Studying Authors as Mentors is Different to an Author Study

Getting Started With Writers As Mentors
For some, the realization that we really do learn to write from writers might be new. For others, the idea of introducing children to mentor authors might also be new. Either way, a whole new raft of possibilities suddenly opens to us as educators. Possibilities that are simultaneously exciting and challenging.

Katie Wood Ray, “Wondrous Words” (1999) reminds us, "Now that I know what I know, I have asked, How do I plan and present lessons, confer, assess, and respond differently? How do I teach in ways that cause my students to directly apprentice themselves to other writers?” (p. 208).

A logical starting point might be to think about your own favorite authors, those who have influenced your writing. Bring these books into your classroom and share your love of these authors and the impact they have had on your own writing. Provide students with access to lots of books along with time to read and share their thoughts with each other. Then, watch closely for the magic to take place, as your students note the connections between the work of these mentors and their own writing efforts. This presents a powerful opportunity when you, the teacher, use these special texts to connect students with specific aspects of author’s craft. Jane Yolen in her book, ”Take Joy” prompts us “Do not be afraid to grab hold of the experience with both hands and take joy” (p. 20).

Studying New Authors as Mentors.
Ask children to select a new author and begin to notice and think about characteristics of that text in the same way that they have looked at their own writing.

Allow the Writing Purposes to Drive Mentor Selection
Demonstrate rereading your own writing to see what it is you need to improve upon, and then turn to authors who might give you ideas for how to do it. This is the point where you call on your trusted mentors; the fellow writers who sit on your shoulder and quietly assist you. Invite your students to assist you to do this as well. Following this, ask students to begin examining their own writing in the same way.
Some direct ways that Mentors can assist young writers:

· A mentor may assist a young writer learn more about punctuation by studying the text of that particular author.
· A mentor may teach a child to emulate whatever he or she admires in that author's text, - A specific refrain, use of vivid verbs, visual imagery, or literary elements such as metaphor or simile. The possibilities are many.
· A mentor may teach a child to notice more aspects of a mentor author's writing. This envisaging is prompted by simply asking a question, “What else could you try in your writing that your mentor does?”

Learning to Write From Writers
Authors have much to offer teachers in their quest to assist students on the journey to becoming good writers. But, how is this done? How do teachers assist children to learn to write from authors? According to author Katie Wood Ray, children must first see themselves as writers.

“Once students see themselves this way, they are able to lay their work down alongside that of other writers and see habits and crafts mirrored there, and also extend their own understandings of what it means to write” (p. 14).

Once a child develops a view of themself as a writer, he or she is able to read like a writer. “In order to gather a repertoire of craft possibilities that will help a writer write well, that writer first has to learn how to read differently, how to read with a sense of possibility, a sense of “What do I see here that might work for me in my writing?”
Katie Wood Ray, Wondrous Words, 1999, p. 14).

Lucy Calkins reminds us that the reading-writing connection must be nurtured in classrooms. She suggests that we encourage students to know a book so well that both book and author stands a chance of affecting reading and writing alike. The ultimate outcome is to assist developing writers to realize that the text they are reading results from the author’s deliberate efforts to ‘craft’ the writing. When this realization occurs, the young writer is more likely to connect their own writing to their reading. Calkins refers to this connection as “sponsoring.” The logical starting point in this quest is the reading- writing connections student are already exhibiting. Building on this foundation becomes a high priority for the writing teacher. The teacher supports the developing writer in this process by scaffolding learning in an interactive and recurring manner.

The role of the teacher in each of the actions above serve as an important scaffold in the process of children learning to apprentice themselves to writers they admire.

As the teacher and students read the books again and again, they make connections to the mentor author’s books and the significance to their own reading and writing. Such discoveries can then be recorded on charts. The use of charts is an effective way to harvest and subsequently refer to the children’s connections during reading that can then be easily referred to during subsequent writing lessons. It is a most tangible way of highlighting the reading – writing links. The charts become the footprints of the children’s learning. Highly visible and supportive, they reinforce the increasing repertoire of strategies available to the young writer.

Author Study or Authors as Mentors Study?
The actions outlined highlight the difference between this approach and an “Author Study” as we have traditionally known it. An author study has generally been about building a knowledge base with respect to a particular author. The emphasis is towards reading rather than writing. Students are encouraged to discover what makes the writing of a particular author distinctive and successful. Comparison of books by a particular author generally aims to assist the reader to develop knowledge and appreciation of literature. A mentor study goes further. It delves into the essence of the author’s work and provides insights about that particular writer’s craft. Students are actively encouraged to apply these insights and to write in the style of the author under the microscope. The writing component receives greater emphasis.

Calkins, Lucy. McCormack. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: HeinemannRay, Katie. Wood. (1999). Wondrous words. Urbana, IL: NCTE.Yolen, Jane. (2006). Take joy. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.
Routman, Regie (1994) Invitations: Changing as Learners k-12 Portsmouth NH: Heinemann
Routman, Regie (1996) Literacy at the Crossroads. Portsmouth NH. Heinemann
Olness, Rebecca (2005) Using Literature to Enhance Writing Instruction, Black Diamond, W: International Reading Association
Graves, Donald, (1994) A Fresh Look at Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
Graves, Donald, (1983) Writing, Teachers and Children at Work. NH: Heinemann


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