Using Mentor Texts to Analyze How Kids See Schools and Teachers

It might be an interesting experiment to pose some of these questions to your students this fall:

“How do you see your teachers?”

“What do you like or dislike about school?”

“What would you change about how school is setup?”

I bet we would get a ton of answers that would spark debate and some good-natured arguments. Another interesting take on these questions is to look at how school and teachers are represented in popular middle-grade and young adult texts. I originally started working on this post as a way to access narrative writing by looking at how authors portray kids’ thinking about schools and teachers. However, then I got to thinking about the bigger discussion we as teachers need to be having with our students. I am going to use this in my classroom as a way for students to talk about their feelings toward school and teachers, and then connect how they feel to what they want in their own experiences in education moving forward.  I want to keep in mind that these middle-grade and young adult texts are written by adults for young people, but some of their descriptions about school and teachers are surprisingly accurate. It would be interesting to cut up and put some of these passages in front of students to hear what they have to say.

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Bullet Journal: Back to School Teacher Planner and Bullet Journal Setup (Year)

Get ready with me for the new school year! I love my bullet journal for keeping my general life focused and for daily morning pages; however, I am going to try to also use a bullet journal for my teacher planning this year. I end up always writing my teacher plans, dreams, and schemes all over the place. This could be in countless random notebooks, my personal bullet journal, and on my little clipboards. My goal is to put all of these things in one location-including my meeting notes-so the end of the year reflection will be easier and I will stay more organized. I also want to take much of my teacher planning out of my personal bullet journal and use that more for life goals, personal reflections, and other writing projects. I recently posted my August Plan With Me for my personal bullet journal, and if you don’t know where to start, here are some amazing Teacher Bullet Journals to follow on my Bullet Journal Round-Up Post. It is important to note that my spreads in this post are not all the way filled in yet. Once our calendar/contract are finalized, I can add in some dates and marking period cut-offs to my schedules. Also, like in my classroom, I like to leave some things blank because I find that there is something about filling things in as you go that is part of the bullet journal process. I think it encourages reflection at the end of one marking period to stop and reflect, and then go on to plan the next six weeks. I will post these as they are updated throughout the year.

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Diverse Texts Resource List: Listacles with Biographies

This fall I am facilitating a training on using diverse texts across the curriculum to help teach comprehension and raise engagement. While preparing for my training, I spent some time looking into activities that use diverse texts regardless of the assigned content area. The text Strategies That Work, 3rd edition: Teaching Comprehension for Engagement, Understanding, and Building Knowledge, Grades K-8 by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis is a great place to start because we all teach comprehension (we want our students to understand what we are talking about) and we all want engagement (attention and participation in the lesson). This lesson sequence uses a reading strategy that involves making lists into short, informal articles (LIST+ARTICLE=LISTACLE). I personally LOVE listacles and use them in blogging all of the time. However, I have not had my students make these short articles as a way to assess their summarization and synthesis skills. The text set I chose to go along with this activity focuses on biographies and narrative nonfiction. I wanted to include this type of text set because biographies connect to ALL content areas, and students can easily search out aspects of a person’s life or accomplishments as they learn the task. I have been busy reflecting on the areas in my classroom and instruction that need attention in regards to diverse texts and representation, and I definitely have some areas that will get my attention first when I enter my classroom for the fall.

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Diverse Texts Resource List: Brainstorming Questions with Princess Books

This fall I am facilitating a training on using diverse texts across the curriculum to help teach comprehension and raise engagement. While preparing for my training, I spent some time looking into activities that use diverse texts regardless of the assigned content area. The text Strategies That Work, 3rd edition: Teaching Comprehension for Engagement, Understanding, and Building Knowledge, Grades K-8 by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis is a great place to start because we all teach comprehension (we want our students to understand what we are talking about) and we all want engagement (attention and participation in the lesson). This lesson sequence uses a current event topic and marries the idea of diverse texts to encourage questioning. Participants will also get a chance to label and categorize questions to lead to further discussion. While I chose a current event topic and this particular text set, this strategy could be applied to a variety of topics or content areas. As teachers, we want our students to question the world around them to become better citizens. The fall is approaching quickly, and I am busy reflecting on the areas in my classroom and instruction that need attention in regards to diverse texts and representation.

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10 Criteria for Choosing Diverse Texts for Your Classroom

Can you hear me clapping? Can you hear me screaming in happiness? If you can't, imagine one excited English teacher from Kalamazoo, MI that is proud and excited her district is approving thousands of dollars in research to help infuse the curriculums and classrooms in it with diverse literature in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade. Currently, I am working on a team of teachers to read, research, and review hundreds of diverse texts. 

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Ways to Conquer Three Types of Assessments (So, I'm Not Taking Papers Home)

The secret behind our workload is our mindset. While I named my blog and place of reflection “writing mindset,” it really means teacher mindset regarding the job we are doing each day. I just so happen to love teaching reading and writing. The way we think about assessment leads us to take papers home. We believe that we have to take stacks home to provide effective feedback in our English Language Arts classrooms because that has been the tradition. However, a change in mindset can cause us to sway in our thinking; teachers can become flexible in how and why they assess materials in the classroom. Simply, We can minimize the paper load coming home each time we hand out an assignment due to the perceptions we have about the assignment outcome. Bottom line? We control our paper. 

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10 Strategies for Reading and Writing Conferences to Try This School Year

In my recent posts, I have declared my two main goals for this upcoming school year are building empathy and prioritizing reading. I want to focus on helping my students try to be better people who dislike reading less. Perhaps, I can also help them call themselves readers as they travel through the school year in my classroom. A way to access this love of reading is through conferencing in both realms of reading and writing. While I have used conferences in the past, this year I want to be extremely purposeful with conferences. I did mentor text warmups this past year, and I want to continue to keep my mentor text routine. I love using mentor texts to empower writers. However, I want to start class each day with independent reading. This will force me to put conferences at the beginning of class; it will become the most important thing we do each day. In order to make reading a priority, I have to show them that it matters. 

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Bullet Journal: August Plan With Me

it’s time to start planning to return to a routine. If you are like me, I rarely stop thinking about school; however, the start of August makes me pause and appreciate the small freedoms that happen when time off is happening. Things like morning coffee runs, errands to Target and the grocery store around 10am, experimenting with cooking different dinners for my husband (he is the main chef in our house), and doing work in front of the TV at home with my husky-lab curled up nearby. August is about gratitude. I found myself particularly grateful in front of a bonfire the other night on our anniversary…so I tried to recreate the image in my mind with this month’s cover.

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The 15 Diverse Picture Books I Plan on Reading Aloud in My Middle School Classroom to Kick Off the School Year!

For many years,  I lived in the school of thought that my middle-school students wouldn’t want to read picture books. As with many things in teaching, we don’t know until we know. I love reading aloud to my students, and naturally, they love it to because reading aloud goes back to a time when they loved reading as young children. As I could spend a lengthy bit of time here on this post about the apparent lack of love of reading that my sixth-graders come into my classroom with every fall, I will l quote Pernille Ripp from #NerdCampMI: “My goal is to make them dislike reading less.” Reading aloud to my students starts to work on this mission. 

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Middle-Grade Narrative Writing: Using Mentor Texts to Describe Skin Color

…The same call for inclusivity in the beauty industry is also in the same call for the materials that we put in front of our students. This necessity drives the movements behind #WeNeedDiverseBooks and a call for diverse classroom libraries. We have to make materials available to our students. 

I bring up this description of skin tone though as a conversation starter for how skin color is often depicted in works of fiction. If we focus on diverse literature, it is important to look at how characters are being represented on the page. How are our students able to describe themselves? What descriptions do they see while reading? What is included in our weekly read aloud? These questions impact the makers of stories in the publishing industry, and they impact the strategies we are using to teach our children. These questions are necessary to bring up and think about in terms of engaging with my young writers that need to have access to mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors in our classroom.

This post outlines different strategies as they are observed in 16 different middle-grade and young adult works of fiction. I am using mentor texts here to show my young writers that the works of published authors are not only accessible but can be unlocked to show them how to write. This post will give a great starting point to the young writer that desires to describe their character AND also make connections to that character’s background, culture, or identity through the use of skin tone identification. 

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5 Reflections and 15 Resources to Ignite Your Passion for Diverse Books

This post is inspired by Donalyn Miller after her #NerdTalk at #NerdCampMi on July 8, 2019. She is a warrior and book whisperer for reading in the classroom, but more so, she is also a person who is not afraid to “make good trouble.” She started her #NerdTalk by voicing that she was the teacher who often raised questions to the administration at the end of the staff meeting. While many of her points on reading have helped form the construct of my teaching identity when it comes to reading, I have to be louder about another element that makes up who I am as a teacher. As an advocate for diverse literature in the classroom, it is my duty to be downright rowdy when it comes to putting materials and books in my classroom and in my district’s classrooms. #NerdCamp was a grouping of largely white women, like most of the demographic of the teaching profession, and Donalyn Miller spoke to white educators directly in the call for boisterous and clear advocacy of diverse texts in schools. We all have to be a deafening, strong force when it comes to diverse texts.

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A Diary of My Day at #NERDCAMPMI 2019

#NerdCampMI in Parma, MI may be one of the best educational experiences a teacher can ask for in the summertime. Let me be clear: I was already tired from writing camp and wrapping up the school year. But, something about experiencing NerdCamp for the first time left my heart full and my mind open to possibilities in my classroom as a teacher and in my own life as a writer. It didn’t matter how tired I felt; I was ready to be a nerd.

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Reflection on the Past 10 Days: Teaching at the Third Coast Camp for Young Writers

Each summer I am called back to Western Michigan University’s campus. It seems I can’t leave. I got my Masters Degree in the spring of 2014, and I promptly started working with the Third Coast Writing Project’s Camp for Young Writers. Entering the director role in 2017, this camp has been a huge motivation and drive behind my personal development work each year not only as a teacher, but as a writer. It has also taught me a great deal about teacher leadership. My favorite part about writing camp is that each and every adult, volunteer, and student calls themselves “writer.” It is a community that is a given. What we as teachers often spend some time creating in the fall, just simply happens. It motivates me to create this atmosphere in my classroom year after year. We are all writers, after all.

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Middle-Grade Narrative Writing: Using Mentor Texts to Describe Characters

In my other post, “Middle-Grade Narrative Writing: Using Mentor Texts to Describe Setting (Snapshots)” I explained how a teacher could use examples or passages in mentor texts to help their young writers add details, description, and imagery to their narrative writing. This ability to “see” or visualize the imagery is called making a snapshot. Snapshots were first introduced to me by the way of Barry Lane’s The Reviser’s Toolbox. Characters really have five areas of focus when it comes to description: thoughts, feelings, actions, appearance, and speech. All of these areas can afford opportunities for students to learn how to do snapshots.

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In Response to Pernille Ripp's Post: "What Did You Want to Be This Year?"

Pernille Ripp asked her readers in her post “What Did You Want to Be This Year?”: “Did you accomplish the goals you set out to reach or did you realize that your life needed something else?”  Pernille Ripp’s blog is one of my favorites because she makes me think and reflect on who I am as a teacher. I love any situation that puts me in student-mode because I am ever learning. Ever since I saw her speak in March at the Michigan Reading Association Conference, I often remind myself of her words: “It is time to be reading warriors” and “for too long we have been too nice.” As I doodled these phrases in my journal during the conference, I nodded my head, I scrunched my nose, I squinted my eyes, and I did some reflecting on my own work. Now, as I close out the 2018-2019 year, I want to focus on what I wanted for myself in my classroom, in my writing lab, and in my teaching life this past year.

And to answer her main question, I accomplished some goals and I realized my teaching life needed something else.

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Emergency Calm for the Classroom Teacher

This post outlines the emergency response to helping you calm your teacher brain. This is what worked for me in a big moment like this example, and also in small moments when I feel like everything is piling up. Both types of moments can call for a teacher to scream, “TIME OUT,” and take a moment to breathe. This isn’t the first time I have written about teacher stress, but I wanted to share what worked for me when I was having a particularly difficult time dealing with the amount of stress.

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Middle-Grade Narrative Writing: Using Mentor Texts to Describe Setting (Snapshots)

I always start and end the year with narrative writing in some form. While I often focus on things like voice and ideas with this genre of writing, it really is all in the details when it comes to helping the reader see what you are talking about on the page. This ability to “see” or visualize the imagery is called making a snapshot. Snapshots were first introduced to me by the way of Barry Lane’s The Reviser’s Toolbox. I first got a hold of this text working closing with an elementary school teacher writing friend who explained to me, “You know what we do isn’t really all that different.” I have been changed ever since.

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"Why Education": A Narrative on Why I Chose to Be a Teacher (And Why It Is Still Pretty Great)

The conversation about teachers leaving the field of education is a real one. We hear the statistics early on: Teachers leave within the first five years of their career, new teachers struggle with anxiety and depression, the field of education is shrinking as a whole, and so on. The problem is all teachers feel all of these things at every point of their career. Teaching is hard. All the time. If it were easy, everyone would do it and attempt to do it well. But, we exist among those that are self-labeled as crazy for doing what we love to do. We are all going to have mornings where we don’t feel like going, where we drag ourselves to the doorstep of our buildings just to hold on to our coffee cups tighter. But the bottom line is, there are so many good things about this job that make a teacher want to keep teaching. And the truth is that the silent urge to constantly quit all the time is a friendly reminder we are doing the hard work. I often will scroll Indeed just to see what is out there or to feel like I have professional options. However, I have been faced twice with the option to leave, and I cannot do it.

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End of Year Reflection: Using Middle-Grade Mentor Texts to Teach Writing Skills

Sometimes we try something in our classrooms and we immediately toss it in the recycle bin as a really good try, and sometimes we find something that changes how we do business. Using middle-grade and young adult books as mentor texts in my classroom has completely changed how I approach grammar instruction and promoting literature in my room. I love mentor texts. I wish you could hear my screaming about mentor texts. I talk about them now all the time. The power for students to see their own writing on the page in the same manner as a published author coupled with the use of book talks in my room as a way to recommend books to others through my voice and theirs has altered the mindset about reading in my room. Reading has always mattered. Now, it it just makes sense in terms of writing. While mentor texts themselves are not a new phenomenon, the incorporation of deliberate (and fun) grammar instruction is a new addition to my classroom.

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