Taking a Chance with Mentor Texts

I was both relieved and inspired by Amy’s post on ways to “avoid the dread” and make the opening day or days of our reading-writing workshop classes feel less like just like everything else, forms and lists of rules and the reinforcement of the dread of yet another school year filled with being told exactly what to do and how to do it. I loved her idea about author bios, and my teaching partners and I plan to use it along with another mentor text idea I stole from Allison Marchetti at the blog Moving Writers: James Gulliver Hancock’s Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers: Portraits of Fifty Famous Folks & All Their Weird Stuff. This  mentor text worked really well last year with both sophomores and seniors. I only wish I had done more with it, so I plan to do so this year, which is actually less than a week away!

As teachers of reading-writing workshop and followers of this blog, we are so fortunate to have the benefit of so many tried-out mentor texts to use with our students. Our own colleagues are of course our best and most trusted source for anything we need from the most philosophical to the most concrete. So, thank you for everything this blog has provided for me to be constantly reflecting and improving on my practice to provide the richest possible experience for my students.

But in the second part of this short-ish post, I’d like to present a handful of mentor texts that are not yet tried-and-true but hold (I think) some potential for reaching our writers who have their own very personal reasons for their reluctance as writers.

Your_Black_Friend_coverA collection of Ben Passmore’s online comics has been published late this summer as Your Black Friend & Other StrangersYou can read one of the NYT reviews here — I read the book myself and was blown away. Race and equity is a critical element of our curriculum and professional development. Ben Passmore’s work, I think/hope, can be useful for opening a cross-racial dialogue in a way that is accessible for its down to earth portrayal of what cross-racial friendship looks like from the perspective of a person of color.

For this next one, Things I Never Said by Starlenie Vondora, I owe thanks to my Things I Never Saidcolleagues Mariana and Abdel: the same day I read Mariana’s review on GoodReads, lo and behold, Abdel had a copy of it just sitting in his classroom waiting for a reader. Disclaimer: This book is heavy, heavy stuff. I curated a few of the more neutral poems that might have potential as quick-write prompts or mentor texts. But I love the overall concept of putting down on paper “things I never said,” and I think teenagers might, too.

And so, we begin again. A friend of mine who recently left teaching was speaking wistfully about the cyclical nature of what we do, about the freshness of each new school year. It’s so true. Despite last year just about slaying me every day, I might be just about ready for this one. Aren’t we all? So let’s savor these early days, which for me will be the about the first five, just before it sets in that that I’m already behind, that there is never enough time and far too much to do. And we’re back to it, coming back and trying again every day. With a little help from mentors and friends.

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