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How Mentor Texts Can Help Writers Discover a Creative Process

by Rose Cappelli

Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted, “NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!”
Frog came running up the path.
“What’s all this noise?” he asked.
“My seeds will not grow,” said Toad.
“You are shouting too much,” said Frog. “These poor seeds are afraid to grow.”

                                    -from Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

I guess you could say mentor texts are my thing. I’ve read hundreds of picture books and middle grade novels to mine strategies teachers can use to help students understand the structure and craft of writing. I’ve also used them extensively to help students find ideas for writing. One way is to encourage students to make connections to their own lives. A book like Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes might spark a story about a favorite pair of red boots, or a favorite teacher, or a time they felt bad about the way they behaved. I also make sure to include information from author’s notes in read alouds to help students better understand where ideas come from. For example, Sandra Markle based her story, Toad Weather, on an annual toad migration.  Books like Ralph Writes a Story by Abby Hanlon and One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories by Rebecca Kai Dotlich are new favorite mentor texts that I use with students and recommend to teachers that demonstrate how stories can easily come from our everyday lives if we are willing to keep our eyes and hearts and minds open to possibilities. Before a story there has to be an idea. But, how can we use mentor texts to help students take that idea to the next level? How can we help them create a story, rather than a recount, that springs from everyday experiences? How can we help them nurture an idea and let it grow into the most wonderful story only they could write? Read more

Tools of the Trade: Resources to Stage a Read-In

Are you thinking of hosting an African American Read-In in your classroom or school this month? Consider incorporating some of the activities my librarian and I have planned.African-American-Read-banner2018.jpg

Author Readings: Start with a reading by one or more African American authors in order to expose students to the rich and varied voices behind the texts. If you don’t have the funding or ability to host a live reading, use the next best thing – video. These are the resources I plan to tap in order to share readings with my students this month:

National Book Awards Readings – Each year the night before the National Book Awards Ceremony the finalists gather to read from their nominated books. This site contains video footage of these readings for the past six years and is a great resource to use in order to expose your students to many great books and authors. Some of the African American readers over the past few years include Jesmyn Ward reading Sing Unburied Sing and Salvage the Bones, Jason Reynolds reading Ghost, Angela Johnson reading Brown Girl Dreaming, and John Lewis discussing March Book 3. Read more

Books on the Blog: YA Books to Spark Real Discussions about American Race Relations

by Kelly Virgindear martinIn the first chapter of Dear Martin by Nic Stone Justyce McAllister, an Ivy League bound, black teenager, is handcuffed and detained by the police when they mistakenly assume he is up to something as he attempts to keep his drunk and slightly belligerent ex-girlfriend from driving herself home. This incident is understandably jarring for the teen and he thinks to himself:

Yeah, there are no more “colored” water fountains, and it’s supposed to be illegal to discriminate, but if I can be forced to sit on the concrete in too-tight cuffs when I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s clear there’s an issue. That things aren’t as equal as folks say they are.

In an attempt to come to terms with the experience and to deal with the pressures he feels from the neighborhood he managed to escape and the prep school he doesn’t entirely fit into, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, tragedy strikes his life and he starts to question whether Dr. King’s teachings still apply to the world we live in today.  Read more

Teacher to Teacher: Calling on Our Wisdom

By Lynne R. Dorfman

When the end of the school day comes, we often see teachers dragging themselves to the parking lot with bookbags and laptops and papers galore. They are tired – they’ve worked hard from the moment they stepped into their classrooms until beyond the final bell. They love their profession – the students, their peers, the challenges. But what about the students?  They burst through the doors, running and jumping and calling to friends. They still abound with energy. “It’s a question of age,” you say. “They are youthful – this is to be expected.”  But is this the reason for their energy?

Are students putting as much effort into the learning day as their teachers?  If we take a closer look into classrooms, we often see the teacher explaining, modeling, offering solutions, taking the lead, and providing resources. Students are capable of all these things and more. Instead of teachers pulling kids up the mountain, sometimes carrying them on their back, students can work together (sometimes, with a little guidance of gentle nudges from the teacher) and have conversations on many levels. These conversations can be about interesting areas of inquiry, books that serve as mentor texts, and making the classroom environment more efficient and user friendly – anything that will help move the entire learning community forward. Conversations focus on solving problems, and students, together with the teacher as facilitator, can arrive at a new level of learning.

Our goal of education is to produce students with the ability to evaluate, discuss, and apply what they know. If we expand from our traditional model, we can create classrooms where everyone is a teacher and a learner.  Wisdom is at the heart of this framework, and knowledge is at the head. Our job is calling on our wisdom to apply what we know to be true and what we value as educators and learners.

Teaching is as much about watching as it is about instructing and assessing. Remember Ken and Yetta Goodman’s focus on “kidwatching” and all that it implied? In fact, a large part of our job is to watch, to listen closely, to notice and note!  What kidwatching meant was asking ourselves a set of questions such as the following:

  • What do I notice?
  • What could the student(s) work on?
  • Where do I go next?
  • How can I get there?

Read more

Books on the Blog: Books for Young Activists

By Jen Greene

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford

So many biographies are available to learn about Martin Luther King Jr., but this one tasks us to learn from him. What did he stand for and how can you be a King like Martin?  From simple starts such as, “Admit that you’ve done wrong. Just say, “I’m sorry,” and mean it,” to more activist calls to action like, “Beat the drum for justice. March to your own conscience,” Weatherford employs readers to take Martin’s philosophies and values and apply them to their own lives.  James E. Ransome’s detailed illustrations help to imagine what life could be like if you were to be a King.

A Little Radical:  The ABC’s of Activism by Danica & Jason Russell

This is an excellent book for younger students or those wanting to get more involved in advocacy and social justice.  Each letter of the alphabet reveals a part of activism and asks readers to consider how they might get involved, even in the smallest of ways.  For instance:  “S is for spark. The start of a fire. How one little life can ignite and inspire. Strike when you’re hot, even if you burn out. You may never know what your glow brings about. Most people are afraid of the dark. For the world to light up, we just need your spark.”