Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mentor Texts--My goals for summer

As I have been working with K-5 students, I have been thinking about what it means when we think about creating in a 21st Century world?

I have always been committed to a Reading/Writing Workshop and know the power of books and text for readers and writers to grow. I know that having mentor texts when writing is critical.  But, with the new tools and the new formats for creation, finding mentor pieces for our students becomes a little bit of a challenge.

One of the things I know is that before we can ask kids to create a slide show or a video or a Public Service Announcement, they need lots of experience watching these.  And they also need to learn how to "watch like a writer".  To look at mentor clips and think about what makes them effective. What things did this writer/creator do that you might try?

I remember avoiding PowerPoint when working with teachers for a long time. I loved the flexibility of my transparencies and hadn't seen anyone use it in a way that worked for me.  Then I watched Katie Wood Ray use a PowerPoint in a talk and I was inspired.  She had created something that could work for me.  I used her as a mentor--thinking about what she had done as a PowerPoint creator, that was different from the others I'd seen. What had she done that I could learn from?  I had a vision that made the move to PowerPoint worth it.

As a writing teacher, I know the power of mentors and mentor texts, of keeping a writers' notebook and of writing myself.  If I am going to invite students to create videos, slide shows, etc. I know that having gone through the process myself will be critical. And I know that helping students find mentors that match their needs will be key.

So, my summer goals are two-fold. First, I want to create my own "notebook" of creations. I feel like I need to play with these new tools and collect samples of things I do authentically with the newer tools--What do I photograph and why? When do I send a video of the kids to my parents? How do I use Keynote when I work with teachers?  What am I interested in and how do different tools help me collect, create and communicate?

Second, I want to keep my eye out for quality mentor pieces.  When we expand our definition of author, the questions are the same. I want a collection of clips and pieces that I can use with students as they begin to think about their own creations.  These clips and pieces seem a bit more difficult to find than the books and writing pieces I share with students.  As a teacher, it is the same thinking but different tools. 

Whether my kids are creating poetry or a video Public Service Announcements, the questions are the same--they all revolve around looking at quality work and asking yourself:
 What decisions did this author make in order to create this piece? What makes it effective?

The specifics might be different but I imagine we'll still look at solid leads, word choice, organization--those traits of writing that we know so well. But we will also look at the tech decisions-which might be considered the craft. Why did the author decide on the background music? How does the length of transitions impact the meaning?

When I look at clips with this lens, it is interesting what I find.  The kids are discovering so many things about creation just by watching quality clips and thinking about the decisions made in the creation.

These are two clips I've found this week to begin my collection.  I don't know if I'll ever use them but they'll be in my toolbox:

In this Public Service Announcement encouraging people to get a flu shot, the camera work and the slow motion works to create the drama needed to get the message across. I can envision lots of talk about timing, persuasion, etc. after students watch this.

And I love this clip from Wesley Fryer--"Go Green! Go Electric!". A great clip to show kids that informs viewers--done by kids. The combination of narration and visuals works well and I want to make sure I have lots of examples of pieces by kids.  

I imagine, as with any inquiry, once I share a few of these, the students will find many in their worlds and begin to watch with the eyes of a creator.  These will just begin the conversation. As I continue to reflect on the goals for our students and the definitions of 21st Century Literacies, looking critically and learning from mentor pieces seems key in the process of creation.  


  1. Not surprisingly, I love your thinking about mentor text for student products created using 21st century literacy and thinking. It really isn't different from mentor text for writing workshop. :)

    Great post!

  2. Franki,
    As always, I am inspired by your thinking. I really want to join you on this journey and learn some new things this summer!


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