When I first started teaching about mentor texts, it was for an audience of teachers whose biggest questions was, “What’s a mentor text?” Now, almost ten years later, every text is a mentor. We use mentor texts in read aloud and shared reading, for writing mini-lessons, and within and across content-area instruction. This is a good thing. We see the potential for every text to mentor writers in both product and process.
Now, almost ten years later, every text is a mentor. We use mentor texts in read aloud and shared reading, for writing mini-lessons, and within and across content-area instruction. And this is where I struggle: We simply do not pick up every book to become its apprentice.
Every interaction with a text is not intended to help us become better writers. Of course, we do read explicitly for this purpose, far more than ever before. And reading widely and wildly makes us better writers. However, when a text inspires a story, further research, an editorial or any other dialogue about the topic, whether written or discussed, when it compels us to move the ideas beyond the text and make them into something new, it is a source, not a mentor.
There is a difference. And just like we want our students to adjust their reading behaviors when they read fiction and nonfiction, it is important that we recognize and teach them the different ways we engage when we read for these purposes within and across traditional and non-traditional texts alike.
Despite some tendencies to define which comes first, text as source or text as mentor, let’s not allow this to become complicated. In the past few weeks, I have spent time with students who are studying the art of opinion writing, who have found purpose in seeking sources to validate and elaborate their claims. I have seen students, excited for an article about dung beetles, who sought to write as a way of demanding action and evoking social change. There is no single entry point, but there is a difference. Let’s notice it. Let’s name it. And let’s continue to allow the exploration–in ourselves and our students–of authentic ways that readers and writers interact with text.
But remember, not every text is a mentor.
Thank you, Ruth Culham (aka The Writing Thief), whose session at #CCIRA16 gave me an opportunity to struggle with these ideas. When a question you ask leads Ruth to say, “You should write a blog about it,” your mind starts drafting before your pen hits the page.