Sunday, January 08, 2012

Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop: Writer as Decision-Maker

"This is no recipe book: I have tried not to be formulaic. Rather, I want to suggest the richness of the options, the myriad of possibilities open to the writer at any given moment."

Ralph Fletcher, What a Writer Needs, 1995, p. 2

When I think about how the possibilities for writing has expanded for our students, these are the two video clips I keep going back to.

I discovered this "Saved by the Bell" Public Service Announcement years ago and have watched it numerous times.

Don't do drugs - saved by the bell from Matthew Stockmeyer on Vimeo.

It seems somewhat obvious that this was a clip scripted and produced by adults--adults who worked at a television studio. It also is interesting that the "adult' has to come in to have the final word. If I were to imagine kids watching this on t.v. I assumed not many kids watched it and thought, "Hey, I'd like to make something like that."  With the technology available then, it took the big television studios, etc. to get word out about a topic quickly. It took lots of money and lots of adult organization.

Compare that to this Public Service Announcement done a few years ago by Noah Gray, a high school student:

I found this clip almost 3 years ago and I have watched it over and over again. The power of this message is amazing.  From my understanding, Noah Gray was a high school student when he created this video. It was a message he cared about and the equipment necessary was easy to use.  The message hit the internet and spread.  You can find connected videos inspired by this video all over Youtube. It is clear that kids saw this and thought, "I can do that."

In my thinking about mentor texts, we have to keep in mind that writing has to be real and it has to have a real audience.  We also have to remember that writers are ultimately decision-makers.

I've used this clip with students and adults to really begin to think about all of the decisions available to writers today.  Noah Gray made so many decisions as a writer in this very short, powerful clip. He made decisions about the script, the sound and the visuals.  Noah decided where to cut each person's lines and where to start the next person. He decided on the message. Here are some other decisions he made:

black and white video/no color
head shots only/not full body-same shot for each participant
casual dress for people speaking
short clips of talk by participants
boys and girls all look to be in teen years
participants showed up more than once
question as a lead into the video/script
9 people total
ending united with 9 kids shown in grid
white, plain background
no music/background sound
30 seconds long

Each of these (and many other) decisions were made for a reason. The reasons had to do with the message that Noah wanted his viewers to take away. Instead of just crafting words, as writers have done in the past, digital writers make decisions about words, sound, visuals and more.

Mentor texts in our classrooms could open up students' possibilities to these decisions-the options they have as writers. They can see that they are the decision makers and that multi-media requires creators of digital text to make many decisions so that their messages are clear and powerful.  Rather than be formulaic, I want my students' mentors to be pieces that open up what is possible in their own work.


  1. That idea about decision-making and compositional choices is very important. And our role as teachers is never more crucial than during this process. We need to make visible the ways that design and planning play an important role in the quality of the final project.
    Great post, Franki!

  2. As my class begins this week to choose from their digital toolbox for persuasive writing (Sonic Pic, green screen, Keynote, and/or Story Kit w/ voice over) I will share your blog post with my students tomorrow at school. I want my students to learn about all of the choices that they have to make in their piece. All of them are as important as the words they choose to persuade their audience. I knew I was going to learn many new ideas from these posts this week. Thanks :)

  3. First, had to love this just for the flash back to Saved By the Bell. I used to love that show. But I loved the contrast between the PSA for it and the one the high school kid produced. And I think the idea of studying them for the choices is awesome. I use that idea in writing already, Katie Wood Ray did that idea in Study Driven, but haven't thought about expanding to the digital world. Thanks for getting my brain thinking along these lines!

  4. Once again Franki you remind me that the writing process is a complex one and that I have to remember all that goes into creating a writing piece. This is something I need to address with my little ones to remind them of all that they are accomplishing while writing. It's not just about the conventions which they tend to get hung up on sometimes. Thanks for reminder!

  5. There is a teacher I work with whose students are creating videos that concern topics dear to them, like this example you gave, eliminating the 'r' word. I sent the post to him, and want to thank you for being so clear in the parts that are included in digital writing. Looking forward to more!

  6. Franki,
    I agree with Kevin. You brought up such an incredibly important part of the process. One of our jobs is to expand the possibilities for kids, but at the same time making sure the decisions that are made in the design of their work are ones that make sense for the message the author wants to deliver.
    Great post!


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