At NCTE 2015 a few weeks ago, I attended a session titled “The Power of Passion-Driven Research” including Laurel Snyder, Deb Perryman, Jen Vincent, Kate Messner, LeUyen Pham, and Laura Purdie Salas. Before the conference, I told my students which authors I would likely see, so they could write a letter to their favorite author. My new first grader, Lynzee, wrote to Kate Messner because she had read both Ranger in Time books, Oregon Trail and Rome.
During her response, Kate mentioned Lynzee’s letter. Lynzee wrote, “Your books changed my life. Before I read them, I didn’t know anything about the Oregon trail or Rome!”
Kate’s enthusiasm for Lynzee’s letter touched me. All I had done was put the books into Lynzee’s hands. What power lies in that!
I came back to my students with a renewed enthusiasm for research. One thing I know about gifted kids is they can become hyper-focused on one topic of interest. For Erin, it’s narwhals. She loves fantasy and unicorns, so of course, narwhals, too. She wants to raise money to send to the World Wildlife Fund to get an “Adopt a Narwhal” kit.
For Lani, she can’t get enough of Anne Frank and the Holocaust. And the range of interests are wide. Vannisa is fascinated by sleep. Emily wants to know everything about Pompeii.
This week I talked to my students about writing their own nonfiction book about their passions. We are calling them “Passion Projects.” Using Nancy Bo Flood’s book Water Runs through this Book as a model, we discussed text features. We created a rubric. And now they are on their way to making books of their own.
Some of my students are adding the element of poetry to their projects as Nancy did in her book. Here is Kaiden’s sad poem about elephants.
made into piano keys
Some are lucky and get recovery.
Others get the key to death just lying there
flies swarming around them as they drift away.
I don’t know if this project will change my students’ lives, but I do know that when you go deep into a subject, you remember. I have loved Maine (never been there) all my life because of a project I did in fourth grade. Passions matter. And when we allow our students to follow their passions, great things can happen. Or great books can be written. We’ll see.
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