Considering Mentor Texts 6: Reflections and Observations

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(Note: this blog post and a few more this week is part of a series around mentor texts and digital composition. The blog posts are all being collected over at Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop)

It’s been quite a week as I joined some friends in the Blogosphere — Bill and Franki and Troy and Katie and Tony — around considering how mentor texts can help with digital composition and I have thoroughly enjoyed not only writing my own posts, but reading the rest of the tribe as they shared their experiences. I found it fascinating that as the week progressed, more and more us began to reference the work of the others — so that our work become mentor texts for each other.

Could that have happened in a traditional writing environment? Perhaps. But not in a week’s time. If we were writing a book together, instead of creating an RSS-fed site that collected our posts, we might slip our writing into the mail, wait for a response, and then revise and add references to our work, and then — no doubt, weeks or months later — ship our writing off to a publisher, wait for the editors to tear it apart, revise for a few months, and then a year or two later, a book might emerge. And much of the technology would have changed, right? That’s the textbook industry and all of its problems in a nutshell, isn’t it?

It also demonstrates how digital tools are changing the way we write and publish. Some of our posts, no doubt, could use more revision and more thought. But in this format of RSS-collected archived, that is less important than our ideas coming together and coalescing around the issue of Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop. Our ideas bounce off each other. We seek out resonance with each other’s thoughts, and validate or question what we are doing. We improve our own instruction by joining the conversation. It’s all good.

I’ve tried to pay attention to some common themes that have emerged among us, too.

Here is what comes to mind:

  • Many of us picked apart a digital composition from the inside-out, in order to deconstruct it and make the intent of the creator visible, so that a blueprint could be made available to our students. This requires a certain way of looking at things, particularly if you are dealing with video or other multimedia tools’
  • I started off my posts by talking about how teachers should be building a repertoire of digital mentor texts for students, and others also picked up on that concept. I think we recognize that not only do we need to be doing what we are asking our students to be doing, but we need to be reflecting on experiences in honest ways (the pros and the cons) with them, too;
  • Digital composition engages students in many non-traditional ways and that is one of the powers of technology. The question is how to guide the learning so that the tools are just that — tools — and their use is not the goal. The goal is a specific learning goal that the tool supports. Mentor texts help keep this learning visible;
  • Design elements matter, perhaps more than ever. Use of color, and media, and more influence the compositional skills in ways that rarely impacted traditional writing. This thread emerged lots of times in our posts, I think;
  • Assessment is still a difficult area for many of us. I tried to explore this a bit, but not too many of us explored how assessment tools can be created from mentor texts. I think this lack of discussion is emblematic of the difficulty that many of us educators have of how to best evaluate and critique digital compositions. They may look polished and professional, but what is going on in there beyond the flash? As teachers, we need to be addressing this lack of good tools more (me, included);

Although all of our posts are being collected at the RSS site set up by Bill, I wanted to draw your attention to some writing by my colleagues that really stood out with me this week, and will be worth a visit (and a revisit by myself). These are my mentor texts, in a way, that are inspire me to think about the issue of mentor texts in a new way.

  • Franki reminded me about “teaching the writer, not the writing” and how that holds even more true in the digital age. Since so much of technology is new, we can easily get sidetracked into teaching the tool itself. Franki draws a nice connection back to strong writing ideas around the writer/creator as the center of our activities.
  • Troy has been doing great analysis of professional videos as mentor texts. His ability to really dive deep into the concepts and production and construction of video projects is worth checking out. Touching up some complex elements of parody and emulation, Troy makes visible so much that at first seems hidden. His use of the “Dove Evolution” video was quite interesting.
  • Tony’s post about students using design principles to create, revise, and recreate a project was intriguing, and his ability to show us that work in stages was priceless. That’s what we need: more examples of student work in process. And that’s what our students need, too, so that they don’t feel overwhelmed when they encounter a piece of digital composition and think: I could never do that. Pulling back the curtain opens more doors.
  • Katie shares her journey into blogging with her students, revealing the rationale of why moving writing online has power for her young students. I noted in a comment that her post can become a mentor text for other teachers. Her references to authentic publishing and motivation of writers is an argument for other teachers to consider.
  • Bill’s post about how one video idea spurred on another, and then created a sort of resonance loop, was interesting, and it reminded me of how much of that is going on with my students outside of school, particularly around video. More and more of my students have their own YouTube accounts, and when they share what they are doing with me (and I ask them “why did you do that kind of video?”), they often answer with “I saw it on …” I suppose this was always the case — we saw something on TV and tried to replicate it — but now the tools for composition are in the hands of more young people, and they are unafraid to make a ripple in the world.

I thank my friends for all of their hard work, and hope our writing has caused some ripples of their own out there in the world. If you have been following this work, thank you. Another element of online digital composition? It remains archived forever. So, come on back when you get a moment and explore. Then, create.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

 

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