I used to think I needed to use a different text for each strategy I taught. I spent hours upon hours searching for the “perfect” book for each lesson. I would ask my colleagues questions like, “What text do you use to teach fill-in-the-blank strategy of the week?” And the worst part? There was no big payoff! Once I moved on to the next book to teach the next reading or writing strategy, students stopped using the previously taught one. Who could blame them? Classroom learning was disconnected. Through honest reflection, I also realized that most grammar and word study lessons lived outside of texts. Workbooks, worksheets, and surface-level center activities filled up those earmarked minutes. Eventually, I came to understand that these (well-intentioned) actions were inhibiting student understanding, transfer, and success. It was then that I started to rethink the role of a mentor text.
I now understand that we don’t need a different mentor text for each different strategy we teach. The secret: select texts that have the power to transform into multitasking mentor texts. This is a “text that can be used multiple times and for a variety of purposes, weaving together different aspects of literacy” (Koutrakos, 2015, p. 22). With that in mind, here are three steps for selecting texts that will ensure your teaching tools will go the distance.
STEP 1: Center Identity
Educators need to prioritize inclusivity and critically contemplate representation. All students need to see pieces of themselves and their lives in the texts we feature in lessons. They also benefit from consistently engaging with texts centered around the experiences of others. When curating mentor texts, start by considering the multifaceted identities of students. Choose texts that will captivate current scholars—and also expand their horizons.
You may ask yourself,
- Whose voices and experiences does this text reflect, honor, and celebrate?
- How will this choice expand and enhance the set of texts I have already shared with students?
STEP 2: Celebrate Community
We strive to create learning experiences relevant for those currently in our care. Take some time to reflect on student interests, assets, and aligned next steps. Mine each prospective text to uncover a multitude of responsive teaching opportunities that reflect what learners are most ready for. Make decisions with current students in mind, knowing that this means we may sometimes feature different texts for different classes. Before sending prospective texts to the next round, confirm each contains plenty of possibilities to nurture the learners currently in the room (or on the Zoom).
In this step, you could contemplate:
- Will current students find this text interesting and appealing?
- How could this text be used to nurture the learning goals of current students?
STEP 3: Contemplate Curriculum
Multitasking texts enable teachers to feel prepared for more than one subject. Once student identities and individual goals have been considered, flip once more through the pages of a selected text. Ponder how this contender could be used in a variety of upcoming reading and writing experiences—and also be repeatedly revisited with a grammar-themed lens, through the eyes of an active word explorer, and from a socio-emotional perspective. In our final brackets, the texts still standing will be those that spotlight plentiful curricular goals AND encourage playful deconstructing, tinkering, and discussion—across the entire literacy block.
For your final step, cross-reference those still in your stack by considering:
- How does this text align to and integrate current literacy learning goals?
- Could this text extend and support learning beyond the literacy block?
Final Tip: Although I enjoy sharing tried and true texts, nothing compares to the thrill of introducing a brand-new title. Prioritize finding and featuring recently released texts by newcomer authors, illustrators, and creators. Need a recommendation? Visit the library, talk to someone at your favorite indie bookstore, or simply ask students. You may also choose to check out:
Lee & Low books, which has more curated collections than you ever imagined!
The Nerdy Book Club’s yearly picks across genres and formats.
WNDB’s abundant selection of high-quality, engaging (and in many cases—award-winning) texts
A multitasking mentor text is the Swiss army knife of teaching! By curating and using these superstar tools with great intention and flexibility, teachers become able to model and foster transfer of skills across (and beyond) the literacy block.