Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Writing with Brave in the Woods

As a teacher, I'm obsessed with two things right now. Pairing texts and digital texts. If you haven't seen Franki Sibberson's new Instagram account, @textsets I invite you to check it out. Texts sets are where it's at! 

Looking critically at the texts we choose to share with students is important. In my district, we were asked to teach a nonfiction unit from a resource that was bought without teacher input. When I looked at the list of resources, I saw that all the texts used in the unit centered white people and after doing my research, I found that they were all seemed to be written about white people. 

I brought this up to the administrators and my team right away and asked for us to have a discussion about the problem with this and how to address it. This is what happens if we do not look critically at the resources we share with students. 

Enter text sets and digital texts. We should always be making connections between texts and offering a variety of texts to our students. Because no one text will ever be everything it needs to be to every person. There is no simple black dress when it comes this work. There is no silver bullet. There is no magic diet pill. The solution is the work. And the work is gathering up lots of different texts to share with students and giving them opportunities to make connections. 

Okay, so here's this week's mentor text with a text you can pair it with to do exactly what I'm talking about and with purpose. You can pair texts for so many different reasons. This match up has to do with theme and also using repetition. 

At the beginning of Tracy Holczer's book Brave in the Woods, the main character is worried about her brother who has gone missing. 
Here's the snatch of text to look at and wonder about:

"In the thirty-two days since they'd found our Connor had gone missing, the worry had never left Juni's mind.

Not when she tried to read The One and Only Ivan for the seventh time because it was her favorite book ever. Not when she worked with Anya all day turning blackberries into jam. Not when she climbed the magical juniper tree, for which she was named, to sit in the old saddle Connor had loosely tied to the widest branch. 

Especially not then. 

She worried about being cursed. She worried about the bees in her chest. She worried that school was about to happen to her again. How was she supposed to get up every morning and think about math and English and social studies when her brother had vanished? How was she supposed to sit at a school desk five miles away when the army man could come back at an moment and tell her family they'd found Connor?" (p. 7-8)

I noticed the worry, her brain on overdrive and thought about Jason Reynold's book Look Both Ways and the story The Broom Dog. It's available with Jason himself reading it aloud with my Scholastic account so I asked students to read and listen to the story and to notice what the main character is worried about and how the author shows it on the page. 
A few weeks ago, I asked my students to write to me about things they wished their teachers knew. Worry and anxiety filled my screen. They are aware of their mental health and that they need help navigating complicated times.

Here's an opportunity to explore what it means to worry and how that manifests in our brains and our bodies. And then to try writing about it ourselves. I started thinking about what it means to worry and how that means fear is driving the bus. 
And then I thought of a time in my life when I was really worried, when my brain was on overdrive. It was in middle school when we had to go on a field trip to a teams course. You know the kind where you go with your group into the woods and a facilitator leads you in all sorts of team building activities. I hated them at first but then I grew to love them. 

I made a list in my notebook of what I was worried about and then how it went. And then I looked at the mentor text again and how repetition and listing all the things shows how worry shows up and is persistent and grows. And I wrote a poem to share with students:


What If?

We're on the bus, off to the teams course.
What are we going to do?
Why can't we be with our friends?
Will people be mean to me?
Will people say horrible things to me?
Will people judge me?
Will I be able to do the activities?
What if I can't do them?
What if I fail?
What if I mess up?
Will I survive?

We're on the bus, me and my brain.
Wondering and worrying
and wasting away the minutes 
until
We're there and we climb off the bus.
We stand with our group. 
We follow our facilitator into the woods.
We put one foot in front of the other.
We introduce ourselves.
We try the activities, one at a time.
Human knot, 
carefully passing a Koosh ball, the cure to save all humanity from a deadly virus,
 saving each other from lava on Mars.
crawling through a two-foot wide tunnel.
We survive.

What if next time we just did it?

During a time when it's so important to pay attention to our mental health and also to think about how we honor our students' by talking about our emotions and in giving them opportunities to engage with characters with a variety of lived experiences, I love pairing these two texts. I love that there's a digital option to listen to Jason read aloud the story himself. I love all the invitations to write with mentor texts. 

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