Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Picture Books as Mentor Texts

Early this morning, someone posted on a listserv the following question, and I applaud this librarian for seeking to meet her colleagues' needs: 

Good Morning!
I have a middle school teacher looking for picture books to help teach her students about 'fix up strategies'.... She is also looking for picture books to help with reading strategies such as; what do you do when you come to a word that you don't know or is confusing. Books to help students with those kinds of strategies (any reading strategy). Any ideas? 

These types of books are called "mentor texts"  and ABC Clio has just released a new book targeting this instructional need.   (click here for more info) There are also others on the market from other publishers.  Kelly Gallagher also has a good secondary book on "mentor texts" called  Write Like This. 

There are many publishers who will put a label on their book and call this a "mentor text"  just to make money.  However, a teacher must examine the content and know how this will be used to address their instructional needs.  We can't just teach a book because it is "cute."   

Years ago, I used the book Earthlets  to teach point of view, for example.  It was a winner, and I suspect that with the new crazy rise of mentor texts Earthlets will return in print.  The publisher would be remiss not to market it again.   
Another secondary example of a mentor text would be the first two pages of The Old Man and the Sea.  When a student reads that, he should practically feel that he knows this old man.  The descriptive writing is so rich--almost visual.  That is not a picture book, but a great example of descriptive writing.  

In the Common Core exemplar book, Stellaluna, you will see the tricolon sentence structure  modeled frequently.  

In Mr. Maxwell's Mouse,  I love the questioning that the little mouse-soon-to-be-dinner asks.  This would be a good mentor text for librarians teaching younger students to brainstorm questions.  Were his questions open-ended? (no) Were his questions getting him to his goal? (yes) Etc.    This book would be better used to teach foreshadowing.  

The book Diary of a Worm is another perfect mentor text for Point of View.    So you see the list goes on and on. 

If you are creative, you can glean many opportunities to use mentor texts.  So to answer the original question, "what is a book to teach  "decoding" of meaning or inferential deduction of unknown vocabulary to a middle school class, I would suggest finding a "rich text" picture book and then teaching the strategies around the text.  To use the mentor text, you-yourself have to know the strategies of decoding meaning:  
  • What is the word?
  • Is the sentence a positive or negative sounding sentence helping to determine whether the word is a positive or negative connotation... 
  • What are the surrounding words  (neighborhood friends) which might lend meaning to the word?  
  • Is a synonym close by?   Etc. 
Try William Steig's books.  Check out the Common Core exemplars and see whether they afford you the opportunity to decode tough vocabulary. 

I give half-day PD on this topic for librarians and it often transforms their instruction.  We have to carefully craft our lessons to embrace a learning target.  We cannot just have "library time" reading cute books.  We have to know why we are reading books to kids and where we are going. So, I ask you...Where are you going today with your students?  What is your learning adventure?  

Resource recommendations from Andrea Williams, Ballston Spa Elementary Librarian, my mentor text partner: 
"Mentor Text Resources that I found helpful. There are literally thousands though."

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