Monday, January 09, 2012

Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop: Reading Like a Writer

(This post is part of a series on Mentor Text in the Digital Writing Workshop. Other participants include Katie Dicesare, Tony Keefer, Kevin HodgsonTroy Hicks and Bill Bass. The post are being collected at  Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop.)

"Teachers must also ensure that children have access to reading materials that are relevant to the kind of writer they are interested in becoming at a particular moment.  Teachers must recruit the authors who will become the children's unwitting collaborators."  
                                                               Frank Smith, Joining the Literacy Club

Our students naturally mentor themselves to texts that matter to them.  Kids are good at writing picture books because they have often been immersed in narrative for years before they write one of their own.  Every day in the library, someone writes a new installment of the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. We have The Pigeon Gets a Christmas Tree, Don't Let the Pigeon Get Away and The Pigeon Gets a Wife in process right now.  Mo Willems makes it easy for kids to grow as writers after they've been immersed-as readers-with his books.   Lately, I have been thinking about what it means to read like a writer when the idea of both reading and writing are constantly expanding. 

A few years ago, many of my students were learning Hannah Montana's Hoedown Throwdown dance from this video.  Kids would practice the dance at recess and the clip inspired many to start their own Youtube channels teaching other dances they knew.  They looked at this and thought, "I could do this!"

And we are seeing more and more things like Toaster Pop, an iPod app/game created by a first grader.
With apps like the Toaster Pop, we can read the story and easily identify the mentors this child used and the way in which he realized, "Hey, I could do that."   Our kids are natural creators--they easily and naturally create things that they see in the real world.

But my students have taught me that the experiences they have with digital texts at home are mostly limited to viewing for sheer entertainment.  They have said, "We are good at watching videos for entertainment, but not to get information or learn."  Much of their viewing is based on videos or shows like iCarly. I LOVE iCarly and her web show makes me laugh. But I notice that when kids try to create narrative or tell stories digitally, they fall back on the kinds of things they've seen. Like this popular iCarly clip.

Funny, right?  I can already think of other episodes I would love to create and this video has sparked ideas of videos that would be fun to create for friends' birthdays or other holidays.  As a teacher, I need to know what my kids spend their time viewing so that I can build on and teach from that. But the types of things kids are viewing are not necessarily the things that will help them learn to grow as writers. So, I also need to find mentors that better match what I am hoping they will create. And as Kevin Hodgson mentioned in his post yesterday, "...with some exceptions, there is still a decided lack of digital examples of  composition with technology that we can turn to as educators and provide as samples for our students."

I am a person who is is constantly mentoring myself to experts.  The internet has been so instrumental in my learning.  As a beginning blogger, I evolved as a writer because I read other blogs and got to know the genre and the culture of bloggers. When I started making cake pops and more fancy cupcakes, I followed blogs that shared the process of decorating and focused on those that could move me forward.  And as I start toward a fitness goal of running, I look to others who have very recently started the process so that I learn from their experiences.

But in order to do that, I had to be comfortable on the web and with digital texts without an immediate need to learn something specific. It is the same with our students. If we want them to be composers of quality digital pieces, they need to be immersed in these types of things as readers. As Troy Hicks mentioned in his post on Friday, "It’s the difference between handing them a flip camera and giving them an hour to pull something together as compared to spending time talking about the craft of digital writing."

If we want students to create more sophisticated pieces, or use digital tools for authentic purposes,  we need to make sure that we don't just pull those samples out quickly during writing workshop time--to study for a day or two. Instead, we need to think about how digital texts fit into all of the pieces of our literacy workshops. We need to use pieces of quality media throughout the day and rethink the ways we integrate all forms of reading into our day.

I have realized lately how much is out there for our students to learn from. There  are many non-quality digital resources out there,  but there are also many amazing sites for students.  Some of my favorites are Wonderopolis, Pebble Go, Meet Me at the Corner, DOGONews, ToonBookReader and Tumblebooks.  But I am also realizing that if we do not value al types of media at school, all day, every day, we cannot expect our students

Read Aloud
Do I choose to read aloud only texts from traditional books or do I share digital texts, audio books, blogs, etc. during read aloud?
Do we use web resources such as author websites and book trailers to help us dig deeper into the book we are reading?
Do I read aloud from websites and blogs?

Independent Reading
Do we use online resources for book previewing and book selection?
Do I limit students' independent reading to traditional books or do they have a variety of options for their reading time?  Do I place equal value on reading on e-readers, reading websites, etc. as I do on reading novels?
Do I help my students use online tools to support their lives as readers? Do I value annotation tools, bookmarking tools, RSS feeds, etc. as part of my readers lives? Do I model these tools in minilessons?

Reading and Writing Minilessons
Do I use digital texts or pieces when teaching minilessons?
Do I rely completely on traditional text or do I use film clips, blog entries, podcasts, etc. when planning minilessons?
Do I share process in my minilessons? Do I tend to share process only as it relates to creating text-based pieces?
Do I share my own writing process?  Composing in several types of media?

Shared Reading
Have I reflected on the resources I rely on for Shared Reading?
Do I include web reading and viewing when thinking about Shared Reading experiences?
How can I include a variety of texts for students to process through together?

Content Reading
Have I found sources for content reading that go beyond textbooks and traditional text?
Do I rely on newspapers for talk around current events or do I tend to focus more on sites like DOGONews and other sites that combine text and video?
How am I supporting the importance of visual information in the content areas?

I spend a great deal of time reading books so that I have the right book to share in a minilesson or reading conference. But I am working to rethink the messages I give to students as both readers and writers when I rely almost exclusively on more traditional texts for much of the day.  I've been inspired by teachers like Andrea Smith who incorporates Wonderopolis into her Morning Meeting.  I also learn tons from Katie DiCesare who has been thinking about this idea for some time.  For me, it is about honestly reflecting on the types of "texts" I value all day, every day. And to expand the ways I use digital texts throughout the day. I know that if I want my students to read like writers, they need to be readers of digital text first.  For my students to become creators of sophisticated digital texts, I believe that they need to be immersed in a variety of quality multi-media all day, every day.


  1. Franki I loved this post. I agree when you say that we have to find pieces that fit into all of the pieces of our literacy workshop. The questions you detail under the pieces are great thinking points. Thanks.

  2. Anonymous7:34 AM

    About 2/3 of the way through this post (i read the whole thing then went back to watch clips) I started reading extremely fast because your voice in my brain started picking up the pace like when you present. :)

    Again, you really reminded me of many key ideas and stretched my thinking. Between you and Kevin I just may be inspired to do some video work this year.


  3. Tony--wait until tomorrow;s post before you decide to try video. I share my disaster...

  4. Yay! I loved this post. As I try to incorporate 10 iPads into my classroom I am always trying to find interesting, thought provoking, and meaningful uses. The kids do use them for independent reading. Timbuktu has been a wonderful magazine. We used them for poetry writing, but after reading your post and going to Wonderopolis I am going to model and have kids use them for our "Writing into the Afternoon" sessions.

  5. Wow. Tons to think about here.

    I found you through the Comment Challenge, but this post inspires me to stay in touch.

    I am a puzzle writer who finds it difficult to transition to digital media because I'm not a programmer and puzzle apps are not especially easy to create. Small variations in puzzles require re-programming, so even those producing digital puzzles have limitations.

    I enjoy thinking, talking, and reading about ways puzzles can educate, maybe even help develop writing skills, and I would love to hear your thoughts at some point.

    I'm so glad to have found you!


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