mentor texts · NCTE · social justice · writing workshop

Continuing to think about our mentor texts

I loved Lanny’s post from Friday about empowering writers using mentor texts. Also on Friday, Stacey Shubitz, Meg Kearney, and I presented at the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) in Houston about the importance of honoring, reflecting, and celebrating the diversity within classrooms through our use of mentor texts.

Throughout the weekend at NCTE, there was a drumbeat of the importance of inclusion in all of our classrooms everywhere. One of the final presentations was Necessary Conversations: Racially Diverse Books and White Teachers.  Aisha Saeed was one of the featured authors, and she shared a few thoughts that I wish I could quote exactly. However, I googled her after the presentation, and Saeed is quoted on The Author Village as saying:

“I never saw myself in the stories I read as a child so I wrote them myself. I enjoy sharing points of view that don’t often get considered and underscoring the common threads of humanity that bind us together. I hope to help all students realize just how important their stories are and how much their voice matters.”

Our presentation emphasized the importance of expanding our mentor text collections to reflect and respond to the diversity of our world. While we have to ask ourselves questions about where books fit into our curriculum and how books support mindsets, now, more than ever, we should be asking how the books we use promote social justice and cultural awareness. These questions do not apply only to the books we offer students to read, but also the books we use to teach students to write. Within this third category of questions, I’ve been asking:

Questions that support social justice and cultural awareness (2)

Combining the spirit of empowering writers with choice and expanding the inclusiveness of our mentor text collections, I have started to create what I’m calling mentor text charts. I will write another post about this in the future, but basically what I’ve been doing is creating charts of craft moves that exist in mentor texts. While Lanny writes about teaching students to do this work, I have creating collections that are already accessible to students.  For example, I have created one for Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall:

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 2.20.33 PMWith these charts tucked into the front cover of mentor texts, students can make intentional choices about what craft moves they’d like to see and find them quickly. Furthermore, once we teach students the value of mentor texts, then we can offer students choices in texts we use, and, in response to Saeed’s critically important point, we can greaten the variety and inclusiveness of the books students see. It matters.

A few resources the build and increase social justice and cultural awareness 

School Library Journal Diversity Toolkit:

Lee and Low- a publishing house that is committed to publish diverse books:

We Need Diverse Books- a non-profit organization that advocates for changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.

Teaching Tolerance- a website that provides free resources for educators, promoting the development of children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy

Social Justice Books- A guide and resource for selecting anti-bias children’s books

5 thoughts on “Continuing to think about our mentor texts

  1. Melanie, I have used those helpful mentor text markings like the one from Jabari Jumps and other books you shared with me on the Good to Great Twitter chat. I am so grateful for your generosity. Thank you!
    Kitty Donohoe
    Classroom Teacher

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  2. Melanie – there ar so many great ideas here! I love the idea of posting some possible craft moves inside the mentor text. It empowers students to try ideas independently, and serves as a reminder to teachers as well. Supporting cultural awareness and social justice harkens back to the work of Katherine and Randy Bomer – thank you!!

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