Reviewed by Erin Corrigan-Smith
Finding engaging and useful mentor texts is a constant struggle for the middle school classroom.
In today’s classroom, there’s an evidence-based focus on how we should model instruction and more of an emphasis on guiding students through gradual release. While a mentor text may work beautifully one year, using the same text with students the following year may fall flat, and cause more students to lose interest instead of finding the “hook” we all look for in our lesson planning.
Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature helps set the stage to engage students, to find approachable and relevant high-interest readings, and to learn that it is okay to let go and trust in our abilities, while also inspiring teachers to engage with the texts and the students more effectively.
With the push to use a workshop model, finding teaching materials to use as a guide is often daunting. Mentor Texts gathers the research, some practical tips, and some activities to help make implementation seem less daunting.
In this second edition, Dorfman and Cappelli provide a plethora of updated mentor texts to attempt, and they also give ideas on how to use the texts to inspire reluctant readers and writers.
“Your Turn” Lessons
One of the most useful (though initially daunting) aspects of the book is the section on Your Turn Lessons – a guide to using the book’s materials to follow the gradual release model. If you are not used to giving up control of the learning in the classroom, it can seem scary and unlikely to happen at first. Dorfman and Cappelli stress the importance of building a strong classroom community constructed around collaboration to encourage students to buy-in to the release.
The ease of the “Your Turn” model could also act as an efficient way to organize lesson plans. Each “Your Turn” lesson gives specifics on “Hook,” “Purpose,” “Brainstorm,” “Model,” “Shared/Guided Reading,” “Independent Writing,” and “Reflection.” If teachers choose to follow the format, they will find the lessons are essentially already written; there may just be some specific tweaking necessary to differentiate in individual classrooms.
Because the text covers grades K-6, there is ample opportunity for scaffolding. Dorfman and Cappelli give suggested readings for each chapter and grade level. For readers who are not quite on grade level, there are suggestions to help you build a reader’s confidence and writing stamina as they begin to buy into their learning.
A Treasure Chest of Readings
One of the most useful (and practical) aspects of the text is the “Treasure Chest” chapter at the end. Dorfman and Cappelli organize their suggested readings and offer ways to read these texts like a writer.
When pairing a text to a writing, it is important to know what specific skill should be the focus. The stories are organized by writing style (e.g. narrative, persuasive) and then a short synopsis of the suggested reading is provided. Having the stories compiled in this way makes it a lot simpler to find a specific text and quickly review the focus you want to take.
As more school systems shift to both the workshopping model and the gradual release of responsibility in the classroom, it’s invaluable to have a practical and easy-to-follow text for teachers to make sense of what it all means.
Dorfman and Cappelli have created a teacher text that helps put the focus back on purposeful planning, helps teachers find stories to engage young readers, and shows us how to use the readings to get the most impactful writing from our students.
Erin Corrigan-Smith is a middle school ELA teacher in a suburb of Atlanta. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English, and her focus of study is children’s literature. During the school year, she is faculty advisor to the cooking club and drama club. In her downtime, she enjoys going to her family’s cabin in the North Georgia mountains with her husband and her dog to read and relax.