Wednesday, October 16, 2013


So much depends

a  right angled

iced with multiple

inside our essential 

I thank and apologize to William Carlos Williams for his gift,  the often-used mentor text (The Red Wheelbarrow), which assisted me in thinking  about the task before me.

I am thinking about mentor texts.

More specifically, I am thinking about which questions will evoke critical thinking about mentor texts.  What questions and quotes will provoke reflective conversations around mentor texts?  
What questions will foster new insights and expanded learning concerning  mentor texts?

I am privileged to be facilitating a session with fellow NWP teacher consultants/authors Lynne Dorfman, Rose Cappelli, and Carla Truttman at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting in Boston.

We present on Thursday, November 21, 2013.

C15: Collaborative Conversations: Exploring the Use of Mentor Texts Across the Curriculum
3:30pm - 5:00pm Hynes, Level 2, 205

What is a mentor text? What makes a quality mentor text? How do we choose and help students find appropriate, real-world resources to use in our classrooms to inspire writing? Join us for interactive roundtable discussions about how teachers across the grade levels and disciplines use mentor texts from all genres to teach writing and expand thinking.
Rose Cappelli, Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project 
Lynne Dorfman, Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project 
Robin Holland, Columbus Area Writing Project 
Carla Truttman, Northern California Writing Project 

We have never met in the physical world.

I am eagerly anticipating meeting in person these ladies whom I have only  "met" through the airwaves--on the radio, on the telephone, through email, and

I have learned from each woman, as we began a conversation about mentor texts on NWP Radio, and as we continue to communicate in various ways to prepare for our NWP session.
Listen to our  previous conversation on NWP Radio Program, Reading, Writing, and Mentor Texts:Imagining Possibilities  which originally aired March 28, 2013.

We each agreed to post three questions on our Google.doc planning document before we "meet" again at the end of the month--questions designed to initiate thinking and talk in our session. 

So... I am allowing questions to swirl and dance around me, to hover just above my reach.  I am musing and pondering, wondering and wandering through my own understandings around mentor texts.
I am identifying my own questions -- and those that teachers often ask me in presentations.

What do I know and believe at this moment about mentor texts?  
What am I still seeking to understand?

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to present at the OCIRA Conference in Cincinnati.

One young participant, a student teacher, considered the mentor texts I had shared as we talked about developing  writing ideas and creating deeper writing possibilities. Perhaps feeling a bit overwhelmed as she thought about the huge volume potential selections in the book universe, she raised an excellent question:

As new teachers, how do we begin to choose potential mentor texts? How do we know where to start?

Along with the other veteran teachers in the room, I assured her that in time she would intimately know many books.   She would, indeed, need to take the time ( and it would take time) to begin to know books.

But in the meantime, as a started point,  I suggested that she think not about specific books so much, although she will certainly discover many books to love. Instead, I suggested that she focus on particular authors---those wonderful writers without whom many of us could not teach writing.

Those excellent writers who produce a variety of types of texts, all and always high quality literature for all ages-- picture books, early and middle chapter, as well as essays, books about writing craft, novels, poetry and also adult texts.  By knowing the work of several authors well, she will have a beginning pool of excellent books from which to choose when selecting mentor texts, when wanting to highlight a particular feature, element or structure. She will have a pool of excellent writers to stand beside her as she teaches writing.

Who do we include on that list of must-have authors?
Well for starters... but definitely not a complete list,  I could not teach writing without the books of the following writers:. Theirs are the books I find myself returning to again and again for many different reasons.

Eve Bunting
Sharon Creech
Sharon Draper
Nikki Giovanni
Nikki Grimes
Virginia Hamilton
Julius Lester
J. Patrick Lewis
Lois Lowry
Patricia MacLachlan
Walter Dean Myers
Christopher Myers (his son)
Marilyn Nelson
Patricia Palacco
Linda Sue Park
Cynthia Rylant
Allen Say
Peter Sis
Shaun Tan
Chris Van Allsburg
Jacqueline Woodson

Jane Yolen
Who are the authors without whom you could not teach writing? 
What other advice would you give to new teachers who are  just beginning to use mentor texts?

My students used to laugh when I would begin to introduce a book.  Mrs Holland, you always say the book/the author is your favorite.  You love them all!  

They were right,.  I have not yet read anything that did not teach me something about writing. And rarely did I share a book or texts that I did not love.

As I share models of writing and mentor texts with writers, there are some books that I manage to work into almost every presentation, class or workshop-- my "perfect" books.--those that can be used on a variety of levels to model a variety of writing possibilities-- those that are simply perfect  and complexly wonderful..

Here are my top three (at this moment):

I managed to mention  A Wreath for Emmett Till  at OCIRA last Saturday, despite that fact that it was not in my notes nor on my slides.--- it fit the conversation.

And this is my newest favorite because of the complex structure and unique writer decisions-- I have not yet had a chance to use it with  writers:

What are your all time favorite, most versatile mentor texts--those that you appropriately work into every lesson, presentation or conversation, if possible?

As we implement the Common Core State Standards, it is crucial to note that reading and writing are expected to take place, as they should, in all content areas, including social studies, science and math.

What does reading and writing look like in those subjects?
What are appropriate mentor texts for content area writing?  
How can mentor texts be used to foster expected discipline-specific writing, language and forms? 

What was the last discipline specific text you read?  What did it teach you about writing?

And finally, we all know that just like everything else, there is a chance we may choose the wrong text-- an inappropriate text for the potential writing or the writers in front you.

What cautions or caveats would you share about choosing or using mentor texts?
When have you been less than happy with an experience? 
What did you learn about mentor texts and writing from your unsuccessful experience?

What do you know and believe about mentor texts?
What are you still seeking to understand?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on your own writing practice.  
Who are the writers that have most influenced your writing? 
Who have you imitated? From whom have you borrowed?

Which books or other texts have taught you important lessons about writing?

Write a reflective essay about the authors and texts that have most influenced your own writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment