mandate” repellent. It is an interfering word, imposed by people who do not actually work in schools. How in the world do you take a group of teachers who naturally possess qualities like “flexibility” “curiosity” and “empathy” and try to force feed a disconnected uninformed mandate? The answer is simple you cannot, teachers will resist:

Revealing Manipulations

It’s easy to suss out the underlying manipulation that beats at a mandate’s heart. It is a fixed definition of success based on (you guessed it) test scores. Mandates often rely on on a narrow intepretation of test scores, and a limited view of what “certain” (insert your label of choice here) students will achieve. Yes, students are switfly labeled, then negated, absolving teachers of any responsiblity. This sends an extremely harmful message to teachers: you cannot fix, what you’re not responsible for. As part of the manipulation, mandates push this notion that some children are pre-destined to fail. This is the deficit lens, and it shouts to all who will listen: “The system is broken! This is the reason why! Now it is time to buy this (product) so it (but the subtext is really they) can be fixed:

Dispelling Misconceptions

The debate always goes public and is always fueled by misconceptions, as each side tries to take hold of the narrative. This is how reading wars are born into public discourse. Each person takes a side when really there are no sides to this. There are only children and teachers and we all want the same thing – we want kids to be successful:

Being the Change

I encourage you to get connected. Find your people who help you “think up”. What I mean by this is find that group of people who challenges you to keep learning, to read more, to be brave and say more, and to keep pushing our profession forward. Find your community at work, and push yourself to find it on a bigger scale. If are already reading this, chances are good that you are a member of the #G2Great PLN. If not, come join us on Twitter, #G2Great Thursday nights at 8:30 pm est (a shameless plug). But, there are other communities to keep the conversation going. Here are three other great chats I can recommend:

  1. #Satchat Saturday Mornings 8:00 AM EST
  2. #TCRWP Wednesday Evenings 7:30 PM EST
  3. #CrazyPLN Saturday Morning 10:00 AM EST

Blast from the Past Chat: BRAVE

Read our 7/16/15 chat HERE • Read our 9/1/22 chat HERE

by Mary Howard

This year, our #G2Great team added a new feature to our weekly twitter chat calendar. Since our first chat nearly seven years ago on January 8, 2015, we have had 353 chats and counting. We recognized that many chats need to be shared again so that we can view it from a new perspective and introduce it to those who didn’t see it the first time. We modify the questions in each Blast from the Past chat in order to contemplate a topic or book with fresh eyes that will invite a fresh discussion to inspire new thinking.

This week, we held our third Blast from the Past chat by looking back to 7/16/15 in a chat with Kimberly Davis: BRAVE. This was before we even launched our blog post so it gave us a renewed look at a topic without a written reflection to accompany it. We met our now dear friend Kimberly Davis through a shared friend, Dani Burtsfield, who told us about Kimberly’s TEDxSMUWomen talk: What It Means to Be Brave. I fell in love with this remarkable 14-minute talk the first time I saw it and I still watch it again when I need a ‘BRAVE boost’. I highly recommend it to those of you who haven’t had the pleasure to see it yet.

Early in her talk, Kimberly poses a question to the audience she later discusses:

How can any of us be our best real selves powerfully, (what I call brave), if we’re feeling afraid or vulnerable or anxious or stressed or overwhelmed? How can we be our best selves in the face of our inescapable humanity?”

As I reflect on BRAVE, other words come to mind from Webster’s dictionary:

This image was created using www.wordcloud.com

Kimberly lives in the business world rather than in education but the wonderful thing I discovered years ago by exploring a world previously foreign to me is that there’s a lovely intersection where our two worlds collide into glorious harmony. I can’t think of anything more important than BRAVE for educators right now. At this very moment, our teachers are entering a new school year in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Through no fault of their own, the now find themselves face-to-face with ill-conceived mandates that are running rampant and people making these decisions have little if any educational background. Following mandates devoid of research basis can do great harm to our children and the teachers who are committed to them. Our teachers’ BRAVE is being challenged, stifled and ultimately erased. Schools don’t want teachers to have a voice and make decisions that would honor their children; instead elevating publishers and others with an agenda who waste our time and money with lies, half truths and total disregard for anything that falls outside of narrow views often grounded in opinion rather than substantiated reality. Educators who bring a vast body of research supported knowledge that could fuel their BRAVE, are being told in countless ways that their deepest beliefs about teaching and learning and years of extensive knowledge is of little value. Professional agency and respect is at an all-time low as scripts, packages, tests and very bad advice is at an all-time high. BRAVE is even more important when we find ourselves standing in front of a roadblock everywhere we turn.

Somehow, we need to rediscover the BRAVE that has been buried under the debris of nonsense. In the face of insanity, it could bring sanity and allow us to carry our BRAVE each day we enter our building, and into the teaching spaces where inspired work with children happens when teachers are unfettered of the dictates that block the way forward.

In this tweet with Kimberly Davis from our original chat, we talked about where to begin:

In other words, being BRAVE not only respects small increments of BRAVE – it openly invites them. You don’t have to climb Mt Everest or jump out of an airplane to be BRAVE. You just need to show up and start where you are at that moment and as Kimberly reminds us… “one situation at a time.”

In the Netflix special, Call to Courage, Brene Brown said,

“The key to whole-hearted living is vulnerability. You measure courage by how vulnerable you are. Today I will choose courage over comfort. I can’t make any promises for tomorrow, but today I will choose to be brave.”

Someday it feels as if our BRAVE is being confiscated, chipped away piece by piece until it’s a mere shadow of its former self. Is Covid 19 and the last two years of uncertainty a culprit? There’s no question that it was a factor. And yet, teachers did what they have always done so many people would be able to bear the weight of uncertainty, loss and sadness. They demonstrated superhuman resolve to rise above that uncertainty, loss, and sadness by showing a BRAVE the likes of which we have never seen before.

BRAVE does not need to be big and bold to garner that title. There are many shapes and sizes of BRAVE, ranging from a reluctant “I’m not there yet but I’m giving bits of BRAVE at a time” to “I’ll shout it from the roof top BRAVE. It all counts. For some, it can be a matter of showing up even when your heart is breaking or you can barely put one foot in front of the other. During this pandemic, teachers showed their BRAVE when our educational landscape went from Zoom-less to Zoom culture.

There is the BRAVE that teachers lived and breathed pre pandemic and the BRAVE that they continue to embrace every day when they are being told to do things they know is not in their students’ best interest. There are BRAVE robbers that have long existed in education with a barrage of attacks on teachers being told they’re not good enough because they aren’t doing what those people tell them they should. There are one-size fits all BRAVE robbers who want to standardize every aspect of education. Some days, empowerment feels out of the reach. And yet our teachers come to school every day, walk through the door with a smile even when their heart is breaking and do the right thing for children because that’s what they signed up to do. And that my friends is the heart and soul of what it means to be BRAVE.

I’d like to close this post with a personal reflection on one of the many forms that BRAVE can take in our lives. There is a close connection between personal and professional BRAVE and one influences and fuels the other. In March 2020 a pandemic presented us with never before experienced challenges. It was an extreme wake-up call on so many different levels. For thirty years of my life, I had a long-time dream of moving to Honolulu. This dream amplified across the pandemic and yet, there were so many voices in my head telling me that it was impossible: Will I be okay without family or friends? Can I still travel from Hawaii professionally? What if I get sick? What if I need help? What if I don’t like being alone? Will I be able to find doctors? Can I manage without a car? Where will I live? Is it selfish to do this? All of these questions hung in the air like a dark cloud as I contemplated this move. Then one day I was watching a TV show called “The Big Leap” when the words that nudged me to make a decision rose from my TV screen. One of the stars of the show was giving advice to a woman starting over after a divorce:

Isn’t it more exciting not to know how the story ends?

Minutes later, I sat at my computer booking for an AirBnB. So many fears plagued me in those early days but then I thought about professional choices I’ve made across the years that required bringing my BRAVE to the surface. I couldn’t help but wonder why this was any different. I sold everything I owned, said goodbye to my brothers, nieces and nephews and on February 17, 2022, I boarded a plane to Honolulu. I had no idea what the future held but I was certain that I could figure it out in the place I’d loved for thirty years. I’ve now lived here for 191 days and counting – and I’ve never been happier. Have all of the worries that plagued me early on disappeared? No. But I’m living my dream in paradise, and I’ll figure the rest out out along the way without looking back.

You don’t have to move halfway across the country to be BRAVE. Once we understand what BRAVE means and looks like personally, we can draw from that professionally. BRAVE is different for all of us. Maybe it means it means moving to a new school, speaking up, standing up, fighting for what we believe or even choosing a new professional direction when the nonsense is simply too massive to ignore. BRAVE can come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, options, and perspectives. Nothing is too small.

You can read more about my journey on the blog that I’ve been keeping every day since I first arrived in Hawaii: THE BIG LEAP (Day 1: 2/17/22)

One of my favorite songs that illustrates this topic is If I Were Brave by Jana Stanfield. At the bottom of the video, several people shared their own brave. I smiled today because I’d never noticed one before that now has real meaning:

Bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii 28 years ago. LIFE is a one-way ticket… DANCE. Kay Lynn Satler  

I’d like to close with the words of Kimberly Davis in a quote we shared during the chat and then a few of her tweets from our #G2Great chat.

What It Means to Be Brave: Kimberly Davis TEDxSMUWomen