Mentor Text: A Story About Tim Duncan by Shea Serrano (PDF/online)
- Writing Memoir
- Introducing and Concluding
This is my May post.
It’s close to the end of the year. Some of us are done already, some of us still have some time to go. Wherever we fall in that, it’s been an especially long year, and we’re tired.
Planning, and thinking about the classroom, changes as the year winds down. When we find new things, like a new mentor text, it’s often filed away for future use.
In this post, I want to reflect upon that a little bit. Coming across another gem from Shea Serrano isn’t a new thing. It’s actually a pretty regular occurrence. I read it, and quickly thought about how I’d use it in a classroom so that I could put a copy in my files where it will fit best in our work.
And, I’ll be honest, my schedule and obligations meant that I put it out of my mind. A fun quirk about my schedule, my Mentor Text Wednesday deadline has, for the past few months fallen on the same Tuesday as our province’s English teachers association executive meeting. With full intentions of writing this before Tuesday, I reflected on things I’ve read recently that have mentor text potential. Shea’s work, as it often does, came to mind.
I do have a specific plan for this piece, with my Grade 12 students next year, which I’ll outline below. However, this piece, and a couple of other pieces I’ve read, and the way I’ve been approaching poetry in my Lit class this semester reminded me of an important thing about mentor texts. As planners, conscious of outcomes and time, we often bring mentor texts to our students with a specific purpose in mind. I practice what I preach here at Moving Writers – many of the ideas I share here I use, for the purposes I share with you.
In my reflective state as the year approaches its end, I realize that sometimes, with a piece like this one, there is much to be said for reading a mentor text with a class, and asking them what they see, what they feel is worth emulating in their own writing. In fact, as we approach the end of a course, if we’ve been modeling this with our more structured lessons, they’re probably ready for this.
How We Might Use This Text:
Writing Memoir – One of my absolute favorite things about Shea’s writing is that he writes “around” his subjects. He explores pop culture and sports in his writing, but in doing so, he wonderfully highlights the fact that these things he writes about so critically are inextricably linked to our lives. Movies, shows, songs and sports are part of the fabric of our lives.
This piece is one of his best examples of this. I love the section in which he refers to the fact that he’s written about his father each of the previous times that he’s written about Tim Duncan. If something like sports connects us to a person, then it makes perfect sense that milestones in an athlete’s career make us think about that person.
I love this. After reading this, students could brainstorm the things that they connect to important people in their lives. Much like Shea does in his conclusion, he explains how Tim Duncan makes him think about his father. They could make a specific connection, and their story could be about that connection – a shared moment at a game, or a movie, or a song that brings about a specific memory.
They could also extend this, like Shea does, connecting the recognition of the career of a sports hero to his hero, his dad. Instead of focusing on Duncan’s career, and the things that made him a hero, Shea reflects on his father’s career. It’s a beautiful recognition of a hero, but one who is, as we often say, an “everyday hero.” Whenever I’ve encouraged my writers to explore this kind of piece, looking into the life of someone they love, the results are strong. The personal nature of a piece like this, the chance to pay tribute is a powerful provocation.
Introducing and Concluding – One of the things that I love about doing these posts is that sometimes I get to work through my ideas for the mentor text’s use before I use it in the classroom. I often discover, as I write, new applications for the text.
I love the structure that Shea uses to “bookend” the story about his father. His introduction is so simple: “I want to tell you a story about a taco, and also tell you a thing about Tim Duncan. First, though, let me tell you about a bus.” Though I’ve been working a lot lately with helping my writers expand their introductions, I love the brevity of this. There are times that we can, and should, encourage them to write as succinctly as this. Maybe something like this works in an early draft as they figure out the focus of the piece, and can be expanded in another draft. But there are also times where this would be enough.
Many of my writers struggle with conclusions, and I’ve been keeping my eye out for pieces that model different ways to wrap up their pieces. I think we all recognize that Shea’s conclusion looks a heck of a lot like an introduction. It gives context, and shares a thesis. It connects Tim Duncan and his father.
And it works so much better as a conclusion. This isn’t a move I’d want students using consistently, but is one I’d really like them to have in their arsenal.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Shea’s writing. I think what he does belongs in students’ hands, and that there is much to learn from his craft for our writers. His voice is strong, and honest, and I think encourages the same from our writers.
Where has your end of year reflection taken you this year? Do you have writers whose work always has a place in your classroom?
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