Any time students are introduced to a text, concept or idea, there is a time period where they are looking to their teacher to make sense of it for them. At this point their understanding is a “borrowed” one in which they have adopted the view of their teacher and their teachers understanding of whatever “it” is. During this time period, they are contemplating, digesting, and transforming the content into their own understanding. It’s not until they have a full grasp of the content that they truly “own” the idea and use it as a part of their own creations. It’s during that initial period that mentor texts can bring meaning and understanding to student work. However, this understanding is dependent on their teachers understanding. It comes with all prior knowledge, biases and background influences of the teacher that is then transferred with that “borrowed understanding”.
In my district we are heavy users of Grant Wiggings, Understanding by Design framework. He refers to this basic concept as A-M-T, Acquire, Make Meaning and Transfer. When we look at mentor texts with students, regardless of the medium, we are acquiring understanding and knowledge. It is strictly fact finding and information gathering. That acquisition will then lead to students making meaning of that knowledge. Whether that’s through creating a video or writing a piece, they are taking the knowledge of the skill or concept that they’ve acquired and using it for an assignment based on something that we’ve asked them to do. This scaffolding gives them practice with the tool and moves their understanding more towards something that they begin to know. However, “knowing” can’t be the end goal. Even having an understanding can’t be where this ends. Until students transfer this knowledge, skill or concept to their own world and to their own work, independent of a teacher-driven assignment, I’m not sure that they “own” the knowledge, skill or concept.
As I think about this series and the course of events that have led to it, I can’t help but reflect on the idea of all of the knowledge that I’ve “borrowed” from this group. It’s expanded my understanding of mentor texts and of the role that they play in the classroom. When I started blogging with my students 8 years ago, I did so to make for a more authentic learning experience by giving them the opportunity for an audience. We floundered through it and I got better through experimentation and looking to my own mentors online. When we tried our first podcast that year, it was because of the mentors that were experimenting at that time as well. Each of these forays into the world of digital writing and creating provided me with the opportunity to borrow my understanding of content, process and technique from others.
I know that my thinking is incomplete here, but I’m spending a great deal of time considering how this fits into what I’ve been writing about the past week.
More on mentor texts this week from:
All posts are being aggregated at Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop.