MENTOR TEXTS: WHAT ARE THEY? HOW TO USE THEM? WHERE TO FIND THEM?

Burning QuestionsTHIS IS A PART OF THE BURNING QUESTIONS BLOG SERIES. AT THE END OF EACH POST, YOU WILL FIND RESOURCE LINKS AND A LINK TO A ONE-PAGE PDF WITH THE INFORMATION IN THE BLOG — INCLUDING RESOURCES.

A few years ago, I planned this really great lesson. I modeled how to analyze a text by doing a read aloud/think aloud with Kate Chopin’s Désirée’s Baby. I don’t want to brag, but it was an awesome lesson. The students were rapt, they loved the story, and they wrote down everything as I marked up the text under the document camera.

It was a series of beautiful moments, until I asked students to repeat the process in another one of Kate Chopin’s short stories.

Many set there confused. Most annotated very surface observations about the text. I left that day confused.

What happened?

Well, many things happened (or didn’t happen), but one thing for sure, I hadn’t really understood the power in mentor texts and how to harness that power. I was just showing off how much I knew in a high-interest text rather than really teaching anything transferable for my students.

Ralph Fletcher describes mentor texts as:

“Mentor texts are any texts that you can learn from, and every writer, no matter how skilled you are or how beginning you are, encounters and reads something that can lift and inform and infuse their own writing. I’d say anything that you can learn from – not by talking about but just looking at the actual writing itself, being used in really skillful, powerful way.”

And as Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth so beautifully wrote in their book Writers ARE Readers:

“Leading the student to understand what he did as a reader can become a lens that brings into focus what the writer had to do before a reader ever saw the page.”

What we teach in writing can be flipped to teach in reading.

While I had a great short story, it wasn’t really a mentor texts because I didn’t teach any skills. I didn’t select purposeful moments in the text to model the SKILL work. I didn’t show the STEPS so the students could replicate the skill in their own reading or writing.

There’s tons of great resources out there about using mentors. And that’s because of how incredibly powerful mentors are. Once I actually figured out that mentor texts weren’t a platform to show all I knew about a text but rather a platform to show students a way to lift their level of reading and writing craft by noticing and imitating skills, my lessons became more accessible and transferable.

The students felt empowered not intimidated.

Mentor texts can be found almost anywhere from published high-interest texts to student work to your mail. Mentor texts can be used to teach everything from reading skills to writing skills to grammar. Mentor texts can be used as an anchor texts in the lesson to text set for students to use on their own work to tools to be used during conferring.

Just remember to be intentional, focused, explicit, and purposeful.

RESOURCES

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Burning Question Issue 6

 

PROFESSIONAL TEXTS:

PODCAST & VIDEOS:

BLOGS:

MENTOR TEXTS LIST:

FOLLOW #MENTORTEXT & #MENTORTEXTS ON TWITTER & INSTAGRAM FOR MORE IDEAS!

 

 

 

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How do I start my class period so I can take attendance and not waste time?

Burning QuestionsThis is a part of the Burning Questions blog series. At the end of each post, you will find resource links and a link to a one-page PDF with the information in the blog — including resources.   

Let me start by confessing: I was the worst at remembering to take attendance. The attendance clerk at my school was amazing, and she often received her favorite candy as an apology from me.

Attendance IS important. Maybe more so today than ever. We need to know where students are (or aren’t) and in a timely manner for safety among other reasons. So I get it. I was the one who needed to change. I needed a routine.

But what might that look like? About 83 different ways (or at least that’s according to a quick Google search).

Truth: There are a ton of different cute, fun, interactive ways to start class.

Truth: Many of those ways do not reflect the values of my classroom.

I believe there should be a routine to the beginning of class – one that gets students engaged in reading, writing, or craft study immediately. After teaching the students the routine of beginning of class, I should have to say very little (if anything at all) at the beginning of class. This gives me a chance to take attendance immediately when the bell rings (or for forgetful teachers like me — have a student take attendance and let me know who is absent). This way in 60 seconds or less, I can get back to the students.

Here are some things to think about when deciding how to start class:

  • Does this reflect the values I’ve established for my class?
  • Does it minimize transition time?
  • Is it “real” meaningful work or is it busy work?
  • Is it something that can be a routine so that it adds structure to the class and gives students a sense of securty from the beginnig of class?
  • Is it sustainable and manageable for me?
  • Can students do it with minimum assistance from me?

One year, being the clever teacher I am, I decided to do something different each day of the week. For me, it was a disaster! Too many different things – neither I nor the students could keep up with it and I ended up abandoning it.

But I do think it can be helpful do one thing on Mondays and Fridays and something else on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays. Or do one thing during reading workshop and something different during writing workshop. Or a combination that works for you and your students.

There’s not one right answer to this question although there are some wrong ones. Often we don’t figure out the wrong ones until we’ve tried them. That’s okay, as long as we learn and change to maximize the time for learning for students.

Here are some ideas but you have to know yourself as a teacher, reflect on the practice (using the questions above), take a risk, and try one or a combination:

  • Independent reading (from Penny Kittle)
  • Article of the Week (from Kelly Gallagher)
  • Status of the Class (from Donalyn Miller)
  • Invitational Grammar Instruction (from Jeff Anderson)
  • Poem a Day (from Nancie Atwell)
  • Voice Lessons Craft Study (from Nancy Dean)
  • Reading Minute (from Kelly Gallagher)
Beginning Class1
Burning Question Issue 3 PDF

RESOURCES:

Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week archive (hear him talk about it here – scroll down to video or read about it on pages 47-50 of Readicide)

Donalyn Miller’s Status of the Class (read about it on pages 34-36 of Reading in the Wild)

Nancie Atwell’s Poem a Day

Nancy Dean’s Voice Lessons (HS) or Discovering Voice (MS)

Kelly Gallagher’s Reading Minute (read about it on pages 44-45 of Reading Reasons)

Jeff Anderson’s Invitational Grammar Instruction (read more about it in his book Everyday Editing)

Independent Reading – You can read about it here or here or here or here but you should also most definitely read Penny Kittle’s Book Love and Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer

 

 

How do I make sure I have enough time to get everything done?

Burning QuestionsThis is a part of the Burning Questions blog series. At the end of each post, you will find resource links and a link to a one-page PDF with the information in the blog — including resources.   

Well, the short (and somewhat unsatisfying) answer to this question is you don’t.

One thing I do know is that every. single. second. counts when you are doing reading and writing workshop in a 45-60 minute period. To maximize those minutes, my first suggestion would be to spend time at the beginning of the year setting up rituals and routines.

Teaching students how to check out books from the classroom library, how to come to the meeting space, how to work in reading/writing partnerships, how to get help from other places than the teacher, how to work during work time, how to come to a small group conference, and so on is going to save you massive amounts of time across the school year. This also builds a sense of autonomy and independence in students.

Another suggestion is to monitor how much time we spend on transitions and each component. of workshop. How long does it take students to get in class and get started?  How long does it take to start instruction after a transition? How long is the teaching time (mini-lesson)? How much time is spent transitioning at the end of class?

When I started with the workshop model, one of the first things I realized was that I talked too much. Like way too much. I had a student time me every day, every period until I got good at keeping my lessons short and honoring student work time. You might be surprised when you truly analyze where time is going in your class and find that you actually do have places where you can gain more time.

Start each class period with a sense of urgency – that this lesson, this work, this writing, this text matters—will make a difference.

Looking across the school year, the fact is we only have 180 days with students. Well, that’s 180 days minus fire drills, field trips, state testing, library days, severe weather drills, and well, we can all continue this list.

One piece of advice I received from Mary Ehrenworth (my hero) was to pick an end date for each unit and stick with it. It was so freeing! Once I could decide this is where the unit is going to end, then I could set about the work of prioritizing lessons in that unit.

It didn’t matter what happened during that unit, I knew I only had X (even if X changed) number of days to teach the students what they needed to know most to grow the most in the standards we were studying. It kept me from stealing time from other important work by pushing the end date back and back.

And it helped me—and the kids too—keep that sense of urgency, because we knew the task at hand and the days available.

So once you have maximized every possible second in every single day across the year, then you prioritize within the unit what is it that your kids need the most right now so they can become better readers, writers, and thinkers. You teach, work, confer with purpose and urgency as much and as best as you can within the time you have for that unit.

It’s not easy work. It requires constant assessment of ourselves and our students. It’s keeping the end in mind. It’s staying purposeful, urgent, and mindful in our work every day. But it’s worth it — for our students.

Getting it All Done1

Professional Books:

Randy Bomer’s Time for Meaning:Crafting Literate Lives in Middle and High School

Samantha Bennett’s That Workshop Book

Lucy Calkins’ A Guide to the Writing Workshop

Lucy Calkins’ A Guide to  the Reading Workshop

Blog Posts:

Amy Rasmussen’s My Classes are Only 45 Minutes — How Do I Do Workshop?

Pernille Ripp’s How I Teach English in a 45 Minute Timeframe

Lanny Ball’s Fitting It All in: Solving Predictable Problems

Beth Moore’s Creative Scheduling in Middle School

PD Videos:

Lucy Calkins on Mini-Lessons

Lucy Calkins on Making the Most of Your Time

Ruth Ayers on Writing Workshop Beginning Procedures

How do I set up my room for a meeting space (without tearing down a wall)?

Burning QuestionsI haven’t posted in … well, it’s been a minute.  One of my goals is write again here.  I asked some colleagues what they thought were 6-12 grade ELA teachers “burning questions.”  And let me just say, I have the BEST colleagues.  They were so thoughtful in their responses — which helped me launch this new series for my blog.  

PS — At the end of each post,  you will find a link to a fancy one-page PDF (shout out to my incredible brother for designing it!) with the information in the blog — including resources.   

How do I set up my room for a meeting space (without tearing down a wall)?

I once taught a class of 32 high school students in a single-wide trailer. One morning, I literally found a student on the roof of the trailer.  And who could blame him?  We were packed!

At this point, I had yet discovered the power of the classroom meeting space.  But thinking about how cramped we were in that trailer brings great empathy for teachers trying to create meeting areas in less than ideal spaces.

I think the first thing we have to realize is the power of the meeting area.  I was a little late to this party.  As a high school teacher, I felt the meeting area to be way too elementary for me. Then, challenged by one of my mentors, I tried it.

I was wrong.

2016-02-09 12.39.00It wasn’t childish at all.  Most of my students loved it! It built a sense of community in a way that really can only be accomplished through this closeness of learning together.

Once you decide that a meeting space is a priority, you have to make it happen.

It took me many tries and student help to figure out how to really arrange the classroom in a way that worked.  I finally settled on a student-design of desks in groups of four forming a U-shape with the open area in the middle my meeting space.  You can see pictures here or here.

At this point in my career, I was lucky enough to have a nice space to do this.  Thinking back to my trailer days, I wonder what I would have done.

I know it would have taken a lot of thinking, moving, organizing, sweating, and prioritizing.

Here are some questions that might be helpful in thinking through this:

  1. What are my non-negotiables in the classroom? (Think: meeting area, classroom library, etc.)
  2. What is the teaching space vs teacher space vs working space ratio in my classroom?
  3. How does the way my space is organized reflect my teaching values?
  4. What do I have to keep and what can I get rid of?
  5. Can I make any space work for more than one thing?
  6. Is there awkward space I can repurpose – such as lockers, under the whiteboard, etc?
  7. If I’m limited on space, how can I set up the room to where it will be easy for students to move chairs, desks, etc for the mini-lesson and then back again? (This is totally a teachable routine.)

Last, I would leave you this suggestion.  Start at the beginning of the year with a meeting space.  Even if you are unsure about it, start at the beginning and do it with a positive attitude.

You just might be surprised.

Resources to Check Out

BQI1_Meeting Space2
Burning Question Issue 1 PDF

 

PROFESSIONAL BOOKS

Debbie Diller’s Spaces and Places

Ruth Ayres & Stacey Shubitz’s Day by Day

Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle

BLOG POSTS

Two Writing Teachers’ Why We Gather

ReadWriteInspire’s Inspired Design

The Daily Café’s 7 Steps to Classroom Design

PICTURES, VIDEOS, & IDEAS

HoCo’s MS & HS Classroom Areas

Michelle Wolf’s The Meeting Area in Workshop

ELA Coach Wall’s Workshop Meeting Area Board

Pernille Ripp’s My Classroom without Students

TOOLS TO GET STARTED/REDESIGN ROOM

Scholastic’s Classroom Set-Up Tool

Classrooms4Teachers’ Classroom Architect