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 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

Three Things Thursday

3things-thursdayHere are three things I read this week that moved me, challenged me, and encouraged me.  I hope they do the same for you.

 

1. Information Writing that is NOT the “Research Paper” by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell

From the authors of Writing with Mentors comes a powerful post on writing and research and our students.  Not only is this post challenging, but they also provide a wealth of resources to help!

Not only do we limit our students’ understanding of research when we limit students’ information-writing experiences to the extensive, academic writing assignment described above; we completely dumb down their understanding of the complex, multifaceted world of information writing.

2.  The Importance of Doing Laundry:  Maintenance Matters by Kate Roberts

Thank you, Amy Fouse, for sending me this post.  I love the new and the innovative, but Kate is absolutely right.  We must celebrate the maintenance because that is where most of the real work is happening.

I would argue we do not spend enough time talking about and celebrating the labor of teachers – all the maintenance it takes to get great and innovative ideas up off of the ground and into the world. And we do not spend enough time helping each other to find sustainable ways to practice that maintenance and keep it going.

3.  Open Conferring Notes (Or:  How a Case of Mild Hypochondria Helped My Teaching) by Katy Wischow

I’ve had the honor of being in Katy’s class twice — once at a Teacher’s College Institute and once at Homegrown.  Reading this blog post makes me feel like I’m right back there with her.  Katy’s reflective (and humorous) voice gets to the heart of why we need conferring notes and why we should share them with students.

But what if we started to think of conference notes not as teacher tools, but as teacher-and-student tools? What if we changed the purpose and intention and power of conferring and conferring notes? What if, in fact, we thought of them not as a tool at all? What if we thought of conference notes as a structure or a routine, like gathering on the rug or keeping a writing notebook, something that creates time and space for something we value?

 

The Family Legacy

Thanksgiving week I received the following text from my cousin, Katie:

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My grandmother, Betty Wall, was an amazing woman. She lived a life of servitude. People often remark how my grandmother made them feel like they were the most important person when they were with her. That’s because, to my grandmother, they were. She knew little things matter.

So my cousin’s comment is true. All of Betty Wall’s children and grandchildren find that there are ways in which we are our grandmother. She lives on through her family, through the things we do.

23c049c900000578-2861606-the_finish_this_is_a_team_this_is_a_family_this_is_target_he_con-m-1_1417744063359Recently Omeleto posted this video of a manager who clearly understands motivation is important–especially right before your retail doors open on Black Friday. As I was showing this video to a group of teachers, this manager’s use of the word family stuck with me. While this clip is the only glimpse into his leadership style I have, I would guess he has instilled a sense of family with his workers, and his enthusiasm and sense of purpose–we are doing something important–lives on in the way his employees treat customers and each other.

fullsizeoutput_42caThis is our first week back to school since NCTE. In the three days I’ve been at work, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve referenced something from the conference—a quote from a presentation, an author who shared, a text that was mentioned, a challenge that issued, Kwame Alexander’s amazing library scarf… My extended NCTE family lives on through my work in my small part of the world because of how so many of them let me in their lives through their writings, presentations, tweets, videos and more.

And my small part of the world is where I can make a difference.

So I wonder: What of me is living on through my professional family? I say a lot of things are important (and I’m sure they are), but what do I do that will be passed on to others?

This is my first year as a system literacy coach and out of the classroom. I wonder what do the students who sat in my classroom do that if they thought about it would say, “That is Ms. Wall to the max.” Would it be something that makes me smile from pride? Would it be anything at all? What about my newly inherited family of teachers I work with now?

img_2842What am I passing on?

My grandmother didn’t get to leave a list of the things she would like for us to do so her legacy would live on, but I’m pretty sure she would be proud of my cousin, Katie, and the other things our family does that is grandmother to the max. I want the same to be true of my life and my educator legacy.

Save

When we fail. . .

2016-02-09 09.53.18I took a hiatus from my blog during January to work on my dissertation. My chair told me I needed to have a complete draft by the end of January to graduate in May. I didn’t make the deadline. (I am now shooting for completion by April to graduate in July.)

This is the season for college applications, which means the season of writing lots of recommendations and editing lots of admission essays. A question I see that keeps popping up for college applicants as well as job applicants—in some manner or another—is name a time you’ve failed and how you overcame.

In my English 10 classes, we are working on our Shakespeare themed units. I wanted to do something different with this unit, and I wanted to provide choice. I planned what I thought was a great structure to do that. I would be lying if I said this unit had been a success. There was something lacking in the unit.

Failure has been on my mind.

What do you do when you are a teacher and you feel like you didn’t succeed, or more 2016-02-09 10.58.18bluntly put, failed at a lesson or unit? Reflect, self-assess, make notes and adjustments, learn, and do better.

But also, be okay…no be more than okay, be proud that you took a risk, you tried something new, you learned, you grew as an educator (and probably as a person) and your students will benefit from this. Celebrate that!

We have a responsibility to our students, to our profession, and to our future to reflect on our practice. We have a responsibility to make sure that we are reading current research, engaging in proven professional development, and learning from a community of leaders in our field.  We have a responsibility to make sure that we are growing as educators and we are putting that into practice so that our students are growing as learners and citizens.  But if we are doing that, if we are measuring ourselves by the best education has to offer, if we are stepping out of our comfort zone to do what is right, then we also have a responsibility to let ourselves fail, reflect on our learning from the failure, and go back the next day ready to try (with tweaks) again.

I was quite bummed about my unit. I had been so excited about it, and I was frustrated that it didn’t come to fruition as I had envisioned. I was talking with a colleague about my frustrations with the unit. She asked me why I thought it didn’t go like I had envisioned. I responded with something like, “I don’t know. Something just isn’t right.”

The question haunted me. I needed to really reflect: What was it that specifically that went wrong? What was I not happy with? Why did it not go like I wanted? How could it have gone different? AND what did go right?

I realized timing was a bit of an issue with this unit. Since timing became an issue, I didn’t focus as much on reading and writing skills to make up for loss of time. Choice was another issue. Although I didn’t dictate how students wrote in this unit, I felt I forced them into the box of one particular lens for too long. I should have started with the teacher-directed lens and then let them explore others on their own.

Now that I named the failure, I know what to do differently, what to do better next unit.

But I also had to think about what went right. Students’ final tasks as well as their online discussion about the texts showed a real sense of understanding—way beyond the surface level. Students weren’t just reading a Shakespeare play because we always teach a Shakespeare play. They had purpose and direction. Students were able to discuss themes across texts—they talked about the impact of the theme of deception not only in the play they studied for this unit, but also in their independent novels, informational texts, and other Shak2016-02-10 11.14.40.jpgespearean plays.

[Side note: One thing I did make sure we did was have 10 minutes of class reading time for independent novels three to four and sometimes five days a week. After I commented on how I loved seeing a particular student with two books in hand, she said, “It’s because of you. You made us read, and now I can’t stop.” That’s a success.]

Mary Ehrenworth once said something to the effect of it is worse to keep teaching as we’ve always taught than to try to do right by students and not be perfect. I was far from perfect in this unit, but I know I tried to do right by my kids, and in doing so, the failure unit helped my kids grow more as readers and writers than by not doing anything different.

If you want to see some of the end results from this unit, look at these examples and this student created music video.  The final project (which accompanied a paper, a online Socratic discussion, and reading journals) was a creative piece on how a character they studied viewed deception presented from the character’s point of view.  This part of the unit was successful.  Many of them also discussed other themes in their interpretation.

Bonus Read:  Pernille Rip seems to continually challenge me with her thoughtful posts.  And she always seems to know what I’ve been discussing with my colleagues.  I love her openness to conversation about hot topics and her fearlessness in tackling them head-on.  If you have found yourself in a discussion on whole class novels, I suggest you read her post, “So You Teach a Whole Class Novel – A Small Idea to Help.


First Week Impressions and Priorities

The first week of school is so important, so I’ve been thinking about how to make the most out of it–from the very first moment.

First Impressions

In just four days, I will stand outside my door, greeting students before they enter my classroom for the first time. As soon as they pass the threshold, they will make first impression judgments based on the way my classroom looks. Classroom arrangement is an extension of our educational philosophy. What2015-07-28 16.38.13 does my classroom say about what I believe? I hope it says…

  1. Reading and writing are important, encouraged, and fun.
  2. Talk is necessary.
  3. We are going to laugh.
  4. This is the students’ classroom.
  5. We will be doing in this class.

We Must Read

One of the saddest things students tell me every year is that they used to love reading but not now. This stems from a variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, I want to change the culture of reading in my students.

  1. Students will create a “Books I Want to Read” sheet in their class notebooks (we keep our writer’s notebook and reader’s notebook in one binder).
  2. Start with a book talk:  I’ll start with Gregory Galloway’s As Simple As Snow. From the very first sentence many students are hooked on this ASASbook. One former student recently admitted via Facebook that he “took” a copy because he loved it so much. I’ll consider that a win. Galloway has visited students in our county twice; mailed students additional clues (which I’ve kept copies for students); and created a website with supplemental material.  (Side note: Book talks happen every week in my class. The media staff and I alternate weeks so the students are hearing from a variety of voices about a wide range of books. Other great ideas can be found here: 6 Simple Ideas to Get Kids to Read.)
  3. Speed date—with books: I will have 5-7 titles at each station. Students will visit each station for about 3 minutes, writing down titles of interest. Keep in mind that if I have 165 students, I need to think about the number of titles and copies of books I need so that 7th period has just as much and just as good of choices as my first period.
  4. After they visit all the books, they will check out a book. We will not discuss their Lexile score nor the Lexile scores of the books. This is about getting students hooked on reading, about giving them choice, about encouraging a love of reading.  For a powerful conversation about students who don’t read on grade level, check out My Child is Not a Struggling Reader.
  5. Students will keep their reading logs on Goodreads. This will be new to many of my students, so I will have them log on in class.
  6. Freedom to abandon books:  What makes me think that students who are not in the habit of reading are going to select a book they love the first time? Or why would I want to discourage readers from trying a new genre by forcing them to stick with something they may not know if they like? Students need to know that it is okay to abandon a book, but also the help to find a book they will like.
  7. Time to read–immediately: If students don’t have time in class to get hooked into their book, they are less likely to read it at home. If it is as important as I believe, then I have to make time in my class for it.

Bonus Read:  Donalyn Miller always challenges me as a reader and an educator.  Her post Patron of the Arts is no different.  There is so much in this post that you must read, but here is a little snip-it: “Our teaching goals would be better served if we read the text first, enjoyed it as readers, and then reread the text for instructional purposes.”

Up on Deck

Our first unit is a memoir unit. These are the professional resources I’ve been reading to help me think through this unit.