I read this fantastic poetry collection last year and fell in love right away. On the very first day of this school year - via Zoom - I introduced students to Mahogany L. Browne and we read Instructions of Listening to the Trees and did shared writing. I go back to this book again and again. It's a collection with poems about a variety of social issues written by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Olivia Gatwood with artwork by Theodore Taylor III.
This text offers poems that can stand alone but can also be paired with another text. I'm a huge fan of pairing texts for two main reasons. 1. No one text can ever be diverse enough to encompass every lived experience. We have to offer a variety of texts to students and pairing texts or making text sets is a great way to do this. 2. Short texts are where it's at! Between the pandemic and the Tik Tok generation, short is key. Using short(er) texts, we can pair pieces and allow for students to practice comparing, making connections between texts, and learning from multiple resources.
As a mentor text, I love the shared writing I did with Instructions on Listening to the Trees so I'd like to share it. First of all, this piece is about paying attention and writers need to pay attention! It was a great way to kick off the year but this could be something to talk about at any time. Secondly, this poem is about community. I realized very early on in remote teaching that I have to be extra intentional about building community. Now that we are hybrid, this is still something I am paying attention to. Talking about it is important. Which leads me to shared writing. Not only are we reading about community but we each offered a line and I merged all the lines together into our own co-created poem.
So when you read the poem, here's the line I zoned in on for students:
"And this is when I remember home"
I then asked students to step outside, notice, and write a line to finish their line: "The way..." My students are middle schoolers so I felt okay to ask them to step outside with the disclaimer to stay safe. I wrote my own beginning inspired by Mahogany L. Browne's poem and then added my students' lines. Here's a snapshot of the beginning:
I also tried this with teachers in my district and here's how that poem starts:
Y'all, this is just ONE poem from this collection. Every single poem is a gem and is so inspiring. Another one that resonates with my students is I've Been There Before. One of my 8th grade students was inspired to write about feelings he's been experiencing. I invited him to share with the class and what he wrote really resonated with others in the class. It was awesome. I'll be sharing slides that you can use with students in the Story Exploratory Patreon community this week.
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