Delaware Writing Project

Mentoring Relevancy, by Breanne Prisco

By Aleta Thompson

Mentoring Relevancy:  A Look at the Benefits of Using Mentor Texts

by Dr. Breanne Prisco (Sussex Central High School) for the Delaware Writing Project 2019

Teachers research materials, build lessons, convert these lessons into relevant artifacts for students, and then guide students through a unit, hoping the education gods look down on them and that students are able to make relevant connections and learn something…anything…from them. Right?

Hold the phone! Teachers don’t have to do it ALL! This year’s Delaware Writing Project introduced us (educators from around the state in varying capacities) to the idea of incorporating–no, using–mentor texts to guide our literary analysis writing lessons. I emphasize using instead of incorporatingbecause the idea behind this practice espoused by Rebekah O’Dell is that teachers and students alike can access great texts that guide learning from every perspective. While the teachers find the majority of the texts because they know where they are trying to guide students, students can also research mentor texts as they become more efficient with their purpose and use.

While I specifically worked on the 12th grade team, I learned about the benefits (and inevitable drawbacks) throughout the development of our writing unit. I also realized that as teachers, we are most beneficial to students as coaches instead of the “sage on the stage.” We need to guide students through exploratory learning and understanding how to use the resources all around them, specifically in the form of mentor texts.

  • Benefit: Pretty much anything can be used as a mentor text. We were able to find, evaluate, and incorporate so many different texts including student essays, pop-culture articles, scholarly work, and pictures.
  • Drawback: Pretty much anything can be used as a mentor text. We were extremely overwhelmed at first when trying to figure out not only what mentor texts even were, but how to evaluate them for our purpose. There was so much to sift through, and each text sent us down a different path of inspiration.
  • Benefit: Mentor texts are relevant and capture students’ attention. A major point of using mentor texts is that teachers can pull in resources that play to the students’ interests at the time, introducing them to professional, real-world writing.
  • Drawback: It can be tough to continuously collect mentor texts. Because we are so strapped for time in our schools, and because there are so many possible resources available, it can be overwhelming to continuously collect the most up-to-date mentors.
  • Benefit: However, that’s the beauty of mentor texts–they do not have to actually have anything to do with the literature they are being used to support, rather, each mentor text could be used for a variety of tasks. Therefore, teachers can collectively seek and share these texts and build a repository for future access. Then, when someone comes across a great mentor text, it can be deposited until someone uses it. As long as they are still deemed relevant for the task, the date doesn’t necessarily matter.
  • Drawback: It is a daunting and time consuming task to begin a collection of mentor texts, but it is worth it.

 

  • Benefit: These texts repeat the directions and guidance for you. Instead of having to explain what an introduction is for the 15th time in just as many minutes, teachers can just refer the students to the mentor texts for guidance.
  • Drawback: Depending on their learning abilities, students may struggle with any given mentor text. Students may become stressed over having to address the task at hand and then having to interpret the mentor text on top of that.
  • Benefit: There can be multiple mentor texts for any given part of the lesson. That’s the beauty of using mentor texts, you can point out (or have students identify) multiple examples and guides from whichever texts they find usable and relevant, thus guiding their own learning as the teacher coaches.

Again, teachers are most beneficial as coaches, providing resources or access to find resources that are relevant and engaging to students’ interests. This project has the potential to positively impact the way we teach writing while helping students’ enjoy the process of learning.

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