Sunday, February 24, 2013

Writing about reading: Borrowing "Big Idea Books" from Penny Kittle's "Book Love"

Borrowing "Big Idea Books" from Penny Kittle's "Book Love"


  Earlier this year, I joined a Facebook book club for Penny Kittle's Book Love.  It was an amazing experience (and remains so, I realized, for it is still up and running with Penny commenting and educators still posting - the learning continues!).  All of us were inspired by Penny's ideas and her passionate commitment to developing and enriching her students' reading lives.  And, like so many others, I've tried to put her wisdom to work in my own classroom in as many ways as possible.
Among my take aways from Book Love was Penny's "Big Idea Books" - which she describes this way:
"I see possibilities humming beneath reading workshop.  My students make choices and read alone, but are connected within the classroom and throughout time to central themes in literature.  The books they are reading cover a wide of subjects and purposes but share common qualities.  "I created something I call "Big Idea Books" to make those connections more obvious to students. (pg. 117)
     Like Penny, I believe that it's important for my kids to write about the thinking they do through their reading. And I, too, was inspired by the way in which Nancie Atwell (In The Middle)  and Linda Reif (Inside the Writer's Readers Notebook) used this type of writing about reading to enrich their students' reading experiences.  My students keep reading journals and write to me once a week - it's been a wonderful way in which to converse about and ruminate over characters, themes, life lessons, author's craft, and so on.  But, I really liked the way in which Penny's "Big Ideas Books" form the basis of what she calls "a multi-year conversation" - one that remains in the classroom for other students, this year and in the years to come, which they can can pick up, read through, be inspired by, and be provoked into deeper thought by.
     After puzzling over how I might adapt this idea to fit the needs of my sixth graders who need more scaffolding and structure than Penny's high school students, I came up with a version to experiment with.  I purchased composition books, labeled them with some of the themes Penny suggests for her students, and then introduced my kids to the idea last week.  Here is the "strategy template" which each student has pasted into their Reading Journal to refer to:

And here is the mini-lesson chart we created to help my kids plan their writing:

We used our first read aloud of the year, Priscilla Cummings "The Red Kayak", to model responses - I find that my sixth graders rally need concrete examples as springboards to their thinking, and having that first shared book is a great boon when it comes to this.
Since I am also trying to tie everything I do to the Common Core standards, these responses and the discussions that follow address the following standards very nicely, I think:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

All weekend I have been hearing from students who have new "Big Ideas" they want to write about and which were not in the list I had provided (leadership and life changes were two that were proposed), and I'm taking this as a good sign - that they are engaged and excited about this new learning adventure.  Let's see what tomorrow brings, when we read and share from our journals!


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