Reimagining Mentor Texts: A Collaborative Process

Leave a comment about this post for a chance to win the updated edition of Mentor Texts.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since Mentor Texts was published. Our process for collaboration on that first book involved endless hours of study – pouring through picture books and student work to imagine the possibilities for using children’s literature in writing workshop. Our process for the second edition was much the same, but we had new questions. What would be most helpful to today’s teachers? What new mentor texts did we discover? What did we see students struggling with as they composed?

We believe that teachers of writers need to be readers of professional books as well as children’s literature. Teachers need mentors, too, that will stand beside them as they teach the writers in their classrooms. Since many professional learning communities promote study groups and book discussions as a way to network and learn collaboratively, we decided that each chapter should close with a new section. “Think About It -Talk About It -Write About It” was imagined early on with the idea that teachers rely on their colleagues to think through new ideas and problem solve together. After we revised each chapter, we returned to look for places where we felt teachers might benefit from a layered reflection with colleagues and an opportunity to try something out. These sections add a new dimension for all learners, including preservice and graduate students.

One of the most engaging features of both books is the Treasure Chest, an annotated list of books. This final chapter helps teachers choose mentor texts for writing instruction. In working on the revised edition, we realized we would need to examine a collection of books gathered over a decade ago and update it to include titles that represent today’s diverse classrooms and writing challenges. We removed books that are currently out of print. We replaced them with titles that could do the same work and also add a new dimension to the existing collection. Searching for a variety of styles and formats that would inspire students, we took a close look at the authors and illustrators, too. Since many teachers have asked us, “How do you decide if a book is a true mentor?” we give them a peek into our process. We began the Treasure Chest with a discussion of Toad Weather by Sandra Markle, demonstrating how we look at a book as a mentor text.

Feedback from teachers often centered on the Your Turn lessons as a way to experiment with the writing strategies discussed in each chapter. The gradual release of responsibility model, including reflection, helped teachers become more confident and relaxed about teaching writers. Our Stenhouse editor suggested we add additional Your Turn lessons for each chapter. This request raised a new question – What should we focus on? For the past several years we have benefitted from working with students in many schools and districts. This gave us a chance to reflect on what writers across grade levels struggle with the most. As we planned, we talked about writing new sections for the second edition that would specifically address these needs. One area we wanted to address was the use of dialogue, a key element of story. A big discovery for us was that teaching students how to punctuate dialogue should not precede teaching them why conversation is valuable to a narrative. Our new section, “Dipping into Dialogue” and the Your Turn lesson at the end of the chapter will help teachers lead students to a deeper understanding. We heard the familiar cry “I don’t have anything to write about!” everywhere. To help students get started, we introduced “What If?” stories and “Neighborhood Maps” as two additional ways to find writing topics. New sections with accompanying Your Turn lessons that ask students to take risks and grow as writers appear in every chapter.

We learned a great deal about writing professionally when we tackled that first book, and through the years we have continued to grow as writers and teachers of writers. We remain constant in our belief that children’s literature as mentor texts can help writers of all ages experiment, grow in sophistication, and delight audiences. We invite you to imagine the possibilities with us.

Lynne Dorfman is a co-director of the PA Writing and Literature Project. Currently, she is co-writing a book about writing workshop with Stacey Shubitz. She tweets @LynneRDorfmanRose Cappelli is an independent literacy consultant and current president of the Keystone State Reading Association. She tweets @RoseCappelli. Find Lynne and Rose at www.mentortextswithlynneandrose.com.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION (from Stacey):

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6, 2nd Edition.  Many thanks to Stenhouse for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6, 2nd Edition, please leave a comment about this post by Wednesday, May 31st at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, June 1st.
  • 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 if you win.  From there, my contact at Stenhouse will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – MENTOR TEXTS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.