Mentor Text Wednesday: My Three Go-To Personal Essays

Today’s guest blogger, Christina Gil has written for Moving Writers before. You can read her post about using satire writing as a tool for self-discovery here. Christina is a veteran high school English teacher who recently left the classroom to follow a dream and move her family to an ecovillage in rural Missouri. 

Mentor texts: “Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan; “The Inheritance of Tools” by Scott Russell Sanders; “Us and Them” by David Sedaris

Writing Techniques:

 

  • show don’t tell
  • vivid imagery
  • essay structure
  • grabbers
  • main ideas

 

Background:

I’ll readily admit that my students don’t have the longest attention spans.  The old style of long meandering essays, in which the author slowly and eventually stumbles upon some meaning after pages and pages of rambling and digressions, just won’t work with them.  So what I am looking for when I choose mentor texts is the most bang for my buck.  On the other hand, I don’t want to pander to the lowest common denominator.  I also want to push my students—to read about people who are not like them, or to take on an idea that challenges their assumptions, or to see that personal essays don’t have to be about a set list of pre-chosen topics.  

I have three go-to personal essays that I have read to literally a thousand students at this point, and I use them extensively in my personal narrative unit.  Just the fact that I can continue to enjoy these texts after reading them hundreds of times speaks volumes.  

How We Might Use These Texts:

If I were to choose just one essay to read to my students as a mentor text when we do a personal narrative unit, it would be “Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan.  I often joke that this essay is probably one that my high school seniors already read—in seventh grade.  It’s very short and so simple.  And yet I also call this essay “the perfect personal essay.”  

My favorite take-away from this piece is the way that authors can show rather than tell with vivid description and detail.  I always ask my students to describe the emotion conveyed throughout the essay, and they always answer “embarrassment.”  When I task them with the job of finding the word embarrassed or even a synonym of that word, they can’t find it anywhere in the essay.  And what I most love about this piece is that when I ask students how the author conveys the feelings of the narrator, which details go the furthest in helping the reader to share in the embarrassment, they realize that it is the vivid descriptions of the food that really help them to share in the experience.  When you find an essay in which the author conveys the universal teenage feeling of being uncomfortable with your parents via a description of cooked squid, you know you have found a masterful writer.   

For me, the other key pieces in this essay are the way that the author grabs the reader by giving a small piece of somewhat uncomfortable personal information but leaving some details out, and the way that the main idea of the essay is expressed via dialogue at the end of the piece.

“Inheritance of Tools” by Scott Russell Sanders is a favorite among a few students who appreciate its realness, its seriousness, and its honest discussion of blue collar values.  This is the one essay that breaks my short-as-possible rule.  It probably takes 15 to 20 minutes to read out loud in class, but it feels like it meanders much more than the others.  This essay is also a tougher sell for many of my students.  It deals with a middle-aged man’s reflections on tools, building, life-lessons, and death.  These are not subjects that are obvious choices for teenagers.  And yet, every year when I think about dropping the essay and finding something shorter and more relevant, I have students who tell me that it was their favorite essay of the bunch.

What I most utilize in this essay are its beautiful first line, its structure, and one especially complex and important sentence.  The essay starts in the middle of things with a vividly descriptive sentence (that also uses figurative language to grab a reader): “At just about the hour when my father died, soon after dawn one February morning when ice coated the windows like cataracts, I banged my thumb with a hammer.”  I could teach an entire lesson on that sentence alone.  The essay then goes back in time to discuss the ideas and memories that lead up to that day, and ends where it began but with more insight on the day in question.  This structure is a great one for students to and they often incorporate it into their personal narratives.  The sentence that I use for imitating, but only after students have some practice with simpler sentences, is this one: “For several hours I paced around inside my house, upstairs and down, in and out of every room, looking for the right door to open and knowing there was no such door.”  It’s complexity is impactful, but it is also something that students can incorporate into their own writing.

My wild card, my test of students’ understanding of irony and understatement, and my little treat to myself every year is to read “Us and Them” by David Sedaris.  I’m a big fan of Sedaris’ work, but it’s not exactly easy to find essays of his that are appropriate for school.  In this subtly hilarious piece, Sedaris does what all great satire does—he makes fun of society, and ultimately, most importantly, he makes fun of himself.  I should admit upfront that many of my less sophisticated readers miss the humor in this essay entirely.  And yet, the ones that get it really get it.  

My favorite aspect of this essay as a mentor text is the way that it makes a point—about conformity and insecurity and TV and Halloween candy—without ever really stating that point at all.  In fact, because of the dramatic irony in the essay, the reader is left completely to their own devices when it comes to finding a theme statement.  I like to push my students to work a little, and getting them to articulate not just what the author says but how he conveys that meaning to a reader is challenging but also doable.  

I also love this essay because of the way that it reinforces the requirement that the biggest take-away of a piece, the scene or line or image that readers will remember long after they have finished reading, should be the part that most strongly conveys the main idea of the piece.  And Sedaris’ image of a younger self stuffing his face with candy so that he doesn’t have to share it with someone else is about as memorable as scenes can get.

I do like to change things up on occasion, using new essays that I find or essays that I haven’t read in a while, but it’s also so nice to have my trusted pieces, ones that I know will help me teach the lessons that I want to teach about what makes good writing and how we can learn from mentor texts.

Books That Move Us: Beyond the Five Paragraph Essay

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Today’s guest writer is Chasidy Burton, who teaches English to juniors and seniors in Nashville, TN. Chasidy loves to teach writing for the empowerment students experience with getting words on the page and the discovery of their own voice. She is constantly seeking to better her teaching practice, and she enjoys reading about unconventional approaches to teaching and literacy. Today, Chasidy shares about a professional development book that has shaped her writing instruction. 

How long does this need to be? How many paragraphs? How many words? How many pages? Then I ask, did Ernest Hemingway ever ask these questions? My response to my students when they bombard me with questions about guidelines and page length is not always well-received. I would love to unleash them and tell them to channel their inner “Papa”, but that just doesn’t seem to work that well with my students. I am usually met with blank stares and sometimes evil eyes.They want structure. They want a framework. They want a mold. Following the rules is so easy, but I have had trouble finding authenticity in my students writing. I don’t know about you, but if I have to read one more five paragraph essay detailing Hamlet’s three stages of indecision, I may spiral into madness like Ophelia and start passing out imaginary flowers. We need a change in my senior English class. And after reading Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay by Kimberly Hill Campbell and Kristi Latimer, I am inspired to conquer my own fears of breaking a mold.

60 Second Review

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Kimberly Hill Campbell and Kristi Latimer focus on the fact that research proves that the five- paragraph formula hinders writers. Their book equips teachers with strategies, skills, and insight in teaching students how to write authentically and thoughtfully. The book is organized by skills ranging from combatting formulaic writing, to establishing reading and writing routines, to reading and writing like writers and explorers.

There are loads of activities that will stimulate students’ thinking and challenge students to approach writing not in a formulaic way, but through the use of model texts, scaffolded assignments, and creativity. This book uses  activities that are centered around literature, which helps the strategies and methods implement seamlessly into an established literature-based curriculum.

My Big Writing Takeaways

  • My students can expand their writing skills and writing structures through the power of narratives.

I am expanding my notions of the power of narrative voice. One of the lines that really grabbed my attention in this book was that “all students should have the opportunity to discover that their ideas matter and are worthy of exploration and shaping to meet the needs of readers – not a formula.” This struck me because for years I kept forcing my students into a box – a box that I didn’t really believe in. Why? I kept hearing teachers preach about structure. Yes, structure is important, but what if we start with the most important thing first? To me, it is the idea. The ideas are what I want them to remember long after they walk out of my classroom. Great thinkers, writers, and leaders rarely start with the structure. They start with the idea. I cannot recall one time when I read something and thought, wow, that structure really inspired me. Of course we know that structure matters, but I want my students to experience more than that.

This book inspired me to create more narrative writing opportunities for students — because students are more naturally inclined to begin with strong ideas in this genre, and teachers are less inclined to assign a structure.  Instead of spending so much time on form, we are spending more times on genre, purpose, style, and voice. So many writing conversations this year are revolving around what best fits their purpose. This book is offering me tools to create these experiences for my students.

  • Students are scared to take risks, but we can provide a safety net within our classrooms for them to experiment.

One of my fears as I am trying to move away from formulaic writing is trying to allow students to explore writing in unconventional ways. The book advocates that this doesn’t always have to look like an essay. Essays are MY comfort zone. Like most teachers, I always have that overwhelming need to control, and it is easy to control a five-paragraph formulaic essay, especially with a rubric.  Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay has helped me create some “low-stakes” activities that get my students writing as a way to prepare for the big assignments.The appendices at the end of the book  have several examples of activities that can be modified for all sorts of texts. One activity that I really like is allowing students to create a soundtrack for a text. Students love movies, so this is a fun and creative writing assignment that I feel like is low-stakes to get them thinking for a more significant piece later.

This activity can modified in a number of ways, but allows a different take on the standard five-paragraph literary analysis, and students enjoy it!

My students are scared of writing – I am too most of the time. Mine have trouble finding any authenticity in the formulaic models and so do I, but that is what we lean on because we haven’t tried anything new. This book allows teachers to begin to slowly implement creative changes that can lead to those bigger changes – the ones where we really see students’ writing shine –  we are longing for. These small changes allow for those moments.

  • Exploration can and should be a framework within our writing classrooms.

When I think about what inspired me to become an English major and ultimately an English teacher, I always come back to the words. How the words were arranged on the page. How I felt after reading the words. How the words had the power to shift the world a little. Exploring words and ideas are the roots of thinking, and students need a place to establish roots. There is a chapter in the book titled “Writing to Explore” and I love this notion. Exploring is fun. Exploring is dynamic. Exploring is empowering. Exploring can be scary.  If students are just expected to fall into a mold when writing, they lose their voice. This chapter begins with questioning techniques and then describes different types of essays such as exploratory essays, formal journal entries, mini-essays, focus essays, question essays, and collaborative essays. These descriptions of how these work in a classroom has been essential for me as I attempt new strategies. They are easily adaptable, and allow students the opportunity to explore ideas without the confines of a rigid structure.

  • Unleashing The Power of My Sofa in My Classroom

I read this book over the summer but some of these ideas really made sense to me when I began conferencing with students about college essays. I am fortunate to have an office in my classroom with a nice comfy sofa. My seniors come in and conference with me while sitting on the sofa and this is where I hear about the most candid details of their lives. For some reason, that sofa creates an atmosphere of sharing and truth. The conversations this year have ranged from difficult parent relationships, to eating disorders, to depression, to insecurities, and ultimately how to write about these complex issues. These kinds of ideas don’t fit into a formulaic model. These issues are raw, blunt, and vulnerable. As my students talk, I keep finding myself making connections to Hamlet, The Color of Water, or The Great Gatsby. As I continue to think about this idea, the Writing with Mentors chapter in this book keeps coming to mind. This chapter is divided into 2 sections, Literature as Mentor and Literature as Inspiration.  I love this chapter because of the overlap of utilizing the classic literature that I love and currently teach alongside more authentic forms of writing such as memoirs, eulogies, pastiches, letters, character conversations, business letters, interviews, podcasts, book trailers, and recipes.

As my students talk about their own insecurities, failures, and successes with me, I want them to see the connection between themselves and our literature. This chapter has given me some great ideas of how to implement these types of experiences within my current curriculum, all while offering my students an opportunity to foster their own writing voices – I want to hear the voices from my sofa in their writing in my classroom.

How I Hope to Use It

I am currently using this book in my classroom to begin to build a more legitimate writing workshop environment. Instead of assigning five-paragraph literary essays for them to complete at home, I am leaning more towards the ideas presented in the book – particularly the exploratory writing experiences. My students have already demonstrated a new energy about their writing experiences. Some are energized, some are frightened, some are always going to be apathetic. As I attempt to work towards more innovative writing experiences, this book offers a framework to get started. The ideas presented are clear and concise, which is allowing me to adapt my content easily.

Should You Buy the Book

Yes! I want to be a risk-taker in my classroom. That is a scary place to be at times, but this book is helping me find the courage to try new things.

What if I let things get messy this year? What if I feel liberated with my teaching and challenge my students to think like writers instead of students who write?  Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay is helping me pursue this. So instead of wallowing in 85 essays that just sing the same old song, I am dreaming of unique voices singing their own songs.

Here’s a bit of inspiration. One of my students told me this semester that “it’s nice to know that our teacher cares about what we think rather than a rigid structure.” For me, that’s a victory.

So here goes. Leaving my comfort zone, but inspired.

 

The Heartwork of NCTE 2016

How do you begin to process the wonderfulness that is NCTE 2016? All the people you met, the sessions you attended, the Uber drivers you shared conversations with, the authors’ hands you shook?

In the past we’ve offered a top ten list, but this year we are going to share our NCTE heart maps. Underneath the NCTE’s first theme of advocacy was a second theme that emerged: bring love into the classroom. With the release of one of our mentors’ new books Heart Maps, we felt that heart mapping would be the most inspired and inspiring way to share what resonated most with us this past weekend.

Allison’s Heart Map

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In her presentation Leading to Raise the Level of Writing, Lucy Calkins said, “Reading and writing workshop exist so we can be there, in the moment, with students. So we can be people together.” I carried these words with me to every session, during every Uber ride, to every dinner with my colleagues. Teaching is about being together with people. November has been a rough month. I find myself thinking, “I just want this day to be over.” But teaching — and the reminder that teaching is about being together, in the moment — helps me slow down, stimulates my senses, and keeps me grounded in our humanity. The men’s names you see on the left of my heart — those are the Uber drivers who took us around Atlanta. The oval-shaped table surrounded by happy faces at the bottom — those are my students. Teaching is hard, busy, exhausting, overwhelming, disorientating. But it’s also as simple as taking the time to listen to someone’s story and sharing a piece of yours — of being together with one another.

Rebekah’s Heart Map

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At every turn, NCTE brought together two big ideas for me — being present and taking action. And maybe those two ideas are really the same. Because when we fully engage with the people who walk into our classroom each day, we ARE taking action in the world. To quote Kwame Alexander, “Teachers ARE the army — manufacturers and purveyors of hope every single day.” As I leave Atlanta and walk back into my classroom, I am full off fresh resolve to take a step back from my plans, my units of study, my to do lists. To look into my students and use the predictable structures of reading writing workshop to fully be there.

Sketch Noting: Another Way to Capture the Inspiration

Kate Baker (@ktBkr4) tweeted this incredible sketch note of one of our sessions, I Kissed Grading Goodbye.

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Like the heart map, sketch noting encourages the maker to distill an experience, a text, a presentation into its essential pieces — to identify the heart of the thing.

Can you imagine using heart mapping and sketching noting with your students? Could they create a heart map of their experiences in English this week? What truly resonated with them? What moved them in your class? Could they create sketch notes of the questions still bouncing around in the brain — the main takeaways they want to carry with them?

Before the craziness of Thanksgiving week picks up, we invite you to take a few moments to heart map or sketch note your NCTE experience, to remember the things that are most important to you — the reason you came to NCTE, which is quite possibly the same reason you teach.

Love.

See you soon!

Now that NCTE has passed, and we’re rapidly hurdling towards 2017, Rebekah and I are going to be signing off from the blog for a little while. We need to finish writing our book! But fear not, we’ll be around, and our amazing team of bloggers will continue to churn out brilliance for you to take into your classroom tomorrow.

We wish everyone a wonderful thanksgiving!

Allison & Rebekah

 

 

 

 

Mentor Text Wednesday: A Lifetime of Secrets

Today’s guest post comes from Anne Wolter, a 6th grade English teacher at Western Heights Middle School in Washington County, Maryland.  Anne has a Bachelor’s degree in English literature, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, and has been teaching for four years.  She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two young children.  You can connect with her on Twitter @wolteann.

Mentor Text:  A Lifetime of Secrets (personal, reflective, arts integration)screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-11-10-00-am

  • Writing Techniques:
  • Elements of memoir writing
  • Incorporating art with writing

Background:

Before I was a teacher, my best friend gave me a book.  I have always been a reader, and have kept a journal since becoming an adult, and I guess the book reminded her of me.  The book is A Lifetime of Secrets by Frank Warren and contains hundreds of pages of people’s deepest, darkest secrets, anonymously sent in on postcards or other artistic backgrounds.  Since receiving this book, I’ve read it, and read it, and read it again.  It’s amazing and sad and beautiful and inspiring.  People still send in secrets to the website and Facebook page. There is something so empowering and exhilarating about leaving your secrets for others to find – knowing that strangers know you better than those who are supposed to know you best, even if the strangers don’t know your name and could never pick you out of a crowd.

I’ve always tried to find ways to incorporate PostSecret into my teaching.  Sometimes I’d pick one and share it as a warm up.  I’ve used it for characterization lessons.  But I’ve never felt it was getting its due.

Enter Mentor Texts.

I was teaching a memoir unit to my sixth graders and started with 6 Word Memoirs to get their feet wet with memoirs.  After that, I wanted to give my students some choices of another type of short memoir text before moving into longer memoirs.  After reading Writing With Mentors, I decided to use NYC in 17 Syllables, excerpts from Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Rosenthal, and while searching for my third choice, I saw my book A Lifetime of Secrets on my shelf.  PostSecret would be my students’ third option.

How We Used the Mentor Text:

I first had a discussion with my students about what a mentor text is and how they can use it to guide and inspire their own writing.  I told them I would give them three choices and gave them a quick blurb about each choice.  With PostSecret, I explained that the secrets are anonymous (and some are inappropriate!), so I carefully selected and took pictures with my iPad of 15 secrets from the book that were appropriate, and posted them to Google Drive, giving my students the QR code to access the folder.  I also explained that if they were to choose PostSecret, theirs were NOT anonymous and they should know their boundaries of what is okay to share.  

We looked at the secrets and talked about what they noticed. Students noticed that:

  • they were all written in the first person, were personal, and reflective
  • none of the secrets were more than one or two short sentences
  • the picture that was the background of the secret was always related to the secret – the art was relevant

Once we had this discussion, students were ready to get to work.

The students embraced this mentor text and ran with it.  Some used Skitch to take an image from Google that represented their secrets, and then wrote their secrets on the image.  Others drew pictures that represented their secret.  In both cases, the students work reflected the mentor text.  Now I have finally found an inspiring way to use PostSecret in my classroom for years to come!

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Student work

The Only Four Questions You’ll Ever Need to Ask Your Writers

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Carl Anderson taught me to begin every writing conference with the simple question, “How’s it going?”

I love this question for two reasons: it’s a question we ask our colleagues, our friends, and our family members when we want to know how they are doing. In other words, it’s an authentic question that shows we care. Secondly, it puts the onus on students to determine the focus of the writing conference. There is no hidden agenda behind the question, “How’s it going?” It simply means, “How are things going for you in your writing?”

I typically ask this question at the beginning of a writing conference. I pull my stool up to the writer’s desk and lean in: How’s it going? 

It can also be useful on mid-process writing reflections. Sometimes, in the middle of a study, I ask my students to spend a few minutes telling me about their writing. I want them to share what they are currently working on in their notebooks, what their next steps are, and in general, how their writing is going. This question invites them to say anything – anything – about their writing. What a student chooses to talk or write about can be very telling.

Recently I have been thinking about the other questions I ask my student writers and which ones are the most fruitful. Here they are:

2. Can you say more about that?

Why it’s a great question:

I use this question all the time. From writing conferences to Socratic Seminars, this is the best way to help students elaborate. For example:

Teacher: How’s it going?

Student: Good.

Teacher: Can you say more about that?

Student: I’m working on my ending.

Teacher: How’s the ending going?

Student: It’s okay.

Teacher: Can you say more about that?

Student: It’s not very strong right now. I don’t know how to end it. 

Teacher: Can you read a little of your ending out loud…?

 

This question is like a gentle prod in the writer’s mind. It’s much gentler than, “Can you elaborate?” but more effective than accepting a writer’s one-word response (Good.) and moving on. It invites the writer to step back from his work and reflect on what he’s doing.

When to use it:

  • When a student gives one-word answers or is having trouble talking about his writing.

What it can do for students:

  • It holds students accountable for being able to talk about their work and explain why they are doing something.
  • It emphasizes the skill of elaboration in communication — not just in writing, but in verbal communication, too.
  • It cues the student to talk while still allowing the student to decide what to focus on in the conference.

3. Would you consider trying [x technique]?

Why it’s a great question:

I’m not sure where I picked up this question stem, but in my experience, it’s the nicest way to suggest to a writer that she try something in her writing. It’s the way I teach my students to give each other feedback on their writing.

Teacher to student, it’s much better than:

  • I’d like to see you [insert x technique].
  • I think you should [insert x technique].

With these questions, the teacher has an idea about the student’s writing, and s/he would like him to try it. The student doesn’t really have a choice. The teacher has the power. Is this how it should be?

When to use it:

  • When the student is struggling with something in her writing.
  • When the student needs a specific strategy in his writing.
  • When a student is ready for a challenge outside of the general class lesson.

What it can do for students:

When we ask a student to consider trying something, we are giving that student a concrete strategy, but the student holds the power. The feedback is framed as a choice, and sometimes students are more willing to try something in their writing when given a choice. When forced to try something, students tend to push back.   It’s important to remember that the writing belongs to the student – he ultimately decides what happens to it.

The word “trying” is important too — it suggests that writer sometimes make revisions that don’t work. In other words, the writer can try something, but if it doesn’t work — if the writer isn’t happy with how it affects his piece — he can go back to a previous version.

 

4. Are you ready to try this?

Why it’s a great question:

I came across this question while reading Carl Anderson’s book on assessing writing. I instantly wrote it in my notebook and pledged to use it during conferences the next day. It made what used to be an awkward moment for me (the goodbye at the end of the conference) fruitful and positive.

When you ask this question, the answer will reveal two things to you: 1) If the writer was listening during the conference and 2) If the writer is ready to try the work you discussed during the conference.

1. If the writer wasn’t listening, she’ll say, “Try what?” And you’ll know that you have more work to do. That the conference isn’t over.

2.If the writer was listening, and is ready to try the work you discussed during the conference, she’ll say “Yes.” And if you coach her a little more, she will often follow up with a specific step, as in, “Yes, I am going to do a little writing in my notebook to find an image I can put at the end of my poem.”

If the writer says, “No,” you have more work to do. The conference isn’t over.

~

There are myriad questions writing teachers can ask their students to learn more about their process. Rebekah wrote an incredible post a while back about the power of the question, “What did you discover today in your writing?”

But it seems that most questions lead back to one of the main four.

And some day, with enough practice under their belts, our students will only need one question: How’s it going?

Because this question seeks everything we need to know about our students as writers — and as human beings.

 

What questions help you communicate with your writers? What questions shut them down and what questions open them out? Please leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter @allisonmarchett.

 

 

Mentor Text Wednesday: Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy

Today’s guest post comes from Brian Kelley, co-director of the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. He teaches at Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and produces the podcast “The Classroom,” where he confers with students about writing. you can connect with him on Twitter @_briank_ or at brianjkelley.net.

Mentor Text

Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy, by Judd Apatow

Writing Techniques

  • Developing ideas
  • Identifying mentors

Background

From books to blog posts, writing teachers recognize possibilities for mentor texts everywhere. My radar is up as I look at Instagram, Twitter, and roadside billboards. I listen to podcasts and watch videos not only for pure enjoyment and personalized learning, but also for crumbs to bring into the classroom.

I found a breadcrumb trail worth sharing–mentor texts drawing attention to the act of writers doing writerly things outside of the classroom–where the real prewriting happens.

When Donald Graves wrote about a child’s control of the writing process, a piece of his interest was in what children did away from the classroom. When and where were children in a constant states of composition? Graves knew, in this state of constant composition (thinking of ideas), writers can glow like jack-o-lanterns.

A text in my reading pile, Judd Apatow’s Sick in the Head: Lessons about Life and Comedy, filled my writer’s notebook with ideas for focused free writes on our lives outside of the classroom.screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-08-11-am

Sometimes, students don’t know how to chase their curiosity when an activity, idea, or person absorbs them. Their life outside of the classroom does not always feel welcome or accessible inside the classroom. Our students need the mentor act as much as they need the mentor text. Often, a good first step is our sharing writing of writers doing writerly things outside of a classroom, on their own, because of a relentless curiosity.

Apatow tells comedian Marc Mahon that as a teenager he “used to transcribe Saturday Night Live. I would record it on an audio cassette…I think that I was in some way trying to figure out how to get into that world–how does it work? I wanted to break it down somehow (306).”

I wonder what our kids sink that much curiosity into? I also wonder…why I have never asked? You bet your ass I am asking now.

How we might use this text

I am offering several ideas for focused free writing to help students:

  1. identify ideas absorbing their attention.
  2. develop & write their thinking.
  3. reach out to mentors.

Could our students’ lives and thinking outside of school feel welcome in our classrooms? Could they write for themselves first and not for me? Could what I offer inside the classroom inspire action outside the classroom? Can I help students reach a constant state of composition about an element of joy and curiosity?

Each of the following ideas could be used as focused free writes in isolation or as a series.

Our mind

What is something that absorbs your attention so much that time spent with it is pure joy? Write about it so that you might share that joy with a reader.

When Apatow spoke with the team of Key and Peele, Jordan Peele said:

“…you can take all the classes you want and learn and practice and get all the advice from other people, but it’s really like learning an instrument that never existed until you were born. No one can tell you how to play that instrument. There’s a part of the journey that you have to figure out for yourself” (250).

What do you want in your life that would be worth the journey?

Our heart

What are the challenges of …? an older sister? being an only child? a dancer? being a perfectionist? living with a grandparent? caring for a sick pet? Perhaps Harold Ramis says as much about developing ideas as any mentor text:

“Maybe it would be better to do something you’re actually interested in, like an issue in your life…there’s got to be something going–what are the challenges of being a [fill in the blank] in the world? Start with something that’s important or of interest to you…” (125)

Write about the challenges of any truth you know. Share your truth until a reader owns it too.

Our belly

Seth Rogan began writing the script for Superbad when he was thirteen years old. When asked if he just kept rewriting it over and over again, Rogan said:

“Yeah, for around twelve years. If they made it when we were twelve–I mean it would be pathetic…What’s sad is that a fair amount of the jokes in the movie were in the draft we wrote when we were twelve years old…”(421).

What funny ideas do you have for a movie? What makes you laugh so hard that you feel it deep within? Don’t hold back–share ideas where laughter just pours from you and your friends like water from a jug. The odds are in your favor as a writer–if something makes you laugh, it may make your readers laugh.

Our feet

Apatow notes that mentoring comes from being in a place where you want to learn. As a teen, Apatow interviewed comedians. He went to comedy clubs. He made phone calls. And most often the George Carlins of the world were surprised to see a teenager when they finally met. But every comedian answered Apatow’s questions–and then they encouraged and mentored him.

I asked students to read this quote about Judd’s experiences and apply it to themselves:

“I needed to become one of them. The question was, how to do that? And the answer seemed clear: meet them. Talk to them. Get to know them. Learn their secrets (xii).”

Write about who the “them” is in our lives…who or what is it that we “need to become?” Framed another way, if you did not have to come to school for the next month, but you had to go someplace to learn something, where would you go?

Our soul

How can we create conditions so students feel as though they are in a place deep inside of themselves where they want to learn–bigger than the classroom–bigger than school–a mindset where they want to illuminate the page with writing that is like a grinning, toothy, jack-o-lantern inviting us closer to knock on the doors of their texts?

A good start is, of course, a teacher sharing what is deep inside himself; however, another move is finding other people in the real world (outside mentors) who feel so much love and curiosity for an idea that they share it through writing, sketching, digital mashups, music, and through multiple forms that transfer the glow of an idea to the eyes of a reader.

We can’t let this insight get away, can we? I so often see myself as the mentor, but Apatow pulls the rug out from underneath me. What about the push to bring more mentors into our students’ lives (inside and outside of the classroom) through local connections, writing letters, Google Hangouts, and social media?

Students can only be mentors themselves or get the most from a mentor if they care about what they are doing–if the writing is for them from the beginning–and if they are in a place (inside of themselves) where they want to learn. This is about a state of mind more than any physical space. Student writing does not begin or end by the light of a teacher’s dwindling candle.

Students must touch the flame to their own wicks. Yet teachers, as mentors, encourage that act.

Reader Mail: How do you balance writing and reading instruction?

“Would you rather teach only writing or only reading?”

The question my husband asked me during a marathon session of Would You Rather (we were driving from Virginia to Maine).

“Writing. Hands down.”

From the time I was a little girl, I’ve kept diaries, written letters to friends near and far, submitted poems to contests. In high school my mom made spiral-bound books of my writing, distributing copies to grandparents. In college, I majored in English with a concentration in poetry writing. I went to used bookstores and church books sales on the weekends, filling my backpack with the words of writers I’d read over and over again so I could become more like them. Today I teach writing to high schoolers and have written a book about writing instruction for secondary teachers.

Most of my English teacher friends decided to become English teachers because of a love affair with reading. I followed my passion for writing all the way to the classroom.

Although my love for writing and teaching writing is steadfast, answering that question – would I like to teach only writing or only reading – brings with it some discomfort and guilt. Shouldn’t I want to teach both equally? Shouldn’t I BE teaching both equally?

It’s not that I don’t like to teach reading. For one thing, I know that “writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of writing” (Annie Proulx). I also know that reading in and of itself is important (and I looooove to read…it’s what lead me to writing).

When I trace my predilection for teaching writing back to its roots, here’s what I find:

I see my students 3-4 times a week for 46 minutes. There are not enough days in the year, hours in the day, minutes in the hour to explore the incredible worlds of writing and reading fully – to teach both writing and reading well. So I would choose writing. I have the motivation and the resources and the education to teach reading and writing well. But I don’t have the time. And time is everything.

Enter reader mail from Dan Harris in Peabody, Massachusetts who shares the same frustration as I do:

How do you handle reading (i.e. independent, whole-class novel, etc.) in your classroom? Do you do a reading workshop during your writing workshop? I’m finding myself loving the writing workshop that I believe I am neglecting a bit the reading aspect. My students are doing a lot of self-selected independent reading. How are you able to find a balance?

So what are we to do? We have to teach writing. We have to teach reading. We have a very limited amount of time.

This question has two answers:

  • When we teach writing, we are also teaching reading.

I want to circle back to the Annie Proulx quote: Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of writing.

Teachers who use mentor texts to guide and inspire student writers know this to be true.

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Students reading mentor texts out loud in partners

In a classroom that puts mentor texts at the center, students read all the time. In the immersion phase, students are introduced to professional, current, relevant pieces of writing in the genre in which they are about to write. They read these pieces like writers, noticing what they look and sound like, and how they are put together. During this phrase, writers may also glean ideas for their own writing.

As writers move from the immersion phase to planning and writing, they read the mentor texts again, this time with a more focused purpose. In this phrase, students read to learn how:

  • to add detail to their writing
  • to structure their writing
  • to put voice into their writing
  • to write powerful leads and endings.

Then, as students continue to write and revise and write and revise as they work towards publication, they return to the mentor texts yet again, reading to learn how to:

  • punctuate their writing
  • use presentation elements (headings, images, etc.) to strengthen their writing.

In every phase of the writing process, students are reading. Closely. Repeatedly. For different purposes. They are never not reading.

The second way to think about the writing-reading balance:

  • We don’t have to teach literature and writing simultaneously. We can teach one thing, and then the other.

When teachers ask about how we balance reading and writing instruction, they’re usually referring to a different kind of reading – not the reading our students do in service of their writing – but reading for reading’s sake. Reading as literature study. Teaching novels.

And for me, this is where the guilt sets in. Because while I know I’m doing a lot of reading instruction with my students in writing workshop, it’s this kind of reading instruction that sometimes gets sacrificed in my classroom because of time constraints.

Over the years, in an attempt to strike the perfect reading-writing instruction balance, I have tried many different approaches. Here are approaches I’ve tried and the pros and cons of each.

  • Teach one semester of writing and one semester of reading

In this approach, students write in multiple genres (and read copious pieces in those genres) in the fall. In the spring, students study novels/whole books, and possibly write about them, too.

Pros

Cons

–       No more decision fatigue — instead of “What in the whole universe should I teach tomorrow?” the question is smaller for a whole semester: “What writing lesson should I teach tomorrow? What reading lesson should I teach tomorrow?”

–       You can devote all your time and energy to teaching one thing and one thing only each semester

–       Students find a rhythm quickly when the flow of the class is predictable and consistent (all writing all the time, or all reading all the time)

–       The other subject can be used to support/extend the primary subject (if you teach writing with mentor texts, students are getting reading instruction as well; students can write about their reading in the reading semester)

–       In a writing study, students aren’t reading literature (and vice versa)

–       In a reading study, students are producing full pieces of writing

–       In my experience, students have produced fewer published pieces of writing (5-6 instead of 7-8 when writing happens throughout the year)

–       If you start with a semester of reading, students wont’ have the writing skills to write smartly about what they’re reading

–       If you start with a semester of writing, a whole semester will pass before students are really digging into literature…

  • Devote a few days a week to each subject

In this approach, students write on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; they study literature on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Pros

Cons

–       No more decision fatigue!

–       Students know what to expect when they come to class – it’s a writing day or a reading day

–       Adds variety to the week – you’re not doing the same thing every day

–       You get to teach writing and reading evenly throughout the year

–       If a student is out sick two days in a row, he will not miss more than 1 day of instruction in either subject

–       If you don’t finish a writing lesson, you have to wait two days to complete it

–       If you’re teaching writing MWF, and Monday is a holiday, five days will pass before you can teach writing again

–       Switching back and forth between subjects can be exhausting

–       One subject gets more time and energy (whichever one you teach MWF)

–       Students don’t get consistent daily practice in genre writing or literature study

  • Alternate full writing and reading cycles

When you alternate writing cycles, you teach one writing study over 3-4 weeks, followed by a reading study of 2-3 weeks. Then you teach another writing study. Then you teach another reading study. And you move through the year in this way, alternating writing and reading cycles.

Pros

Cons

·      No more decision fatigue!

·      You can focus on one subject, and put all your energy into it, for 2-4 weeks at a time

·      Students quickly develop a writing or reading rhythm

·      You devote equal-ish time to both subjects by year’s end

·      During a writing cycle, students aren’t reading any literature (unless they are choosing to read outside of class, which some do)

·      During a reading cycle, students aren’t doing any longer pieces of writing

No matter the approach you choose, you’ll want to find small ways to tap into both subjects – and it’s not hard to do since the two are so closely linked:

In a reading day/semester/cycle:

In a writing day/semester/cycle:

·      Begin class with Notebook Time – daily opportunities for students to play with ideas

·      Invite students to work in their notebook for homework

·      Close the reading cycle by asking students to write about what they have read

·      Have students produce short reflective responses about their reading

 

·      Begin class with 10 minutes of independent reading (s

·      Keep homework simple: assign 10-15 minutes of reading each night

·      Focus on the skills of close reading during mentor text immersion

 

In a perfect world, students would take two year-long English classes: one literature course (in which they write about what they are reading) and one writing course (in which they read copiously in the genres in which they are writing). But until this dream situation becomes a reality, we need to be creative and flexible in our approach.

While none of the above scenarios is perfect, they all strive for balance in teaching the language arts, and they honor the ways in which reading and writing feed one another – and how they feed us.

~ Allison

Mentor Text Wednesday: Rewriting the Word Wall

Today’s guest post comes from Amy Heusterberg-Richards, a tenth-year ELA teacher at Bay Port High School in the Howard-Suamico School District, located just north of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Amy currently teaches Writing 10 and IB English Literature HL Year Two. Connect with her on Twitter at @LAwithMrsHR.

Mentor Texts:

Writing Techniques:

  • Reflecting on elements of craft
  • Creating voice

Background:

My fifth-grade Social Studies teacher had a head of hair that rivaled those of Michael Bolton and Kenny G (musical studs of the time), making him the subject of more than one conversation between my classmates’ mothers. He had an acoustic guitar on which he played historical ballads and an impressive collection of obnoxious ties. An apparent pioneer in flexible seating, he had a reading loft and colorful bean bag chairs, over both of which we students often fought. All these glorious items aside, though, the possessions I most remember from Mr. Weitzel’s school domain were his classroom walls, spaces filled with explorers’ names, vocabulary terms, and worldly locations.

At the beginning of the school year, the walls were unimpressive, white blocks spattered with grey smudges and sticky, tape residue. Come June, however, they transformed into an exhibition of all the learning we students had accomplished. I remember sitting at my desk those last days and feeling a proud satisfaction of all the terms I had acquired, all the people and places I could now discuss.  Mr. Weitzel, as primary school teachers perhaps best understand, knew the impact these Word Walls had on the development of his students. He used his walls to physicalize terms, to track concepts, and to serve as reference documents. He skipped posters to motivate and instead posted words to guide.

This school year in our tenth-grade Writing course, my teammates and I decided to re-write the seemingly elementary Word Wall concept at our secondary level. We knew we wanted to begin our class with an exploration of — to borrow language from Stephen King’s On Writing — the “tools” of effective craft. We selected five elements of voice (diction, syntax, imagery, inclusion/exclusion of details, and tone) which we felt we could use in all upcoming writing studies. We also decided, in the spirit of the Word Wall, to post visuals of each tool on our own walls for “Writing Well.”

How We Used The Mentor Texts:

For each writing tool, we asked students to define the device and study a teacher-selected mentor text whose purpose was twofold: The excerpt from King’s On Writing (chapter one of the “Toolbox” section) described how to select vocabulary, but students also discussed how King employed the diction tool himself; Anne Lamott’s “Short Assignments” from Bird by Bird advised how to include/exclude details, but the class analyzed how her writing gave/withheld information with intent, too.

After exploring such mentor texts by writers-on-writing, we asked students to discuss additional examples of each tool’s use in groups and practice writing these devices in pairs. Ultimately, we ended each two-day, tool study with an individual activity that prompted students to intentionally use the element of craft to write well and, at the same time, to produce a visual to adorn our Writing Well Wall.

  • For diction, each student selected words with similar denotative meanings and placed them on a spectrumed paint sample with consideration to connotation.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-07-pm
  • For syntax, each student selected an auditory sound and visually wrote syntax that mimicked its quality and color.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-12-pm
  • For imagery, each student selected a photograph and wrote the sensory experience of one of its human subjects.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-17-pm
  • For details, each student selected a topic about which to write a flip-book riddle that excluded enough details to confuse but not enough to stump.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-21-pm
  • For tone, each student pulled a page from a discarded library book, marked evidence that created a tone, and labeled/showed the tone word.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-26-pm

The entire study of these five writing tools took the initial two weeks of our course. In that short time, our Writing students studied, practiced, and mimicked the craftsmanship of strong writers at a wonderfully tangible level. They created a wall full of examples showcasing the tools used to produce effective craft. Greater even still, they developed testimonies to themselves that they can control, at this most focused level, the sometimes daunting tasks needed to write effectively. As we move on to more challenging topics, more developed essays, and longer revision periods, I hope my students feel a comforting satisfaction — not unlike the one fifth-grade me experienced — as they sit aside a Writing Well Wall that reminds them with each glance that they can use — and have used — the tools of powerful writers.

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Infusing Writing Lessons with Mentor Texts

We spend a lot of time touting the benefits of mentor texts for students for obvious reasons! Mentor texts — professional pieces of writing that are current and relevant to this year’s students — can guide and inspire their writing in ways that we alone can’t. Additionally mentor texts:

  • connect our writers to their passions
  • connect our writers to other writers — in our classrooms and in the real world of writing
  • equip our student writers with writing tools they’ll need throughout their schooling and after
  • provide our students with rich reading experiences
  • invite our students to read closely, many times over
  • offer interesting, authentic ways for our students to meet the standards they will be tested on at the end of the year
  • remind our students they are writers in a very real world brimming with very real writers
  • connect our writers to current events and hot topics

In short, mentor texts do everything for our students.

But perhaps one of the best kept secrets of mentor texts is that they help teachers. They can make our teaching lives easier and richer in myriad ways. One of the main reasons I am so grateful to have discovered the power of mentor texts in my teaching is because they  streamline my writing lessons and provide a natural rhythm my students and I can follow in every class period. 

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The graphic shows that mentor texts help guide the flow of every writing lesson in class and make the format of the class predictable. We know from Katie Wood Ray that predictability in a writing classroom frees our students up to do the most important thing — to write — rather than worry about what’s happening in class and if they’re going to think it’s fun. That same predictability also helps the teacher. No more late nights figuring out what activities to do with students tomorrow. I know what my lesson is going to look like before I even write it, and I have mentor texts to thank for that.

The framework is simple. You begin by introducing the big idea of the lesson in very simple terms. For example, last week I taught a lesson about endings in poetry. At the beginning of the lesson, I said, “Today you will learn how end your poems strongly — to end them with a click.” (The click part comes from poet Maxine Kumin who argues that the end of a poem should mimic the sound of a closing door: “if not the slam..then at least the click of the bolt in the jamb”.)

Then I projected five techniques writers use to bring their poems to a close (see below). Many teachers enjoy creating posters on giant-sized post it notes to display the writing lesson. Google Presentations is my preferred method, as you’ll see below, because I am not confident in my poster-making skills 😉

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-1-16-06-pm

This lesson fell at the end of a three-week study of poetry, so my writers were very familiar with rhyme, line breaks, and repetition. The techniques I revealed in this lesson weren’t new to them — but the way in which the techniques could be leveraged to bring their poems to a close were.

Then I said, “Please take out your mentor texts if they’re not already on your desk, so we can take a look at how some of our mentors use these techniques.”

It’s important to mention that, even though my students didn’t pull out their mentor texts until we were a few minutes into the lesson, mentor texts had entirely guided us to that point. The big idea — that writers use repetition, images, and line breaks to end their poems strongly — came from the mentor texts. Because the mentor texts always tell us what to teach. Always. (Click here for Rebekah’s post on where writing lessons come from and how we plan writing studies.)

At this point in a writing lesson — after you’ve introduced the big idea and various techniques for achieving the effect in your writing — there are several ways to directly infuse the lesson with mentor texts:

  • Have students annotate the writing directly in their mentor text packets

This is my go-to method of inviting students to examine the techniques being used by our beloved mentors. Students simply take out their packets, and as you explain each technique in more depth, students  underline, highlight, or use colored pencils to mark the examples in their texts.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-8-18-30-am

Jillian A’s annotated mentor text

I know we’ve had a great writing study if, at the end, my students’ mentor text packets are worn and dog-eared — maybe even falling apart and in need of a new staple. That’s because we’re digging into these packets on a daily basis, reading each mentor text closely dozens and dozens of time, sucking every last drop of inspiration and guidance out of them.

  • Have students create a visual in their writer’s notebooks

Sometimes having the students directly annotate their packet can feel stale or rote — like you need something to shake up the routine. Invite students to create a visual of the lesson, including excerpts of the mentor texts. To assist them in doing this, consider printing out and cutting up a few excerpts from the mentor texts — excerpts that highlight that lesson’s techniques — so students don’t have to spend any time printing and cutting — they can simply read and think and find a good home for their mini mentor texts in their writer’s notebook.

  • Have students add lesson notes to their touchstone text

At the beginning of a study, as a way to get the beautiful language of their mentors into their heads and hearts, I invite my students to copy a full-length mentor or a favorite excerpt from a mentor text into their notebooks for safekeeping. A third option for infusing your lesson with mentor texts is to ask your students to return to this mentor text (or excerpt) and annotate it with the lesson’s techniques. Anything done in the writer’s notebook tends to feel more personalized and lasts longer because students are far less likely to lose their notebooks than their packets. Below you’ll see a four page spread of the poem Shelter that Dylan D. diligently copied into his notebook and annotated over the course of a few class lessons:

Once students have had an opportunity to think about the new skill or technique introduced and see their mentors using it, it’s time to invite them to consider their own writing and how this technique might amplify what they are currently working on them.

It’s my favorite part of the lesson — asking, “Can you find a strategic place in your writing for this technique?”

As my students boot up their laptops and turn the pages of their notebook, as they gather highlighters and colored pencils to mark their writing, as they discuss amongst themselves what they’re working on and what they think of the lesson and how it might help their writing, I always take a mindful minute to soak it in — to stand there thankful for the mentors that gave me a good lesson and the writers who will grow because of it.

How do you infuse your lessons with mentor texts? What is the flow of your writing lessons? I would love to hear from you on Twitter @allisonmarchett — or feel free to comment below!

 

 

Mentor Text Wednesday: A surprising essay collection that helps students get at the “root” of the matter

Today’s post comes from our Twitter friend Brett Vogelsinger. When he is not digging in the garden, Brett teaches ninth grade English at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA. You can connect with him on Twitter @thevogelman.

Mentor Text:  The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-8-24-08-amWriting Techniques:

  • Powerful syntax and diction
  • Intense brevity
  • Getting at the “roots” of something

Background:

Looking for a book to read on a trip to Maine, I stumbled upon a brief review of the book The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden.  A quick trip to the library, and it was mine for the week of travel.  I looked forward to a break from reading books to recommend to students, a little private “grown-up” reading that appealed to one of my other passions in life: gardening.  

But as teachers of reading and writing, we all know that we cannot so easily shed our teacher skin and read books as normal folk.  So only three essays into the book, I found myself not just admiring the well-crafted nonfiction, the brisk pacing, the powerful voice of each essayist, but also longing to take those lessons back to my students, to hear them write about their passions written with similar finesse.

Moreover, each essay in the book took a just a few minutes to read, yet each sounded unique to its writer and each crackled with wonderful wording.  I know these were professional horticulturalists and botanists and landscape designers, most of them with their own books already published, public speaking resumes replete, adept at turning their ideas into words, but I could not help but think, “This is the kind of excitement I want to feel reading my students’ work!  This is the kind of spark I want to help them to throw!”

Use these mentor texts to teach:

Powerful Diction and Syntax

Here are a few of the favorite lines I discovered in this book.  Each could make an excellent mentor text for a student looking to craft a memorable line in their nonfiction writing.

“My favorite part of winter is spring.” — William Cullina, “Spring Fever”

“Plants adopted me, I think.  My parents did their best, but with six kids and their own drinking problems, I was up for grabs.” — Thomas Hobbs, “It All Began With An Oxygen Mask”

“Whatever else might be happening in my day, or in the world, the garden is always there, carrying on its unhurried, miraculous business in the bee-humming, earth-splitting Now.” — Susan Heeger, “Homegrown”

“Perhaps I garden for all that accompanies the act of gardening: the nutty-sweet fragrance of black locust blossoms, on a rainy afternoon in May, when the silver-gray clouds make the trees look like gray-green ghosts laden with white blossoms; the flash of a sky-blue wing, as a bluebird flies from its next in the hollow of a tree and swoops, in that particular bluebird way, over the field where I’m planting my tomatoes.”

As I write this I am suddenly aware that my mentor sentences get longer as I write them (give me enough space in this post and I’ll start quoting entire paragraphs!) but each offers its own lesson in craft from the short, quick, surprise twist in the first one to the dense, lush, hyphen-heavy description in the last.  These are lines that will stretch our student writers.

Intense Brevity

The average essay in this book runs just a few pages long, readable in minutes.  Sometimes our student writers need to hear from us and see in mentors that writing can be deep, meaningful, and important without being Dickensian in length and complexity.

Examining how these writers pare down their lives into one or two moments and then pare those moments down into key images and meaningful epiphanies can help inspire our students to return to revise by reduction, trimming, shaving away.  

Getting at the “Roots” of Something

The whole idea behind this essay collection is that the writers are seeking to discover what is at the “root” of their obsession with gardening.  The metaphor works especially well in the title of a gardening book, of course, but it can be applied to anything.  A student who is obsessed with snowboarding or cars or ballet or graphic novels can trace these interests back to their roots too, and doing so in an essay can be a means of self-exploration.

Katherine Bomer, in her book The Journey Is Everything, calls for teachers to move students towards this view of the essay, to perceive the genre as a means of discovering something new, not simply state and restate what is already known to a tightly scripted formula.  Challenging students to explore the roots of their obsessions in brief essays implies some digging and exploration, some unearthing is involved in their writing process.  The writers in the collection have done this work and the excitement in their thinking shines  Even students with no interest in gardening could find in one of these essays an excellent mentor for the “sound” of exploration in an essay, the thrill of the dig.  

I admit that when all these ideas came flooding in on me my first thought was “Hey, this is my summer!  What happened to my me-time reading?”  I had to quickly remind myself that it is precisely this “reading as a writing teacher” that makes my work so endlessly interesting and engaging for myself and my students.  It gives me and my students mentors to spend time with.  This type of reading might well be tangled in the roots of my obsession with teaching English.  And I wouldn’t want it any other way.  

What book collections have you found useful as mentor texts for essay?  What texts emphasize the power of brevity for your students?

Connect with Brett @thevogelman!