“Mentor Texts: The ‘Work Horses’ of the Literacy Workshop”

First of all, please forgive my blog absence of the last few months! I went from presenting at the annual Literacy For All Conference in Providence, RI to presenting at the NCTE Convention two weeks after that.  A week and a half later, I was on the operating table having back surgery. And now, here I am, back at school for a little over a month.  Suffice it to say, it’s been a whirlwind!  For my next several posts, I will be sharing some of my learning from both LFA and NCTE.

In today’s post, I want to draw from Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli’s LFA presentation entitled, “Creating Successful Writers with Mentor Texts.”  We talk a lot about “mentor texts,” but what are they really? Dorfman & Cappelli (2013) give the following definition: “Mentor texts are pieces of literature you can return to and reread for many different purposes.”  But it goes beyond that. Lynne and Rose cite the following criteria to consider when making the decision of if a text truly becomes a mentor or not:

Mentor texts:

  • are to be studied and imitated.
  • help students make powerful connections to their own lives.
  • help students take risks and try out new strategies.
  • should be books that students can relate to and can read either independently or with some support.
  • become friends that nudge writers forward.
  • are 15-25 books to return to over the course of the year.
  • should be kept on hand to be used during conferring.

I remember 3rd grade student in my class several years ago who, after we had spent several lessons using Lester Laminack’s, Saturdays and Teacakes, would go over to our mentor text bin during writing workshop and pore over that book day after day, rereading the pages that sparked our lesson’s focus and returning to her own writing to see where she could try it, too. The more she shared her pieces with her peers, the more students could hear that her strategy of studying and imitating the text was shifting her writing.

All too often, students have the belief that rereading books is not beneficial for them. And, really, to what extent do we as teachers reinforce that belief? SOmetimes I find myself so anxious to share a new, hot title with a student that I forget that it is also important to model and talk about rereading texts, perhaps for a different purpose.  I know I do that in mini-lessons, but how often do I talk about it when sharing my personal reading life?

I love the idea of keeping mentor texts on hand to be used during conferences with students!  Thinking about taking it a step further, I may make some notes on stickies to tuck inside the cover about specific teaching points that may or may not be brought up during mini-lessons, but to which I could refer during a one-on-one conference.  In my coaching life, I use the back inside covers of professional texts to record pages where possible teaching lifts can be found so that I can locate them quickly and efficiently.  It seems this would be very helpful, especially in novels, in order to locate teaching points with ease when conferring with students.

A question that came up during our session was if the terms teachers and mentors could be used interchangeably.  Rose thought about that for a while and replied, “Mentors are teachers, but not all teachers are mentors.  When we are standing there beside them, doing it along with them, then we are a mentor…” An apt statement, I think.

What are some mentor texts that are the ‘work horses’ in your classroom?

Lang. Workshop Picture