Mentor Text Wednesday: Talking About a Text That Matters to You

Mentor Text: What Static Shock Meant To Me As a Young Black Boy by Jaylen Pearson

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing About a Text
  • Applying a Critical Lens
  • Highlighting an Impactful Moment
  • Writing an Introduction

Background:

My Grade 12 course is tied to a theme based around identity, individuality and independence, which we call The Three Is. As a way of exploring these things, we read and write a lot of memoir based stuff. Since I let my own biases take the wheel at times, we often do this through the lens of pop culture. When I think of how deeply things in my world have been impacted by Star Wars and rock and roll, it just seems like a natural fit. Take into consideration the role that pop culture plays in our lives now, and it just makes sense.

 

static-shock-season-two-dvd-release

Image via Den of Geek

As a result, my social media feed is a cornucopia of teaching and the things I love, creating all these gorgeous confluences of work and play – my favorite thing to bring into my classroom. For example, this piece about Static Shock came across my feed, and I got excited. I never watched the show, though I was aware of the character’s origins in the comics. I grew up in a rural area, with pretty limited exposure to diversity, and that line of Milestone Comics was an interesting glimpse into a different world for me. (Milestone Comics was an independent imprint distributed by DC Comics that focused on minority characters, as they were underrepresented at that time.) As time has passed, I have come to appreciate how much those comics, the characters and stories must have meant to people. This will be the appeal for many in using this particular mentor text.

 

It is also a fine example of writing about how a text matters to you personally, which, in our classrooms, is a thing we want students to be able to write about.

How We Might Use This Text:

Writing About a Text – Textual analysis, whether it be of a book, or a piece of pop culture is a cornerstone in classrooms based on literacy. Personally, I feel it is a thing I am always trying to teach well, while trying to balance the idea that enjoyment of texts doesn’t always mean analysis. It’s tricky, and that’s what makes a mentor text like this valuable.

Putting aside a critical lens for a moment, this is a very good mentor text on how a textual analysis can be structured. There is a solid introduction, with a bit of history and backstory. There is a clearly stated thesis, which is well argued, both analytically and emotionally. It’s got very good bones, and that alone is something worth showing our writers.

The craft is quite strong too. The use of a critical lens allows students to write academically, fulfilling the demands that their English teachers have no doubt put upon them. As Pearson writes about why this show mattered to him, there is a palpable sense of that resonance. We can tell that this show actually mattered. This is highlighted through the contrasting of a somewhat similar character who didn’t resonate, emphasizing what mattered to him as a viewer.

I also love that it isn’t quite perfect. There are elements of it that read like our writers’ work can, some conventional issues, and a conclusion that feels rushed and forced. There’s merit in them seeing a mentor text that feels like it’s on their level. Looking at what doesn’t work in an otherwise great piece affords us an opportunity for an important conversation.

Applying a Critical Lens – In the title, Pearson informs us of the critical lens he’ll be applying – he is going to talk about race. In doing so, he adds a level of academic merit to a personal piece.

As we know, the application of a critical lens allows us to put our bias out there openly. Pearson does that in the title, telling us his piece is about what this show meant to him as a “young black boy.” What I like about this openness is that it allows the writer to use an authentic voice more easily. Our writers, when dealing with analysis, often forget their voice, and try to write what they think a teacher wants to hear. It often becomes stilted and forced. Identifying a lens, and thereby a bias, allows them to dispense with the formalities, and focus on the message they want to communicate.

It also provides a context for their arguments. When Pearson contrasts John Stewarts’s Green Lantern and Static, the major black superheroes he had to watch, it is the critical lens that makes it easier for him to express and explain his preference. It is also what he uses to pick a specific episode to reference that backs up his core argument. He picks an episode that makes what he feels is one of the strongest statements about race. Think of how powerful this strategy could be for our writers who struggle to find the focus for their pieces.

Highlighting an Impactful Moment – One of the first aha moments I had reading this piece was when Pearson focused on a single episode that exemplified his affinity for this show. This is another piece, in my class anyway, that students struggle with when writing about texts. They can’t find a specific part of the text that best demonstrates what they’re trying to prove. Instead we get a list of scenes that have the impact in some way. Pearson includes a list, but in a somewhat dismissive way, as if to say, those were good, but here’s the best example.

And then he takes some time to deconstruct it. He talks about why it resonated with him. He specifically points out what made it impactful. This is a great model for our writers to see.

Writing an Introduction – I love that this piece starts with an extended introduction. It is more than a paragraph long. It is separate from the exposition portion of the essay, the delivery of the origin story. Pearson establishes a context for his viewing, and then introduces his core argument, including his thesis.

This introduction alone is reason to give this text to our writers. Introductions are written in such a formulaic and stilted manner by so many students with reason. They are often given a list of things that should be in an introduction and work from that. A piece like this shows that an introduction can be both utilitarian and well written.

This piece called to both my geek’s heart and my teacher’s heart. It allows us to talk about the silly things that matter to us, and how we can do that in an academic setting. It’s the mentor text for us to use as we talk about ourselves, and texts that matter to us. It’s also wonderful because of the variety of analytical skills it allows us to develop in our writers.

What mentor texts do you use for writing about texts, such as shows? How do you show students to use a critical lens? What are some good mentor texts to support our writers as they develop better introductions?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

-Jay

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