Delaware Writing Project

Using Mentor Texts, by Tabitha Bendel

By Aleta Thompson

2019 Delaware Writing Project
Tabitha Bendel, Christina School District

I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always been drawn to stories. I love the craft. I love the art of it. I have always found myself admiring what other writers can do.

I can remember when I was in elementary school reading books and wanting to emulate the art and stories. I’d spend my weekends drawing my illustrations and plotting out my simplistic storylines. It didn’t matter that the story was similar to the original. I felt accomplished.

Teaching students to write with mentor texts reminded me of my early experiences with writing. Without even knowing it, I had been practicing this process on my own as a child.

I believe that for children learning through emulation is a big part of how we learn. We follow the path of others before us and in the process we learn what works best for us. My old methods of teaching writing through notes and practice and conferencing was always lacking something. I just didn’t know that that something was learning through mentors.

In my previous years teaching writing, I was the expert. Students came to me for guidance but with mentors I am no longer the only “expert” in the room. Instead of me giving all of the notes, students were able to observe what to do from their mentor texts. I didn’t know how much of a difference it would make to their writing, but I saw significant improvement from the beginning of the year with more traditional writing instruction to the end.

Because using mentor texts was so impactful for the class that I originally created the unit for, I decided to use it in my other classes and I can honestly say that creating the unit and learning about mentor texts was the single most impactful professional development on my teaching in a long time. I plan to continue this practice into the next school year, implementing it from the first day of school.

I integrated the mentor texts into two separate units: writing with the novels Night and Fahrenheit 451. I found that the students had more freedom to write with this model of teaching. They had more control over what they were writing and their “why” for writing. I have long been a proponent for student choice in the classroom and I believe that teaching with mentor texts really opens up the door for student choice. It is not only a relief for students but also for me. I am not longer reading 100 essays all on the same prompt. The students have a more individualized direction for their writing which has more buy in from the students.

I am not an expert in writing instruction. I am not an expert when it comes to utilizing mentor texts. I am, however, learning. Like my students, I am using the examples of those around me to make changes to my own instruction. I guess learning how to teach with mentor texts requires that we learn how to learn from mentors as well.

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