Reading Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell‘s Writing With Mentors is reminding me of the summer, three years ago, that I committed to making the move to readers and writers workshop. Like my new friends in Franklin, Wisconsin, I already had many of the structures of workshop in place–I just didn’t know how to fit them all together.
As I read and wrote and thought beside the likes of Penny Kittle, Amy, Jackie, Erika, and my other UNH friends, I learned quickly which parts of my instruction to keep and tweak, and which parts to flat-out jettison. While I felt like my reading workshop practices were solid, I knew I needed to completely rethink the way I designed writing instruction.
I wish I’d had Writing With Mentors that summer.
That summer, I learned that I shouldn’t be designing lessons around a staid form like a persuasive essay or a literary analysis. I needed to begin thinking about having my students write authentic, interesting pieces on topics of their choice–but I didn’t know how.
I learned how to read like a writer, how to look at the craft and structure of my favorite authors’ works. I began to see mentor texts everywhere, and in fact too many places–I was exhausted by trying to keep track of everything I wanted to share with my students, and even resolved to read less as a teacher. I wanted to offer a variety of rich mentor texts to my students without losing my mind–but I didn’t know how.
I learned that my writing process was as unique as my handwriting, and that process has value just as much as a written product does. I wanted to restructure my unit planning, my gradebook, and my classroom routines to reflect that–but again, I didn’t know how.
Over three years, through trial and error, I’ve figured out how to reckon with a lot of those issues, but I would have known instantly had I read Writing With Mentors then. This book succinctly showed me great writing units and products, how to plan for them, and how to select and organize current, engaging mentor texts.
It reminded me that when we read–even to study the craft moves of a mentor author–we must read as readers first, for the “pleasures of story time” and to “hear the rhythms of good writing” (65).
It affirmed my habit of designing new units each year, complete with brand new mentor texts, to meet the needs of my current students and the sociopolitical climate in which we live and read and write.
It helped me cement mentor texts, alongside the writer’s notebook, conferring, and authenticity, as nonnegotiables of a successful writers workshop–because, in Allison and Rebekah’s words, “mentor texts enable complete creativity and individuality to emerge in student writing and writing instruction” (3).
And it reminded me that when students leave our classrooms, “mentor texts will always be present” (167). When we teach students to write with mentors, they remain capable of reading like writers as they engage with print and media and other real-world texts. Since getting my students to become lifelong readers and writers is my ultimate goal, this book is now an important mentor to me.
Writing With Mentors is the book to pick up when you put the textbook down, toss out your binders of writing rubrics, or throw up your hands when you read your 94th crappy plagiarized paper in a row. If you’re seeking to rejuvenate, organize, and revamp your writing instruction, don’t undergo three years of trial and error like I did…let Allison and Rebekah help you write, more happily, successfully, and authentically, with mentors.
Have you read Writing With Mentors? Share your feedback in the comments!