Monday, January 25, 2016

Mentor Texts as Tools for Authors

Connections, Extensions, Challenges...

     The term 'mentor texts' is often thrown around, and in the past I might have claimed I have used them. Although truth be told, I don't feel like I've used them as effectively as I could. Often times I have a text I use to kick off a unit (which I now know is an anchor text), but I don't always reference it for authors throughout the writing process. So, this year I'm working on using powerful mentor texts to highlight the link between reading and writing, serve as an authentic model, and allow students to learn through inquiry.

     In all honesty, I've tried to improve this area of my teaching before, but I always feel 'stuck'. I sometimes get lost in my own thinking. Am I looking for a mentor text to model craft or format? I also have lost sight of my purpose at times when I get caught up in the content of the texts. Of course, it'd be wonderful if everything could integrate. But, I need to keep my end goal in sight and move forward. I've been fortunate that I have wonderful colleagues and friends who always have a book for everything. So for years I've skated by, but I'm ready to go to the next step for myself.

     Prior to break students were writing nonfiction narratives about how their family came to Colorado. This was the first time I've attempted this, and it crashed and burned! I couldn't find texts that matched what I wanted students to write. I just wasn't pleased with anything I found. (Once again, I think I was getting a little caught up in content, but it's hard!) Then, for any of you who truly know me, you know I begin to over analyze everything. Am I asking them to write something authentic? Is narrative the best genre to share this information? So, needless to say I was pretty miserable throughout the whole unit, struggled through, and now I'm working to forget it ever happened.

     In attempts to try again,  I'm preparing to launch into an inquiry study around feature articles. In Social Studies, our students are learning about the early people of Colorado's past, and through feature articles they will share what they add to their schema. I'm preparing to follow Katie Wood Ray's inquiry model. Currently I'm gathering texts with the help of her recommendations. Hopefully, after reading feature articles I'll feel comfortable choosing one or two to serve as our mentor texts. I realize through immersion students are going to use numerous texts as models, but I want a few really strong models that we know really well to refer back to while writing. Needless to say, I have my work cut out ahead of me, but I feel more focused than before. Approaching this through inquiry takes a bit of the pressure off of me. I don't have to find the perfect mentor texts. Together we can analyze many pieces and make some decisions for ourselves. I realize finding the mentor texts is only the first step, but I'm taking it one step at a time. Wish me luck!

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