Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Motivated by Writers' Feedback on Using Mentor Texts

As part of today's "fluency/stamina focused free-writing" moment, I asked students to think back to the beginning of this semester (finals are next week!). I revamped a "thinking routine" from the text Making Thinking Visible to have them reflect on their experience with practicing composition. I asked them to jot down a few sentence about what they thought the first week of school about having to take a composition class. I followed up with a question, "What do you think today about having to take a composition class?" 


Mentor Text Feedback - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Those questions were meant to stir the pot - to get them thinking. In fact, before the actual writing prompt, I allowed them to share with partners so they could remember together and share experiences - the goal being that their own thinking will improve in discussion. 

The actual writing prompt asked students to compose their response to the question, "How do you account for any growth, change, or shift in your thinking about taking a writing class? Explain how you experienced or executed that change." 

Above are three quotes from different students about using mentor texts. Even though I wasn't specifically asking for feedback on my use of mentor texts, I'm glad to see that students found those lessons meaningful enough to mention them as a highlight of their semester. 

There were tons of other interesting responses, comments also worthy of attention. But these quotes are especially significant to me today because I've been experimenting with mentor texts (see here and here). I'm still pretty much at the beginning of my learning curve, a little unsure of my skill. So these three responses give me courage to keep trying, to keep adjusting and revising my lessons. 

My goal with mentor texts? To help students learn how to understand how words, punctuation, and text structures work together to make meaning. Not simply to identify what writers actually do but to also replicate they strategies they see into their own writing - a key distinction between memorizing writing concepts and applying them. 


Looks like students (at least these ones!) get what I'm serving. And by consistently asking them what students are learning and by assessing how successfully they've acquired a skill,I can continue to revise, remix, and refashion lessons to help students better recognize and emulate effective writing. 

My next step? To figure out easy, quick ways to assess if the mentor text writing activities work, i.e., devising activities that allow me to see precisely when and how students use mentor texts to craft phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and longer compositions. In other words, devise a way to, with higher degree of confidence, see that students learn what I teach.

These comments, in the meantime, are the shot in the arm I need as we move into finals season!