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Telling and choosing our own stories

For this year’s Boston University/Boston Green Academy Summer Institute (which I’ve blogged about before), we decided to change up our usual routine of reading one book, and this year we chose two – Darius and Twig by Walter Dean Myers and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

Our essential question for our rising ninth and tenth graders was about how much we determine our own lives and how much they are determined by others’ expectations of who we will be. I wasn’t sure going into the two weeks how well our books would play together, but I needn’t have worried. These two books about writers were rich ground to explore in our time together.

myers_darius & twigOur students were anxious to find out what would happen to Darius and Twig, the writer and the runner, who face challenges as they navigate coming of age in a world that is far from perfect. (I miss Walter Dean Myers already so much and his wonderful stories of our imperfect world.) Even the most reluctant readers this summer had thoughts about these two characters and the choices they made. And our some of our students found that kinship that happens sometimes with characters whose backgrounds related to their own.

woodson_brown girl dreaming_170x258Then, we began to write our own stories, and we turned to Jacqueline Woodson to teach us how. And she’s a great teacher. Somehow, in her beautiful, sparse vignette poems, our students found inspiration and ideas. But it was more than that – I think her poems became a permission slip of sorts to tell their own stories and to experiment with images and tones to craft their memories into words. I’ve usually had experiences where students have been intimidated by poetry, but that didn’t happen with BGD. Instead, our writers dove right in to writing their own experiences as poems.

All in all, the two books we chose for this year’s essential question fit together after all, and I’ve gotten interested in book pairs that allow us to focus on a theme when reading and can also serve as writing models. I’d love to hear if others have tried this or have pairs that worked well!

 

Christina Dobbs About Christina Dobbs

Christina Dobbs is an assistant professor of English Education at Boston University. She is a former high school teacher, literacy coach, and reading specialist, and she studied adolescent literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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