Posts in Mentor Texts
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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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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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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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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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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Activism Research Plan: Pacing, Strategies, and Mentor Texts!

Arthur O’Shaughnessy in his 1874 poem “Ode” wrote: “Yet we are the movers and shakers/Of the world forever, it seems.” I love the term “mover and shaker” because it reminds me of dancing, but what it really lends is to people who make an impact on the world. It is no secret that one of my favorite units to teach is research. I love the choice, the process, and the hard work it takes to produce the product. I also love seeing middle schoolers wrap their brains around the formatting of this project (MLA), and how they get excited about solving problems. One of my favorite things, after all, is to solve problems.

The MLA Research Paper unit I do each winter going into spring focuses on activism. Students identify a problem in their school, community, or world and then research that problem, Inevitably, they see causes, effects, and hypothesize solutions as well. This post will walk you through some mentor texts and resources, strategies, and pacing of the overall unit.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Mentor Text Mini-Lesson

At first, I was scheduled to start testing tomorrow. But, something didn’t sit right with testing on a day to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the world of “teacher social media,” I have been intrigued by the conversations around what we teach on this day, and what we choose to not teach on this day. On Twitter, I love following Julia E. Torres, a librarian, and she stated: “Just overheard a child in the hallway on the phone, “We are watching MLK videos again because you know they can neeeeever teach us anything new.” This was a middle school student. Let’s think about that…” And I had a nodding moment. How often do I see my colleagues teach MLK videos or don’t teach anything at all? How many times have I felt like I couldn’t make time?

Whether we feel pressured to move through content or curriculum, we have to maintain, some things just matter more. This day, it matters. So, I thought about how to include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream…” speech into our mentor text work. This lesson will not take the entire hour. However, my goal is to have students notice different sentences in MLK’s speech, and write like him in regards to their own dreams. I went back and forth on the latter part because I thought dream writing was cliche’, but then Mary Oliver passed away this week. Something in me said…let them write about their dreams. I am calling this: Write Like Martin Mentor Text Work.

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How to Choose and Break Down a Mentor Text

I am constantly reading books. This wasn’t always the case, and largely, I think I have to attribute my reintroduction to reading all the time to my mentor text work. I am constantly on the mission to find books to recommend to students and use in the classroom with my students for our “write like an author” study. As teachers we are bombarded with an onslaught of a million decisions, pounds of papers to grade, and work that is largely impossible to master. It’s exhausting.

But, it is also exhilarating.

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Plan for Mentor Text Warm-Ups

After reading Linda Reif’s The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students’ Thinking and Writing this summer, I knew I wanted to incorporate more mentor text work into my classroom this year. This was my ONE thing that I wanted to add that would change up a major system as to how I taught students writing. I also read other texts over the summer that supporting this mindset. It was clear to me: I want my students to call themselves authors.

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Summer School Round Up: Week 2

Week two flew by without even slowing down to catch a drink of water. It was tough this week to balance wanting to do the things that summer allows like landscaping, working on an assortment of house projects, leisurely drinking coffee, and writing. I was having some jealousy over those that got to have the time off. My goal was to make it to the beach at least three times. Let's just say my fingers are crossed. 

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Using Where I'm From Poems to Get to Know Your Writing Self

The only thing I remember of my grandmother is her hands. I was four when she passed away, but I am also said to be just like her. If you hold up her 15-year-old school portrait and my 15 year-old school portrait, they are mirror images. Besides the physical make up of our bodies, we are also said to have the same mannerisms....grit, determination, and being way too stubborn. Our story is many peoples' stories. One of the reasons I love talking about writing is the commonalities we have in being human. Now, I won't ever know my grandmother, but I use the stories that I hear to get to know her on a deeper level. 

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Dystopian World Exemplars...Oh My!

I hope you are ready for some great reading! These authors-to-be took this assignment to a whole other level. By focusing on critical literary elements like plot, character, conflict, and setting, students were able to express themselves creatively. I paired this with a simultaneous academic piece so students could write in both modes: creative and academic. The creative mode focused on them making their own Dystopian World after reading Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. They also did a compare and contrast academic piece focusing on modern American Society vs the Dystopian World setup by Westerfeld in Uglies.  This second piece contained contained cited evidence, formal tone, etc. 

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Confession From a Poet Who Loves Youtube

Calling all poets! Using Youtube as a connection and as serious motivation can get that pen moving. I confess, when I am facing writer's block, I will go to Youtube and check out some other artist's work. Yes, I said artists. Words are our canvas! Check out these Youtube poets who create beautiful images with their words. THIS is the remedy to writer's block: Youtube Poetry:

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