New Thinking About Mentor Texts + a Giveaway

Permission to include excerpts of Mentor Author, Mentor Texts by Ralph Fletcher (Heinemann, 2011) was granted by the publisher.

I was recently offered a position as an adjunct professor starting in 2012.  I will be teaching a graduate course about using children’s literature to teach writing.  As I prepare to teach this course, one of the things I have to think about are the professional texts I will require my students to read, as well as ones to put on the suggested reading list.  One of the books I’m considering is Ralph Fletcher’s Mentor Author, Mentor Texts: Short Texts, Craft Notes, and Practical Classroom Uses (published in August 2011).

I received an exam copy of Mentor Author, Mentor Texts from Heinemann, which I began reading shortly after it arrived on my doorstep.  While I haven’t made a final decision about which list to put it on for the course I’m teaching, I must say I think it’s a must-read for the folks who read this blog.  It not only provides some of Fletcher’s best thinking on the ways in which to use mentor texts in your classroom, but it includes a goldmine of writing from Fletcher.  Each of Fletcher’s texts comes with “Writer’s Notes,” which are explanations about his writing.  The Writer’s Notes are the next-best thing to having Fletcher come and talk to your students about his writing!

Here are some excerpts from Mentor Author, Mentor Texts that will make you think about ways you can guide your students to examine mentor texts in more open-ended ways:

Too often we direct students to “do stuff” with these texts, rather than allow them the choice and time to encounter the texts on their own terms.

So instead of assigning tasks for students to do with these texts, I suggest we offer them a range of strategies — we might even call them approaches — and encourage students to find the ones that feel right to them. …

  • Read at lease once for pleasure.  The mentor texts we learn the most from, the ones that have the biggest impact on our own writing, are the pieces we truly enjoy.
  • Reread at least once for craft.  The first time we read for the what: content, ideas, and information.  After we know what the piece is about, we can read it a second time for the how: craft.  Robert Cohen, a novelist who teaches at Middlebury, once remarked to me: “I read everything twice, once to enjoy it, and once to steal everything I can from the writer.”

Rob is right–rereading is probably the most important way to delve deeper into the inner workings of a text and begin figuring out how the writer put it together.  But it’s a balancing act.  As soon as we require students to undergo repeated rereadings of a text, we risk squeezing the life out of it.

  • Reread with a pencil (or highlighter) in hand so you can mark up the text.  We want to encourage kids to be active, not stand back in awe or disinterest.  Let’s give them as much autonomy as possible in this regard; encourage them to make this process their own.  For instance, instead of listing predetermined things for students to look for, you might invite them to come up with their own labels for craft elements they notice.  …
  • Save texts (or snippets of texts) you especially like, maybe clipping snippets in your writer’s notebook.
  • Talk (in small-group or classroom discussions).  (Fletcher, 2011, pgs. 8 & 9)

I appreciated the various ways Fletcher suggests that we can have writers interact with texts.  There isn’t just one way to read a book for use as a mentor.  In addition, there’s no “right” way to read a mentor text.  It’s a very personal thing… we must guide the students in our classes to find the right way (to interact with mentor texts) that they can work with mentor texts.  By doing this we encourage students to become independent so they can seek out their own mentors as they move through their life as a writer.

Fletcher includes an introduction of himself to students on pages 11-14 of his book.  He advises students to ask the following questions of themselves as they’re reading and rereading any text they might use as a mentor:

  • Is this mentor piece once I can learn from?
  • What do I love?  Or not love?
  • What is the author doing that I have never done in my writing?
  • Why did this writer do this or that?  What was his thinking in the decisions he made along the way?
  • What is one part that I admire?  Or don’t admire?
  • What seems most surprising here (in terms of how this is written)?
  • Does this mentor text have any takeaways — something I can take/borrow/steal for my own writing?  If so, what?  (Fletcher, 2011, pg. 13)

If you’re looking for a new book that can help you lift the level of your writing instruction by using mentor texts, then I highly suggest picking up a copy of Mentor Author, Mentor Texts for your professional library.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • Thank you to Heinemann for agreeing to sponsor a giveaway of one copy of Mentor Author, Mentor Texts.

  • To win a copy of the book please leave a comment about this post, in the comments section of this post by Sunday, October 30th, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. EST. A random drawing will take place on Tuesday, November 1st and the winner’s name will be announced in a blog post later that day.

  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and have my contact at Heinemann send the book out to you.  Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.