Delaware Writing Project

Learning from a Mentor, by Chantalle Ashford

By Aleta Thompson

Learning from a Mentor
By Chantalle Ashford, Indian River High School

When I learned the focus of this year’s Delaware Writing Project was writing with mentor texts, I immediately became excited. In my short teaching career, one of the things that stood out to me as an English teacher was my students’ lack of writing know-how. Writing is an area of struggle for many of them. “How do I get started?” was a question I heard frequently, even from my students who were naturally gifted. To know that I was going to learn and implement a new way of teaching writing made me even more excited for this school year.

Though reading a mentor text for the strengths of the writing and then implementing that in my own writing was intuitive enough to me, for my students this was a foreign concept. They were so well trained to read a text to comprehend that when I asked them to then analyze what effect the way something was written had an impact on what was written, it was as if I were asking them to calculate how much fuel was needed to travel around the Earth 1,000 times (to be fair, for some of them that may have been easier).

However, as I modeled reading “like a writer” and using mentor texts to revise my writing, I begin to see changes in the ways many of my students showed up as writers. In our initial writing conferences, students were still lost on how to use the mentors and mini-lessons. But as we rounded out the end of the process, most students only needed a few probing questions or to be pointed towards a certain passage in a mentor in order to improve upon their drafts.

For many of my students, writing is a daunting and arduous process. They don’t know where to start, nor how to end. By exposing them to mentor texts and specific writing techniques from those mentors, they were able to successfully reimagine, for themselves, what the writing process could look like. I was really pleased and pleasantly surprised by the work my students were able to submit. The essays, overall, were not dry or formulaic, but instead, each student’s voice shown through their written text as they made some novel points about familiar characters.

This process of taking the work of master writers and applying their techniques to our own work is one worth exploring in the everyday English classroom. In fact, isn’t that what the best teachers do? We learn from the master teachers around


us and use their same techniques in our own work. I thoroughly enjoyed the results of using this method in my classroom this year and am excited to implement it again in the future.

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