Share your own experiences with using mentor texts in the classroom. What has worked and what doesn't? What do you see as the real benefits for students?
If you haven't used mentor texts, explore how you might incorporate their use in your writing classroom. Also, please feel free to ask questions about the use of mentor texts if you haven't yet tried this technique.
I've used mentor texts several times over the years--I guess I just didn't have a name for what I was doing. Now that I know this is referred to as using mentor texts, I'll call it such. I was teaching in a residential treatment facility for a few years and had a group of troubled teens that this worked really well with. I took several different poems for one unit, including poets as diverse as Langston Hughes, Nikki Grimes, E.E. Cummings, and Emily Dickinson, to mention a few, as well as student writing I had collected previously and kept for examples. It sparked so much interest that the students wrote several poems of their own, and we collected them and made books of their poetry. I now have three really neat poetry books from those years that help me to remember the students and hear their voices again. This chapter is wonderful. It really gives a lot of ideas, examples, and ways to use different genres. I'm taking my book to school this week. I look forward to implementing some of the ideas. The best part is that you truly become the facilitator, and the students are totally engaged in what they're doing.
I think mentor texts could be an excellent resource in the classroom. First, I think it is really important for students to be exposed to a variety of different types of texts. I also think that providing students with certain texts can acts as models to them. It would be difficult to write a personal narrative if a student had only read the description of what a personal narrative is and had never actually heard one. Its unrealistic to expect our students to be able to write something when they haven't been exposed to it. I think mentor texts could also set high expectations to students. If students become impressed with the word choice, language, structure, or power that a piece had over them, they could become encouraged to produce writing that had similar effects on other people. Mentor texts could also help students in the brainstorming process. It helps them generate questions, relate the texts to their own lives, and eventually chose a topic that is relevant to them. This relevancy and choice makes the writing engaging and authentic to students. The mentor texts helps students to get this authentic experiences. Working with mentor texts also helps student develop reading comprehension skills. As students work with mentor texts they are analyzing the texts, making connections, questioning aspects, and other things. These processes all go way beyond just reading a text. All of these things that I have described that come from incorporating mentor texts into the classroom are very beneficial to student growth.
I am so extremely grateful to Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli for helping me develop confidence in my own writing by introducing me to the concept of mentor texts several years ago. KWR won my heart when she shared at a workshop that her first invitation to contribute to a "wall of fame" with a quote of her own left her scrambling to read everyone's comments first before she dared add her own. Now when I'm invited into a classroom, invariably the first thing I do during the howdydo's is ask a student to give me a novel being read. My goal is to demonstrate that you can open to any page and find a specific writing craft lesson staring back just waiting to be emulated. These books have never let me down yet. What has become even more effective is actually using student work to show writer's craft in action. What I've found is the writing lesson from any text has to be concise and easily isolated from the whole text. A dialog mini lesson, for example, works really well just as long as the teacher models before letting writers loose in groups and/or as individuals.
When l taught 7th grade writing, I used The Giver by Lois Lowery as my mentor text. Lowry’s descriptive language created such a picture in the reader’s mind, which lead perfectly into class discussions about how as a writer she was able to do that with her choice of words. After much discussion about the descriptive language, students were asked to receive a memory from someone else and to share one of their own memories with me, being as descriptive as possible, like the author. The book also had quotes that lead to some really good discussions. Quotes such as: “After twelve, age isn’t important. Most of us even lose track of how old we are as time passes, though information is in the Hall of Open Records.” (Ch. 1) “What’s important is the preparation for adult life, and the training you’ll receive in your Assignment.” (Ch. 2) “Memories are forever.” (Ch. 18) The quotes naturally lead to students generating questions that related to their own lives, or I generated the questions.
After reading this third chapter, if I had it to do over, I would show my students how to create their own compelling questions.
I use mentor texts in my classroom when I start a new writing piece. I usually choose a professional piece and a student piece so students can see that they, too, are capable of good writing. I like Robb's suggestion of reading several mentor texts in the opening weeks of a new writing piece. I like to give students copies of texts to annotate, but if copying is limited, you could also keep a few copies around the room for students to go back and read, like Robb suggests. I think we tend to stress reading more than writing these days, but students can learn a lot from reading if they apply it to their writing. When I did my student teaching, my mentor teacher had Wondrous Words all over her walls where students could pull excerpts from the books they read when they really liked the author's craft. By the end of the year, there were quotes from various authors and genres splattered around the room that the students could turn to for inspiration.
I was so proud of myself...the first to post for chapter three, but somehow it's gone..so here goes again. When I was in the language arts classroom, I used Barry Lane's Book a lot, After the End. The book really is about helping students learn to use writing strategies after they started a piece, but I used it for all stages of writing. His book was the first place where I saw someone using excerpts from other high quality texts to explain or illustrate a writing strategy. One strategy example where he used a mentor text was "explode a moment." He actually explained the strategy and provided excerpts from fiction texts that the students were familiar with or if they weren't, asked to read after using this excerpt. This was when I took the idea and ran with it. At one point, I would teach a strategy, provide an excerpt that demonstrated that strategy and then have students look for other examples in the books they were reading. They kept reading logs with the strategies they learned and the examples they found in their self selected reading materials, along with their reflections on their nightly reading. Students would be so excited to share what they found. Of course, they were asked to create that strategy in their piece. I think having a mentor text is like having the perfect example, something concrete, illustrative, something they can wrap their minds around.
I have not used mentor texts before. We are redoing our writing process this year. I have a consultant from KEDC coming in to my classroom monthly. We are working on a narrative right now. Reading this chapter had given me some ideas to incorporate with what she has given me. I want to work on giving the students more responsibility for their work. I like the fact of giving them the responsibility so quickly during this process. I am planning on using the compelling questions that Laura listed. I love having ideas that I use during my lessons.
I can't imagine teaching students to write without using mentor texts! Kids love to see how other writers write. I like to use a combination of both professional and student-generated pieces. I have found that students find the professional pieces intimidating at first. They feel that their own writing will never be that good. Once they are more comfortable with their own abilities, I bring out the professional pieces. I have worked quite a bit with Angela Hilterbrandt and she has given me lots of great writing resourcesn and activities, including many student-generated mentor texts.
Being back in the classroom for the first time in 12 years has its challenges, but I have found that a librarian can snoop out the best resources for teaching and I have done just that, reaching out in many directions so that my students never feel that their teacher has been out of the classroom so long. In our first unit, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry we have used the text of the book for many many writing mini lessons thanks to a group called Secondary Solutions that I found at www.teacherspayteachers.com. We have written many paragraphs throughout the reading of the book focusing on parts of the book. We've looked closely at paragraphs in the book that have good transitions, use precise words, have a great thesis statement, as well as good chapter conclusion paragraphs. Hopefully looking closely at these things will help prepare them for their narrative. I also have narratives a teacher saved from last year to share with them.
Again, my problem always seems to be time. I guess it's every teacher's nemesis.
I have used mentor texts for many years after taking a class at U of L on student writing. I rely heavily on mentor texts especially when writing our personal narratives and articles. We always start with reading a few and then compiling traits that we notice about the genre. This helps my students know what they need in their writing. Also, mentor texts have been helpful when showing kids what they need to add to their pieces during revision. I always write a piece along with my students, but sometimes they need to see what other "real" (or what they consider to be real) writers do. That way it isn't me who is being critical, but giving them ideas on how writers use details or a good lead, etc. in their writing. Some of my better pieces have been results of reading mentor texts and then doing mini-lessons on a topic.
Since I have never taught yet, I have not technically used mentor texts in my own classroom. However, I have (attempted) to design units of instruction when the end was some sort of piece of writing the students needed to use, and I used mentor texts throughout the unit that the students would read to see how an author specifically used a strategy I was targeting to improve their own writing. What I love about it is that I have taken fairly dense pieces like "Letter from Birmingham Jail," as well as "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweet" and incorporated them in lessons so that students focus on one particular element of the writing the author (or orator did well). When students are just focusing on one piece of the writing, they are not as overwhelmed by the readability of the piece, and they have a great mentor text to look back to and find guidance on how to improve their own writing.
Robb introduced me to the idea of using mentor texts that are also extremely readable and approachable by students, and I loved the section on compelling questions that can help students engage with various texts. What I am curious about is how teachers continue to add to their repertoire of quality mentor texts to use in classrooms without being overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to read! In one of my other classes, we discussed building a literate environment in classrooms and creating a diverse library of materials for students to read, and when my teacher showed me how she used even newspaper articles for classroom instruction, I was both impressed as well as hit by the realization that I have a lot of learning to do. I suppose that is one of the big challenges I see with mentor texts: exposing myself to enough texts to be able to share quality ones in class.
The best lesson I have learned about read-alouds also applies to the use of mentor texts for writing: teach one skill at a time. When I first began teaching, I wanted to share everything I loved about a text with my students. I failed to see how I was stifling their own analytical thoughts and encouraging off-task behavior in the process.
I want to blow up the following lines on page 72 of Robb's book to serve as a reminder for me every time I pull out a text to share with students: "When you demonstrate how to analyze a mentor text, beware of holding the floor for no more than two or three minutes because you'll lose middle school students in a heartbeat. Remember, active involvement, not passive listening, is the way to capture their interest, So quickly turn the process over to your students." I believe her words in my heart, and have seen evidence of their truth in my classroom.
One way in which I force myself to adhere to her recommendation is to choose extremely short mentor texts. My ELA department is reading Mechanically Inclined, by Jeff Anderson. He proposes using sentences as stand-alone mentor texts to teach aspects of writing. A few teachers in the department have employed this as a mentor text strategy and are thrilled with the results. Students are becoming what Nancy Atwell refers to as "sentence stalkers", constantly searching for sentences that demonstrate a particular convention or craft skill. They relish the idea of finding (or writing) a sentence that the teacher will use as a mentor text.
Thought you would like to know that your post prompted me to think about how long I "take the floor" when I visit middle school classrooms. Yes, too long so I am resolved to revise my practice Your reference to "sentence stalkers" also prompted me to think about creating a catchy phrase to associate with following Sherlock's elementary advice to Watson to look for evidence in the text. I'm going to try "Sherlock's Sleuths" which I hope can be associated with both looking for textual evidence as well as writer's craft within a text.
I love using the book All The Broken Pieces. The language in the book as well as the fact it is a novel written in poetry form makes it a great resource to pull for different writing patterns. I'll pull text and alter it for editing purposes as well as having students write a story in the same form. It gives them an appreciation for thinking out of the box and getting out of their comfort zone. It also helps them be more critical of their work instead of always having to hear from me.
Although I use mentor texts frequently to model reading techniques, I feel uncomfortable with selecting text when it comes to writing assignments. I have tried to use mentor text with writing, but I still have limited experience with their use in the classroom.
Last year, my teaching partner and I used two picture books to teach pronouns based on a set of lessons from Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop by Jeff Anderson. The first was New York’s Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne which is a retelling of one of the first urban folktales in combination with a tribute to the firefighter’s that lost their lives on 9/11. We used the mentor text to teach pronouns and their antecedents in conjunction with a series of 9/11 lessons. We followed up with a pronoun lesson from the picture book, Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting, which is a powerful lesson about a family that lives in an airport and has learned to “blend in” but has dreams and aspirations of living in a home again soon.
From my perspective, there are many benefits for the use of mentor texts. First, the text can be read in a short amount of time which allows time for an accompanying activity during the same lesson. Second, sometimes the students are already familiar with a text and can move beyond the questioning stage of what the text is about to being able to examine below the surface for the compelling questions that make the lesson more powerful. Next, the author’s and illustrator’s of picture books that are often used as mentor text create powerful messages with limited words and pages that an be used for many different lessons/topics. Finally, mentor texts can be selected so that the struggling reader/writer in not placed at a disadvantage due to the complexity level of the text selection itself. For example, last year during our series of pronoun lessons, several of our special education students were the first to grasp the concept of pronouns referring to their antecedent. Students are often more open to tackling a text that appears to be “easy” which is probably one of the most compelling reasons to use mentor texts with writing tasks.
My biggest question is where do I find mentor text to use with sixth grade students? I know that there are lists on the DVD Classroom Resources, and I often refer to the ATN Lists on the www.nancykeane.com website for book lists and suggestions, but I still feel under-exposed to good writing when it comes to resources beyond picture books.