Literacy Matters Vol 24 Winter 2024

decisions to include nature writing, nature journaling, and nature walks in my high school ELA class. With 26 years of teaching ELA in a large public school in a working-class small town, I understand the complexity and necessity of providing a healthy and nourishing classroom (academically, mentally, culturally, and physically), and this necessity propels my quest to offer a positive, representative, and engaging nature writing unit. Methodology The two sets of journal responses analyzed here are pieces of a more extensive action research study I conducted with a nature writing unit I taught in AP English Language and Composition. A teacher chooses to learn through action research by “engaging in cycles of inquiry and practice” and “responding to the continuous need for development and change” (Bradbury et al., 2019, p. 7). Taking on an action research project means adopting “transformative social learning with a change agenda” (Bradbury et al., 2019, p. 7). I began an action research project with my AP English Language and Composition class in the fall of 2021 because I wanted my nature writing unit to develop into a more inclusive and engaging literacy experience that would foster self-reflection, develop critical literacy skills, and represent various perspectives of nature. Ladson-Billings (1995) says CRP is “a way to encourage praxis as an important aspect of research” (p. 483), which leads one to believe that action research has the potential to produce practical insight about the ways theory informs instructional choices, as well as how students respond to instruction in light of theory. The action research process begins with observation that leads to recognizing and investigating a barrier to learning. One of the barriers to learning I noticed was the lack of texts that adequately represent students and connect to their lives here and now. Classic texts have remained because of their universal appeal, but in the case of the nature writing unit, as I had previously presented it, the classics did not fully convey the diversity present in American history nor the class. My overall action research plan included holding class outside at regular intervals and engaging in reflective writing while outside. However, for the study presented here, I focus specifically on one aspect of the larger action research project - the addition of World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (2020), as the anchor text for our nature writing unit. I chose World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments (Nezhukumatathil, 2020) for several reasons. The book is a nature memoir; the author details one natural item per chapter (a plant, an animal, or a landscape), which then evolves into a metaphor for a personal anecdote she shares in the same chapter. As a poet, Nezhukumatathil selects words and crafts sentences with the layered meanings and lyric quality of poetry. Each chapter fits into a larger message about family, nature, love, and time. Nezhukumatathil’s mother is from the Philippines, and her father is from South India, and she realistically and poignantly tells stories of life as an Asian American girl in the 1980s. She is active on social media and accessible to students outside the class. The book presents a profound

knowledge, encouraging students to intellectually question texts and policies (Ladson-Billings, 1995). In this study, I examine student responses to center student-generated knowledge and their ability to respond critically to Nezhukumatathil’s text as they reflect on their feelings about nature. In 2014, however, Ladson-Billings offered what she called a “remix” (p. 75) of her original description and endorsed a second iteration of CRP detailed by Paris (2012), who called the remix culturally sustaining pedagogy. Many teachers and researchers embraced CRP’s call to be inclusive with texts, languages, and approaches to literacy when Ladson-Billings published her extended definition in 1995, but there was still a need to work toward valuing pluralism and adjusting to the fluidity of cultural change. Paris (2012) offers CSP as a term to represent learning that “sustain[s] the cultural and linguistic competence of [students’] communities while simultaneously offering access to dominant cultural competence” (p. 95). As the federal government purports to preserve natural landscapes for the benefit of all, and “the outdoor recreational ethos became an implicit right of citizenship” (Young, 2021, p. 10), populations who recreate outdoors and the writing that comes from outdoor recreation should also represent the plurality of American society and be present in ELA curricula. In this study, I investigate the ways students respond to Nezhukumatathil’s texts through these researchers’ suggestions for teachers to be conscious of pluralism and sociocultural fluidity. Do students’ responses offer a critical look at the author’s perspective and subjects? Do their responses indicate a self awareness of their own cultural history with the natural world? Positionality I come to nature writing with the affinity of one who grew up playing outside, a Girl Scout who learned how to make her own Bunsen Burner with a coffee can. My neighborhood friends and I packed lunches, rode our bikes into the woods, and spent entire afternoons pretending we lived among the pines. I created an imaginary world in the sandbox under a mimosa tree in my backyard, strengthening my association of nature with imaginative play. My mom taught me that the outdoors was the origin of magical adventures, and when we played outside, she showed me how to look for the fairies, trolls, and leprechauns we had read about together. Stories and the natural world were always linked for me, from fairy tales and Bible stories to The Boxcar Children and Little House on the Prairie . My near obsession with hiking may likely be my adult way of recapturing the outdoor magic of my childhood. I have learned, however, that my love of hiking, the National Park System, and all things outdoors, including many of the texts about the outdoors I read as a child, derives from a middle-class, white understanding of the natural world. Some of my students have had similar upbringings, but more have not, for various reasons, including the busyness of children’s schedules, advanced technology, and changes in parenting styles. Some students may have traumatic or fearful associations with the natural world. My longing to share the benefits of time in nature, combined with my longing to preserve our landscapes, drives my instructional

Literacy Matters General Articles

Literacy Matters | Volume 24 • Winter 2024 | 9 |


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