Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BBAW: Interview Swap with Teach Mentor Texts

For Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I had the pleasure of being paired up with Jen from Teach Mentor Texts, a blog dedicated to expanding children's literacy skills naturalistically with great books rather than worksheets and reading logs.  As someone who loathed those old colour-coded workbooks in elementary school and completed each one as quickly as possible just to get it over with, all I can say is Woo Hoo!

You can find Jen's interview of me here.  And here are the questions she was kind enough to answer for me:

I must admit I've never heard the term "mentor text" before.  What makes a great mentor text different from the average book?

You know how you can pick up an average picture book and it may have cute pictures or rhymes and then you pick up a stellar picture book and it pulls you into the story and you're either laughing out loud or teary-eyed?  Those awesome picture books that tell a great story with just the right words and illustrations/artwork to match are perfect for mentor texts.  The idea is that teachers, and parents, can use the books as examples of quality writing for kids.  My philosophy of teaching focuses on using authentic texts - real books instead of worksheets -so kids can read a story, love a story, and then take time to focus on what the author did well and use that as an example for their own writing. 

Now that I think about it, those "average" not so great books could even be mentor texts if you use them as a comparison.  You could talk to kids about the difference between an amazing, unforgettable story to a so-so book. 

AND, mentor texts don't have to be picture books.  Chapter books/novels and poems can be mentor texts, too.  There is a teacher/author named Jeff Anderson (http://www.writeguy.net/) who takes just one sentence or one paragraph from a longer text and talks to kids about that one sentence and uses that as an example for their own writing.

As someone who is very interested in using books to address specific developmental needs, I'm intrigued by your reading "strategies to practice", like Activating Background Knowledge and Making Connections.  Can you elaborate on what you're looking for or referring to with some of these?

I'll never forget when Peanut (my now 3-year-old) asked one of our family members (I won't say who!) to read him a book.  They were snuggled on our couch...and then the reading began...but there was no emotion in his voice, no pausing at all, no looking at or discussing the pictures...he just read it straight through in a monotone voice.  Now, Peanut didn't seem to notice all that much of a difference, he didn't say anything or complain but I recognized immediately the difference between reading a book to a child and reading WITH a child. 

This family member didn't at all model for Peanut what a good reader does when he or she is reading.  A good reader doesn't simply read the words and get through the book, a good reader thinks about the book and interacts with the book.  It is so hard for kids to realize what a good reader does when he or she reads a book.  A good reader applies - mostly seamlessly - reading strategies.  You can read more about what each reading strategy is if you look at My Labels (http://www.teachmentortexts.com/p/my-labels.html) I try to explain all the terms you'll see pop up in my reviews.  The most common reading strategies are: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Asking Questions, Making Predictions, Visualizing, and Making Inferences.  If you stop and look at the pictures and ask questions or even just make statements about the text or pictures yourself you are helping your child develop those strategies and modeling them for him or her. 

What are your kids' favourite books right now?

You cannot imagine how many Thomas the Tank Engine books I/we have read lately!!!!  My husband and I are getting a little tired of Thomas but Peanut loves him!  We go to the library and he wants to go directly to the Thomas section and he knows exactly where it is.  He'll check out a huge stack and beg us to read through the whole pile every night before bed.  I'm glad he loves Thomas and loves to read so I'll happily read to him...but I also check out some books I want to read and sneak some of those in, too! 

What are you currently reading for yourself?  What's on your nightstand?  Are you enjoying it?

I am currently reading Tricks by Ellen Hopkins...it's hard to say that I'm enjoying it because it is such a traumatic book!  It's superbly written, I love Ellen Hopkins because of how raw and real her stories are, but I went to bed last night just feeling icky because of what the characters are going through.  I guess it's  a testament to her writing that I'm able to connect with and feel bad for the characters. 

Have you found any mentor book blogs you think should be more widely read?  Ones that display the qualities you spoke about in the first question?  Besides your own, of course. ;)

I actually just found Playing By the Book through Book Blogger Appreciation week and I love her!  I'm sure people know about this blog, but it's new to me and I think it's great!  http://www.playingbythebook.net/

A big thank you to Jen for answering all my questions (at the last minute!) and for having such a great blog.  I'm thrilled to have been paired with her.


  1. I enjoyed getting to know more about Jen since Armchair BEA. I think I might be one person who can imagine how many Thomas the Tank Engine books a parent can read...I read them to both my kids, and the second one was obsessive about them!

  2. Gosh, there I was really enjoying this interview, amazed by Jen's thoughtfulness and wishing I could meet up with her to talk about kids' books and then came the big surprise of being mentioned by her. I'm blushing and I'm humbled. Thank you Jen. And thanks, Sam for the interview :-)

  3. My son is also in the "I Thomas the Tank Engine more than anything else in the world" camp. I'm afraid we fueled the obsession by taking him to see a real Thomas the Tank Engine during one of those Day out with Thomas events. So long as he wants to read books together with me I'm happy, but I do also try to sneak in as many alternate books as I can. Lovely interview! I just discovered Teach Mentor Texts this year and look forward to reading more posts.

  4. @Playing by the book - I'm glad you enjoyed the interview, Zoe, and you certainly deserve the mention.

    @Jeanne and Brimful - We have friends with sons addicted to Thomas. I'm kinda dreading Boo discovering them...I predict my average Adult Sanity Rating will rapidly deteriorate. :)

  5. This was an absolutely fantastic interview; it's great to hear more about Jen's philosophy through a more detailed explanation of the focus of her blog!

  6. I had the pleasure of getting to know Jen during ArmchairBEA -- I got to interview her then! What she is doing with her blog is a wonderful concept!


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