I follow Sherry Gick (@libraryfanatic) and Franki Sibberson (@frankisibberson) on twitter and noticed a few weeks a call for guest posters on the blog they share, “Reading Teachers Running.” I took the bait, and took advantage of writing about two things I love to talk about: teaching and running.
It occurred to me as I spent of part of spring break working on the piece I agreed to submit that I was excited about seeing it in print, eager to know what people think, imagining that people would read it. I found myself editing based on my imagined – and very real – audience. I had a very real reason for writing too, and was entering a conversation that had been going on for a while, even on that very blog. It influenced the way I wrote, the details I wanted to include, the tone I tried to maintain, and when I decided to end the thing.
One of the first things I did, even before I started writing (I kind of knew what I wanted to say but had no idea how to say it), was to spend some time on Reading Teachers Running so I could see how they talked on there. I wanted to know the kinds of things they wrote about, the language they used, how long each piece was – really practical things that would make a difference to the piece that was taking shape in my mind. In short, I took full advantage of the readily-available mentor texts the blog presented.
I have taught my college students to use mentor texts, but mostly just in theory. I read the Writing Project’s Content Area Learning Task Force’s newsletter on Mentor Texts just a couple months ago, but mostly just as an admiring onlooker. Suddenly, though, I needed them myself. So I found them, and I used them. This will only help me connect students with the kinds of mentor texts that will help them think through and do the kind of writing they plan in my classes in semesters to come. And I hope readers of this blog will think seriously about the role mentor texts play in their thinking and writing process and find ways to communicate this to their own students.
I’m glad I dove in and wrote the piece for Reading Teachers Running. It would have been easy to dismiss it – it wasn’t the most pressing thing I had to do on my spring break (read: taxes). But I knew I could do it, and I felt like I should. We ask students to do writing all the time that we don’t want to do, writing that we don’t even try to do. The two lessons, then, are these: first, we need to be trying the writing we ask students to do; doing so will give us great opportunity to think about the process writers (us) really engage in to get writing work done. That’s valuable information for students struggling to figure out how to approach a writing task. Second, we need to find opportunities for students to do the kind of writing they want to do. We can’t stress the importance of those real-world purposes enough. I found out that it really does change everything.
Check out Reading Teachers Running. Follow Sherry and Franki (and me) on twitter. If you’re not on twitter, join. I can give you a whole list of education leaders to follow and learn from. And, if you’re interested, I can recommend a bunch of runners to follow too.
Finally, thanks for reading this blog when you do. I hope you continue to do so; I’d love to have comments from you about issues I raise here; and I’d like to think that, when the offer goes out, you’ll volunteer to write a guest post for this blog. It doesn’t hurt, and it can definitely help... a lot.