Tuesday, May 22, 2012

WANTED: Student Samples

Hello friends!
We are so often asked for mentors of student writing. Some of you might think we have a stash hidden away.  You know, under our desks or in a dark locked room.  
But the truth is, we need your help to collect them.  And once we do, we are happy to share!

Besides, have you seen under my desk lately?  And if I were to find a dark, lockable room, I'd be using it for some much needed quiet time!  (Sound familiar?)  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Coach Books

Just like any teacher-mom would, I found myself playing school with my five-year-old on our day off.  And, as usual, I was the teacher.  On the board, I wrote "Mentor Text" (I know what you're thinking, but it is the world I am living right now.)
"What's that?" she asked me.
I explained to her that a mentor was kind of like her softball coach, and "text" was a fancy word for book, so a mentor text was really just a coach book.  And I asked her to pick one from her shelf.
She did, but not one I would have.  It was no award-winning text by any means, and far from the best in children's literature, but I cracked open the Disney anthology to the table of contents and asked her to pick a story.  The one she chose began like this:
Long ago, deep in the jungles of faraway India, there lived a wise black panther named Bagheera.
Recognize the story?
It's one of her favorites, and  now it was her turn:  "How would you finish a sentence that began, 'Long ago...'?" I asked her.
She said and then she wrote:
Once upon a time in faraway California there lived a smart and wise tiger named Tigeress.
Wow!  Even though she didn't recognize "mentor text," she sure knew what to do with one!  At that moment, clearer than any other, she told me what she'd been doing in kindergarten: learning to read like a writer.  What a gift!  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Truth and a Story

"Never let the truth get in the way of a good story," my friend always says.  
As I was reading Dr. Seuss' first book with my daughter today, those words began playing in my head like a scratched CD.
And into the mix: a phone call with my mother.  This is the result:

So my mom called today 
And the first thing she said,
"What have you done today
Since you got out of bed?"

Well, I thought for a minute
Felt like a real winner,
I was still in my bed
And it was quarter to dinner!

That can't be my story
She'd think I was lazy
So I had to think quick
Lest she think I was crazy.

"Well," I told her, "this morning was weird.
I got out of bed so fast, you'd have cheered.

"I jumped up quick from where I was laying
For two children appeared, so we started playing."

Now I know what you're thinking:
I only have one
So where did this other come from?
What had I done?

How would you explain a day, a walk, any moment that feels ordinary?  Would you keep changing it like Marco does in the story?  Would yours even have to rhyme?  
This one is addicting.  I've started one draft in my notebook where I was swept away by red-tailed hawks (who started to squawk, by the way) and as I began to write this one post, it took me in an entirely different direction.  And isn't that the point?  Where will this mentor take you?  Because now it's your turn...

Monday, May 14, 2012


So what are mentor texts?  Just what they sound like: books, blogs, stories, articles, brochures...any text that acts as coach and adviser.  And you decide which books act as your mentors.  
I was first introduced to mentor texts by one of my mentors, Katie Wood Ray, who asks "What have you read that is like what you are trying to write?"  
But today?  Today I was just assaulted by their power:

I was busy stacking mentors for an upcoming lesson on personal narratives. And out of nowhere, I was struck by a book.  I mean literally.  Struck.  The four-year-old (who apparently is too young to use a library voice, let alone take direction from his mother at any other volume but "stadium") threw this book at my table.  And, oh, what a joy!  Have you seen it?*
A book full of what I had just taught last week.  A whole book of "information equations," which  are powerful tools for showing relationships among ideas and concepts. 
Consider this:  red + blue = ___ 
Easy right?  
How 'bout this one: cozy + smell of pancakes - alarm clock = ____
Just like that, I found a mentor for the kind of writing I wanted to do.  I call them "Information Equations" after Linda Hoyt and Tony Snead.  this plus that  calls them "small delights."  Whatever you call them, they turn this book into a mentor, and I'm so glad it struck me.  

In other words:  
Noisy 4-year old + some sort of physics = just what I didn't know I was looking for 
Now you give it go...
*For more information and a discussion on this particular mentor, please visit "Writing to Learn."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

The chapter Tomie de Paola writes about his "Nana Upstairs" and "Nana Downstairs," starts out as an "every Sunday" kind of story. That makes me think of the things I used to do in an "everytime-the-same-way" kind of way:

  • 4th of July sparklers in the front yard
  • Christmas morning card games as we waited to wake our parents
  • making cookies to fill the Ernie cookie jar

Reading further in the chapter, though, Tomie takes an ordinary Sunday story and turns it into an extraordinary one:  One Sunday he got into the medicine cabinet and mistook the chocolates for chocolates (Don't know what I mean? Read the chapter; it's hilarious!)  Now I think about those extraordinary times:
  • The fire in the oven during an ordinary cookie-making day
  • The ordinary softball practice that turned into an ER visit and 10 stitches in the lip three days before prom
  • The everyday stop at my locker between classes that became a "love-at-first-sight" introduction 
What a great example of how EXTRAORDINARY events--the ones we love to write about--can sneak up on us and change our lives forever.