Literacy Matters Vol 24 Winter 2024

Harjo, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Minerva Valerio. Given a list of nature writers, students might choose one they prefer and conduct an individual author study. Several podcasts also offer discussions on diversifying the outdoors and the writing that accompanies outdoor activities, but they, like any text, must be previewed for their appropriateness for a classroom. Limitations This study is limited first because I consider only a few aspects of diversity here, primarily ethnicity and gender. However, these are only a few identities present in the plurality of American nature writing. I continue to add more pieces to the nature writing unit with the purpose of widening the range of perspectives with each selection. Issues of physical abilities and body size are two areas that I would like to highlight next about outdoor recreation. Second, by focusing on two journal responses, I do not include class discussions or revised writing samples, which may offer helpful nuance to the data presented here if I were to expand the study, but also, students may not have been quite as open with their thoughts in a class discussion. Also, the examples I present have come from ELA classes for high school juniors and seniors only. Finally, the impact of teacher enthusiasm and presentation should be considered; my love for the text and the outdoors surely is visible to the students, and how a teacher presents a text can certainly influence how a student responds. Therefore, students’ responses to the text may not have been the same had they read the book entirely on their own or without their shared experiences outside. Conclusion Overall, students’ responses to Nezhukumathil’s nature memoir revealed an affinity for the author as a person and a respect for her as a writer and naturalist, which suggests they appreciated and learned from a text with which they connected on a personal level. No particular trait seemed to determine which students connected strongly to the author or the text. However, those who shared a cultural heritage with Nezhukumatathil remarked about the connection often enough to show its relevance to these students. On the contrary, the students in this class seemed to embrace Nezhukumatathil’s message about nature in a way that propelled them outward into other disciplines. Students researched animals on the internet to share with us in class: one student brought in a picture book that connected with the text, and another found sounds of the birds described in the book and shared the links with me so all could hear. All of them tried dragon fruit in class after we read the chapter that featured dragon fruit, which was a first for many, including me. Not only did journal responses indicate an appreciation for a culturally sustaining approach to nature writing, but their class participation suggests that they felt empowered by it.

and community a teacher serves. I encourage teachers to build text sets that suit their students’ needs and not necessarily to choose the pieces I have listed here, as my experience is with older students, usually high school juniors and seniors. Teachers can pair classic texts with more modern texts, especially when they consider natural elements in different ways. For example, a class might consider the theme of longing for the natural world as an escape from city stresses. Starting with a classic poem such as “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats (1890) would provide a time-honored perspective. Then a teacher might pair it with “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda (Holmes, 2023), “Characteristics of Life” by Camille Dungy (2012), and “Screens,” a song by country music songwriter Hardy (2023). Offering a variety of texts, including those of personal and cultural relevance to students in the class, opens conversations about perspectives. In terms of variety, a teacher might consider time periods, genders, ethnicities, abilities, styles, and genres so that students might see themselves reflected in the material. However, they may also extend their understanding by interrogating an unfamiliar take on the common theme. For those with options in their text selection, building a multigenre text set centered on one element of nature writing provides choice options as well as opportunities for comparison/ contrast lessons (on how the topic is presented and constructed, as well as devices used and the purposes for each). For example, consider this multigenre text set based on trees, including the two texts mentioned in the article’s opening (Table 3). Every student may read every text in the set in whole-group lessons, or students could choose texts to which they relate and then work with other students in the class for comparison purposes. The essential question for the unit might be, “What is the value of a tree?” Students could produce their own answer to the essential question at the end of the unit in nearly countless ways: photo essay, poetry, personal essay, video production, blog post/vlog, podcast, eBook, or song. I have included only a few classic poems about trees; there are certainly many more by legendary writers, but I wanted to prioritize cultural relevance and diversity of genres, modes, and symbolic meanings for this list. For a text set with a local connection appropriate for older teens, I recommend centering J. Drew Lanham, Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University and author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature (2017). Table 4 lists a variety of genres of writing from him and about him, which could form the basis of an author study of someone who is actively publishing and can easily be found online and someone with whom students in South Carolina might relate. Finally, teachers can begin to gather texts and authors’ names appropriate for their own databases and classroom libraries so that they have a variety of authors representing different genres, historical periods, perspectives, ethnicities, cultural influences, and physical abilities. Here are just a few writers not previously mentioned who I have found to present a variety of perspectives on a person’s relationship with the natural world: Wendell Berry, Jericho Brown, Annie Dillard, Joy

Literacy Matters General Articles

Literacy Matters | Volume 24 • Winter 2024 | 13 |


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