Writing In the Style of a Mentor Author With Our Youngest Writers
When we focus our teaching on a trusted author’s writing style, we allow student writers to understand how the writer has actually created the text. We provide them with privileged information. Information on the craft of writing we know will serve them well as they develop a sense of themselves as writers.
In recent weeks I have been working closely with Simone Rossini, and her Prep/Grade 1 class at
Primary School in ’s Western Region. Simone’s teaching
focus has been to assist her student writers to become more familiar with the
writing style of renowned author, Pamela Allen. The class has been deeply
involved in an inquiry into the writing style of this particular author. A wide range of texts have been gathered for the study. Simone has directed
her teaching energies to encourage her students to listen, read, think, notice, discuss and document their increasing
knowledge of this mentor author. In her teaching, Simone has used her questioning to 'nudge' students towards deeper understandings about the writer under investigation. These young writers have been challenged to apply this increasing knowledge to their own written work.
Simone begins an animated reading aloud of 'Is Your Grandmother A Goanna? Pamela Allen uses repeated sounds and the consistent refrain, ‘Have you seen my grandmother?’ in this story.
The writer uses a question and answer pattern throughout this text.
Students engage enthusiastically with the text. The high level of predictability of this text makes it ideal for this age level. Following the reading, Simone encourages her students to turn and talk about the things Pamela Allen is doing as a writer.
Student: She uses lots of noises
Simone: Can you give me an example? (returning to the text for evidence)
Simone refers to the anchor chart already compiled. It contains an increasing data base of student observations regarding Pamela Allen’s writing style. More information is added related the authors use of multiple animals as characters Simone guides the discussion assisting students to make connections across several texts read as part of the mentor author study. The chart provides evidence of the increasing knowledge students are developing regarding the author's style and craft moves.
Simone documents sounds students contribute as possible inclusions in their writing.
Simone models her own writing using sounds in the style of author, Pamela Allen. She writes across several pages and incorporates several sounds to demonstrate the use of sounds as a writing device (onomatopoeia). Simone has used her own knowledge of Pamela Allen’s writing style to inform how she herself writes. This has been a strong feature of this unit of study. The teacher shares her knowledge of writing in a most tangible demonstration of the craft. I love it!
As a further pre writing opportunity Simone has students turn and talk to articulate their writing intentions. The enthusiasm and confidence of these young writers is palpable. They are brave writers not afraid to tackle words they want to use in their writing. This is gratifying to see. There is ample evidence that the example set by Pamela Allen and followed up by Simone in her teaching has been put into practice by these young writers.
In a follow up lesson, Simone returns to a couple of previously read Pamela Allen titles and her focus this time is to note the similarities and differences in the texts. Because her students are familiar with these books, Simone is able direct her students to devote their cognitive energies towards a closer examination of the craft moves the author makes in each of the books. The familiarity of these texts means students join the reading when certain refrains occur in the texts. The words and phrases are imprinted in their memories. They participate with certainty.
Turn and talk is used to assist students to reflect on the texts and to bring their observations to the surface of their thinking. The energy surrounding this discussion is palpable.
In groups students document their observations on a T chart (headed -similar and different) Simone has prepared as part of her preparation. She refers to information previously charted to assist students to link events in the various texts. This brings their prior knowledge to the surface. They follow this activity by sharing these important information across the whole class. Simone informs the children that she will add these new understandings to the classroom chart. I am amazed at their comprehensive observations, given their relative inexperience in such matters.
Simone again models writing in the style of Pamela Allen noting how she uses refrains in her books. This builds seamlessly on the work done in the reading lesson immediately before this. The reading-writing connection is strong in her teaching.
Simone selects, 'Ding, dong, dang sings the bell' as her repeated refrain and composes her text for the children to see the work of a proficient writer as she writes in the style of a mentor author. This is powerful modeling. Her setting is the school and her characters are her students. I like the contextual consideration that has gone into this choice of setting and character. At the completion of the writing, Simone rereads her story and shares with her students. She invites her students to note her craft moves. ‘Do you think I have written in the style of another author?’ Students are asked to turn and talk about possible settings and possible refrains that might be heard in those settings they choose.
Before releasing students to write independently, Simone again refers to the style of Pamela Allen's use of refrain and links it to her own writing. She records some examples of possible refrains (scaffolding and support) and exposes students to alliteration without delving deeply into it at this point. She will return to this in her next lesson. Students engage in independent writing with confidence. They have strong models upon which they can design their own writing. They tap into the alliterative structure of the repeated refrains and write with obvious joy and confidence.
I am greatly enthused by what is happening in this classroom. These young writers are being shown the so called tricks up the magician’s sleeve. The teaching is mindful and the modeling powerful. The results are clearly evident in the writing the students are producing and the authority with which they speak about this trusted author. They are beginning to read like writers. They are aware of certain deliberate moves made by this author and they are able to apply such knowledge to their own writing. Simone’s teaching here has been well directed. English as a second language has a strong representation in this class. Their voices as writers are growing in confidence because they are being shown how to use language effectively to inform their learning.