Monday, June 10, 2013

Unlock the Power

For the fifth year in a row, I have closed up shop by leading professional development around the "Power of Mentor Texts." And it wasn't until recently that I noticed how limited my view of mentor texts has been. 

Katie Wood Ray helped me to see it; my daughter (under the masterful eye of her first-grade teacher) brought it home: 

We were reading one of our favorite bedtime stories--Marla Frazee's Boot and Shoe--one night, when Cami stopped me, mid-sentence, to close the book. She carefully scanned the cover for what she was looking for and then turned back to the page I was marking with my thumb. "Mom, look at how Marla..." and she went on to describe how this author makes decisions about the use of the page to tell her story.

It was then that I realized that my focus on the use of mentor texts was far too narrow. It's interesting that I didn't realize it sooner, especially given the topic of my last entry here. In fact, the very reason that my blog went dark after my writer's notebook post last year was that I wasn't satisfied that a mentor text would help me to say what I needed to say. I now know that my search was misdirected. I was looking for a mentor text when what I should have been looking for was a mentor, plain and simple. So, instead of posting today about a mentor text, where the craft and style have inspired my hand, I intend to broaden my definition of "try-its" to include writing processes that have brought my pen to paper:

Listen to Ralph Fletcher's "Developing a Seed Idea." He describes so many possibilities for try-its--from capturing the "ordinary and a little bit mysterious" to looping ideas out of one brainstormed list into another--that I will, hopefully, get this blog up and running for another "Slice of Summer" series. It has me thinking and noticing differently already:
My little girl's birthday is on Wednesday, and as we count down this last-Monday-'til-she's-seven, I realize that this is actually the end of her seventh year on this earth. In fact, this will be her eighth birthday, technically. And this last-Monday-'til-she's-seven is, in fact, the eighth June 10th I've spent with her. From those days when she pushed against my ribs and made my belly lurch with hiccups from within to today when her eyes lit up at the idea that if this is her eighth birthday, she must be getting an iPhone, she never ceases to amaze me.
I have a seed idea. This idea "feels like it has real potential." I could develop this topic by capturing stories of Cami as keepsakes. I could research to discover all the ways birthdays are counted around the world. I could even write an argumentative piece about just how old kids should be before getting a cell phone (neither seven nor eight, by the way). In these (and many more) ways "this is one that could grow into something big." 

And more importantly, I have broken my blogger's block. I have expanded my view of mentors to include the processes that shape the texts we love to read, the texts that make us close the book to see just who is making the decisions that unfold across the pages. This process is plain to see, as we have the benefit of Ralph's think-aloud, but I know there is more work to be done here, inferring the processes of those books that do not feature an author's audio commentary. I can't wait to dive into this way of looking at writing under the influence of my favorite authors.
And while my summer class (and this blog) are still founded on "The Power of Mentor Texts" I now see that whether we write like mentor texts or mentor authors matters less. What does matter is that we WRITE....So go on, try it!

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