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!

 

 

 

How do I know if my students are really reading?

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.

Kids are great fakers.  If I’m honest, I was a pretty good faker in school too.  I’ll never forget a teacher saying he was going to give us a super hard test on a book and if we didn’t read it, there was no way we would make an A.  All I could think was challenge accepted, dude.   

If I didn’t like a book, I knew ways to fake it to get the grade I wanted.  Students in my classes know the same tricks – and maybe a few more (and better) ones too. 

I’m a part of a professional group that recently asked the same question.  The answers surprised me – many were playing a game of “gotcha” with kids usually via some horrendous quiz.  

This brought back memories of another teacher who assigned a book – a book I loved and read every word!  His quiz included questions such as how long was the rope that the character bought.  I got the question wrong, and I had read the book.  The fact I remember that 20+ years later tells you the impact it had on me. 

So, if we know kids fake it at times and we know “gotcha” quizzes can punish students who actually read, what do we do? 

Here’s what the research and experts suggest isn’t effective: 

  • Reading Logs– While reading logs are okay for informal formative assessments or information for the reader, they should not be used as a grade.  DonalynMiller once said that reading logs only measured which parent had a pen on Friday morning.   
  • Jots– Again, jots are not bad.  Jots just should be about instruction, reading growth, and the reader. Assigning 15 jots of at least 3 sentences each does little to ensure reading; rather, it often has the unintended consequence of students worrying more about jots than reading and thinking about reading. 
  • Incentive-based Programs– Whether this is a purchased program or a “homegrown” created program, incentives can often lead to diminished reading in the long run.  There’s lots of research on this.  I suggest checking out Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards (1995). 

So then what’s the answer?  Here’s some thoughts on where to start: 

  • Talk to students – Conferring is arguably one of the best ways to know if students are reading.  If we are using independent reading time in our class, during that time, we should be talking to kids about their reading!  Students should know we are a readersby the way we promote books, make recommendations, etc.  They don’t need to see us reading.  They need us talking to them about what they are reading! 
  • Get students talking to each other – While the teacher/student conference is incredibly important, it is equally important to have students talk to each other about their reading lives.  This can be done through book clubs or informal book talks or partner talks.  Students talking about books and their reading has so many positive implications, it really is a priority to implement it in every classroom.  But implemented well and with intention and purpose. 
  • Access and choice and time – Students have to have access to high interest books they want to read and the time to read them.  If we get students hooked in a book, they will read.  But we know that not every kid is going to be “hooked” by the same book.  Students need to have choice — and to have choice they have tohave access to lots of different, high interest books that are mirrors and windows for them.  Then, of course, it follows, if students have access to choose a high interest book, they will need to have time to read it.  What we spend time on in our classrooms reflects our values as educators.

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PROFESSIONAL BOOKS: 

BLOG POSTS: 

VIDEOS:

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

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?

 

Three Things Thursday

3things-thursday

Here’s three things I read this week worth sharing.  Hope you are as challenged by them as I am.  Learning together, C

#1 The Work of Back to School by Chad Everett

So many wonderful things to say about this post.  I want to keep this post near me this year and continually ask the questions he poses, reminding us of the meaningful work that we do every day.  If you aren’t following Chad Everett on Twitter, you should.

Know this: your classroom does not have to look like it’s pulled from a Pinterest board to make you an effective teacher. You are enough. You don’t have to teach like a pirate, like a champion, or like your hair is on fire to be enough. You do have to commit to showing up for 180 days and doing the work—the work that is not always visible, the work you may never be recognized for doing, the work that is the foundation of all the other work.

#2  How to Deal with Student Grammar Errors by Jennifer Gonzalez 

This is forever the question of most ELA teachers.  I love Jennifer’s transparency, honesty, research, resources, and applicable tips.  This is the place to start for thinking through grammar instruction in our classrooms this year.

…here’s the most important thing any teacher of English language arts should take away from this post: Grammar taught in isolation, outside the context of meaningful writing, has been found to have no significant impact on the quality of student writing; in fact, excessive drills can have a detrimental impact on it.

#3 How Do You Know which Books to Purchase?  A Few Tips to Help Build A Better Classroom Library by Pernille Ripp

You don’t have to be around me long before I’ve probably suggested a post from Pernille Ripp’s blog.  I just love her!  In this post, she gives suggestions on how to make your classroom library a place where students want to go to check out books.  With limited (or no) budgets, we need to make smart choices about what books we are investing in.

4 years ago I realized that while our library was full, it was not great.  It was not something the students could use.  It was not something they wanted to use.  So I embarked on a journey to get better books in the hands of my students.  I found a better way to spend the precious money we have to get books for our libraries.  And it worked.  Slowly, our library has grown to now encompass more than 2,000 books.  Books that the students want to read.  Books that are worn out from use and not from age.

As we begin another school year, I wish . . .

Our teachers went back to work last Wednesday; students come back tomorrow. In the last two weeks, I’ve been asked numerous times, “Are you ready for school to start?” When I respond that I am excited, without fail, I get the shocked face.

People are never ready for that response.

And that got me thinking.

I’ve been in church my entire life, and I have had the honor to hear many missionaries who have come back to the States for a furlough of sorts – to rest and refresh, spend time with family, raise funds, and so on.

I can’t remember ever hearing anyone ask missionaries if they were ready to go back to their mission field.

Likely because any time they talked about their mission field, their faces radiated with enthusiasm and passion. They believed in their calling and their impact.

I’m sure they loved seeing family and friends, shopping at American stores, getting favorite foods they couldn’t get where they were. And rightly so.

Just like we, as educators, should enjoy our summers. It is a needed time of rest and refreshing. Some of us work additional jobs or travel and visit family. We get to have our morning coffee without carrying a stack of papers with us. Or have lunch at our favorite places and take longer than 30 minutes to eat.

And summer does always seem short. Many of us will go back without finishing all the projects we wanted to get done or visiting all the places we wanted to go or reading all the books we wanted to read.


But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be excited about our job, our calling. We are about to walk into classrooms filled with students – students we can directly impact. We matter. Our job matters. Our perception of our job matters. And how we portray our job to others matters.

So I wish for you the excitement of a new year filled with possibilities.

I wish for you the passion to make a difference in the lives of the students in your classroom.

I wish for you the overwhelming love of what you do every day.

I wish for you the compassion for the difficult times and the difficult people.

I wish for you the desire to continue to learn, to become better at your craft.

I wish for you the friendship of colleagues on this journey with you.

I wish for you the classroom that is full of risk-taking and writing and reading and talking.

I wish for you the vision that sees beyond today to the future of these students.

I wish for you the sense of urgency to know what you and how you teach matters.

I wish for you a school filled with great educators doing what is right for students.

I wish for you the best year yet.

 

The Essential Struggle

This weekend I 14224960_1129373007131241_6981254197435218770_ngot to hang out with my 10-day old, most awesome nephew, Maddux. When he was born, the doctor realized Maddux was having trouble breathing. Immediately, a plan of action was devised and over the next 7 days, Maddux was cared for by an amazing team and then released to come home—tube and wire free, breathing just fine.

Something that struck me through all this was the systematic way the medical staff worked a plan based on constant data and then used new data to inform every decision they made.  They also let Maddux struggle.

As it turns out, the struggle was good for him. It helped him learn and grow, and eventually, he became an independent breather, who no longer needed the help of the machines. Even so, it was hard to watch, particularly for my sister and brother-in-law.

There are some parallels to my nephew’s first days and my days in the classroom. I, too, used data to inform my plan of action to help students. I, too, had a goal for students to learn and grow14322325_1227557657265008_2558212819383732400_n and eventually become independent. I, too, watched students struggle—just not always very well.

When students couldn’t quite figure out how to organize their essays, or the importance of a writer’s word choice, or the theme of the text, I had a hard time letting struggle for longer than a few minutes (or even less than that). It was painful at times, to be honest, to see their scrunched up faces (or blank stares). I could tell by the clenched teeth and furrowed brows, they needed me!

Students do need their teacher, just like Maddux needed the doctor and nurses. They needed me to see what they could do on their own, provide a scaffold or give them a tool or teach a skill, and then let them try again. What they didn’t need is for me to do it for them.

Also, just like medical field, we have an obligation to do no harm. When the medical staff allowed Maddux to struggle to test his lungs, they were right there to step in when needed. We can’t let students struggle alone, while we sit behind our desks. They have to know the we are here if it 14310518_1134203783314830_4838295706442931632_obecomes too overwhelming, too hard, to the point no learning is happening. We have to be responsive to the needs of our students.

Students need to struggle so they can grow towards Independence. We, as teachers, need to be purposeful and intentional in allowing students to struggle. We need to be responsive to students needs and give students tools needed when the struggle is too much.

It was a matter of life for Maddux. And it’s a matter of living that life independently for our students. We can’t always be with our students—on the high-stakes test or in life outside our classroom.

We need to let them struggle in the safety of our classes, so they can be confident in their independence outside of it.