Save Teaching Energy: Multitask Mentor Texts

By Pam Koutrakos

A friend once described teachers as hummingbirds. We move efficiently, zipping around from student to student, lesson to lesson. We spread knowledge, strategies, enthusiasm, and support far and wide. We are high-octane operators!

Take a moment and think back on a recent day at work. Count off all the little moves you made. Is it any wonder we sometimes feel ready for bed by 7 PM?

Hummingbirds have special equipment that helps them efficiently accomplish the unfathomable every day. Their bills and tongues are designed to enable them to quickly drink the nectar that provides energy to fuel their ongoing work.



Literacy teachers can also nourish themselves AND conserve energy without sacrificing those high octane results. The trick is to transform a seemingly ordinary mentor text into a power-packed MULTITASKING mentor text.

Equipment certified by the federal Energy Star program is branded as the “simple choice for energy efficiency.” Using mentor texts that can multitask represents the same smart choice for hardworking educators. With a multitasking mentor text in hand, teachers take on a conservationist approach to teaching reading, writing, vocabulary, spelling, grammar and beyond.

With that in mind, here are five tips for using multitasking mentor texts. Each energy-saving idea is designed to increase the sustainability of your teaching practice.

ENERGY STAR TIP 1:
Calculate the Return on Current Investment

Take a few moments to reflect on a favorite mentor text you currently use. Do students love this text? What concept do you teach using this text? Do you return to the text at different times and for different purposes? Are students successful? Do they continue to remain successful across time?

If you hesitated, stumbled, or stalled out while trying to answer even one of these questions, your investment might not be yielding the results you imagined. And in that case, read on to discover how to step up your mentor text game and garner a greater return on your investment.

ENERGY STAR TIP 2:
Use Certified Equipment

You can become energy star certified when your classroom equipment includes a multitasking mentor text! These texts can be used flexibly in a variety of contexts and for a variety of purposes. Their capabilities extend beyond any single “here and now” teaching moment. In order to figure out if a text has enough fuel to become a multitasking mentor text, ask yourself a few of these questions:

Image source: Mentor Texts That Multitask (Koutrakos, 2022)

ENERGY STAR TIP 3:
Consider Upgrades

Picture books make fabulous mentor texts across ALL grades and settings. But we liven up instruction when we vary the genres, formats, and types of texts we feature. Elevate your selection of texts. For instance, you might also consider . . .

★ first chapters of longer texts
★ infographics
★ short videos
★ excerpts from a podcast
★ songs
★ photographs, wordless texts, and other images
★ articles or blog posts
★ websites
★ pamphlets or online brochures
★ poetry and lyrical texts
★ teacher storytelling, performances, or writing
★ student storytelling, performances, or writing

By varying the type of texts we feature in our teaching, we enhance accessibility and promote engagement for a wider set of students.



ENERGY STAR TIP 4:
Change Your Filters

Mentor texts are fabulous models and sources of inspiration for writers, and they also hold plenty of value beyond the writing block. Reimagine how else and when else a mentor text could amplify classroom learning.

Reread one of these dynamic teaching tools with different lenses, changing the filter through which you view the text.

► Where might you pause to model the habits and skills of a reader?

► Where in the text do you see words with patterns, affixes, and roots you have recently studied?

► How many standard-aligned grammar conventions are embedded inside the text?

Multitasking mentor texts have renewable energy that goes the distance across all facets of literacy. By using one text for a variety of purposes, we save time and keep our energy at optional levels.

ENERGY STAR TIP 5:
Layer and Eliminate Unnecessary Add-Ons

Streamlining our text choices conserves energy AND opens possibilities. We don’t need a new text for each concept we teach.

Instead, we can strategically layer a few texts and feel prepared to adapt to the fluctuations and changes we see from class to class or day to day. A short stack of multitasking mentor texts prepares teachers for contextualized reading, writing, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar instruction for one to two months!

For example, I could select and layer three or four of the texts in the poetry set below. In doing so, I would become prepared for a wide range of efficient teaching across the literacy block. I do not need any other flashy materials or fluffy methods. Those will only detract from the power within each carefully chosen mentor text.

Links – Poetry Text Set

Dictionary for a Better World

Thanku: Poems of Gratitude

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

Amanda Gorman Performance Poetry

Amanda Gorman Interview with Trevor Noah

Unsettled

Brave New Voices


Source: Pam Koutrakos. Click to enlarge. Download image.


Bonus Benefit of Mentor Text Multitasking

We know that conserving OUR energy will yield greater productivity in all that happens in the classroom. But also know that the benefits of streamlining instruction extend far beyond teachers. STUDENTS are actually the biggest benefactors.

When we revisit multitasking texts purposefully and strategically, students are better equipped to see and understand the connections between what they learn from one period, day, or unit to the next. They become better prepared to transfer and apply what they know – across units, time, and subjects. Moreover, student energy is also preserved. Dynamic learning results. Knowledge dexterity becomes the norm, not the exception.

When we transform a text into a multitasking mentor text, we increase the instructional mileage we can get from one power-packed teaching tool. By grounding instruction in a small collection of strategically layered, multidimensional texts, teachers are ready to facilitate contextualized learning experiences that are time and energy-efficient.

Simply stated, multitasking mentor texts provide a renewable source of energy for teachers AND students. They represent a sustainable way of staying fueled, focused, and fulfilled. There’s no doubt about it: Less is more!


Pam Koutrakos is an experienced educator who has worked as a teacher, instructional coach, and consultant. She explores the ideas introduced here in her new book Mentor Texts That Multitask: A Less-Is-More Approach to Integrated Literacy Instruction, K-8. (Corwin, 2022)

Pam is also the author of the bestselling Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices (K-6) and The Word Study That Sticks Companion: Classroom-Ready Tools for Teachers and Students, K-6, She regularly presents at conferences and events across the country. Connect with Pam on Twitter (@PamKou), Instagram (@Pam.Kou), and LinkedIn.

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