Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pacing, Pulling, and Pondering with MENTOR TEXTS: Reflecting and Planning

Whether you find yourself clocking hours pacing around your room as you proctor your students taking the K-PREP, or you just notice your brain moving from this year to thinking about next year, it's about the time of year to ponder and reflect on the successes and "need to repeat" strategies from past year and the "want to dos" for the approaching August start date. Since you'll be passing by your bookshelves every so often as you pace or digging into them when you inventory books for Jennifer, this might be the perfect time to ponder MENTOR or "Touchstone" TEXTS for the 2013-14 school year.

You know as well as I do how easy it is to collect piles and folders of mentor texts (e.g. books, articles, poems, etc.). Heck, I could probably be labeled your "pusher" at times! And though I've thought it and a said it several times over the last few years, "You really only need 3-4 per type of writing", I doubt I've been successful as practicing it or really preaching it. In fact, I'm pretty certain I could be called a hypocrite in certain circles. But, give me a chance, if you will, to revise my thinking about mentor texts and consider future possibilities with the help of some amazing mentor writers and instructional leaders to back me up. Here goes:

"Most important, I've learned that  we don't need hundreds of texts. It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that we do....In my experience, though, there are many, many ways a single well-written text can be used to teach students in conferences....In each of my two collections of mentor texts-- one for primary grades and one for upper grades- I have about twenty-five texts. That's it. In the collection I use for primary grades, I have picture books and short texts: a couple of memoirs, a few list books, several number books and alphabet books, and some nonfiction books. I have one good anthology of poems. In my upper-grade collection, I have four or five memoirs and the same number of short stories. I have several picture books. I have a few editorials and nonfiction feature articles. And I have one good anthology of poetry.  (p.129-130)
                                                        -Carl Anderson, How's it Going?

Should you find yourself wondering about how to select these mentors, Carl does offer some suggestions.

Some of Lucy's Favorites
  • Consider Texts We've Already Read to Students- While this advice might  seem "a day late and a dollar short", I'd contend it's perfect timing. All this time pacing or inventorying provides you with the opportunity (while you are monitoring your students, of course) to consider which texts are jam-packed with craft techniques, structures, and content you wish to highlight and use throughout the year. If you find that you absolutely LOVE using Alice McLerran's The Mountain Who Loved a Bird,  and you used it for teaching science concepts later in the year, anyway, why not introduce it in August and let the kids go ahead and fall in love with the story, the structure, the language, the artwork? How much more powerful will it be when you return to as a mentor over and over again (when studying narratives, or beautiful language, or personification, or purposeful repetitive writing). Why not?
  • Cast a Wide Net- as Carl suggests, don't limit yourself to long picture books. This is an easy one for us as we have always cut clippings from newspapers or magazines, or downloaded from online sources. The shift may be feeling comfortable using those nonfiction texts, poems, and within our few few weeks of school as we support our writers in Building a Literate Community- as we offer invitations to write from sparks in a variety of forms, as we immerse our kids in ALL kinds of writing.  (situations, forms, audience, purposes, and styls)
  • Cut Excerpts from Longer Works- Although it's so temping to feel like we have to use the ENTIRE text when we show students how to write in a certain way, it's totally unnecessary to always feel like we have to have to reexamine the WHOLE text. Carl contends that sometimes just a few sentences will do the trick- show the student the desired craft technique, or demonstrate the complexity of a sentence. The key is that that the child already knows and appreciates the text. Then they will seek to emulate that writer so they can have the same desired affect on their reader. So, consider cutting out a part to have that available for later use.
  • Use Student Writing-As a whole, we are successful with
    Student Writing -Kindergarten
    this...sometimes. As you support your students in selecting their best writing for this year's SHOWCASE PORTFOLIO, take time to scout the room for that perfect model text for next year. Make the effort to copy or save it on  your drive so  you have access to it in AUGUST! Too often we see it, love it, and then lose it because it gets put into a folder or taken home. What student written texts will you save and use... or pass on for a lower grade to use. (Always consider your colleagues when you search for student models).

    Enlist the Aid of Colleagues, the LMS, LC (me!), and your future students- though it's easy to get swept away in what we know and love, there are always new idea and perspectives out there. Ask someone else what they have found success with using. Better yet, put it in your plans for the fall (August is not technically fall, I know, but the powerful alliteration called me to use that word.) to have your future students search for mentors they want to have available in the class.
  • Write Text Ourselves- Carl suggests that you never underestimate the power of using your own writing as mentor texts. You will have the desired traits, craft techniques, processes, content, and focus, as well as a way for your students to immediately see you as a fellow writer.
  • Final thoughts: Consider the kids' interests, the power of variety, the opportunity for emulation.
 Though this list is in no way exhaustive, it certainly offers food for thought. It gets us reflecting on our past year and the mentors we loved and those we wish we'd had. It also offers us some of our next steps- whether that means we copy or pull from this year's collection or student work, or get looking for something we've never had before-we will at least have direction. At this point, you've: taught the new ELA units; know the demands of the standards; better understand the connection of the themes, and experienced much of the variety and types of writing the kids are called to do.  At this point, you're ready to pace and/or check, ponder, pull and list the best little collection of MENTOR TEXTS.

Likeable Links
Franki Sibberson finds literary nonfiction provides rich and varied writing models for elementary students. She shares some of her favorite mentor texts:

If you're looking for new nonfiction text models, you might want to explore Choice Literacy'sPinterest board Great Nonfiction for Kids. We add to it weekly, and it currently includesmore than five dozen annotated children's books: are your "tried and true" Mentors (models, touchstone) Texts? Please post!
"Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros is certainly on my list!
The Big Rock by Bruce Hiscock
My Worst Day column in Discovery Girl Magazine is a goldmine! (Simply choose a relevant and engaging topic for your new class of kids...when you meet them.)

How's it Going? by Carl Anderson (Heinemann)
Other supporters of mentor texts- Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, Ruth Culham, Ralph Fletcher, Jeff Anderson

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