Over the next few days, I will be posting the three activities I did during last week-end's Nevada Reading Week Conference.

Nevada's Ellen Fockler
 My dear colleague, Ellen Fockler, has faithfully coordinated this conference for...I don't know how many years now.  It started last Friday night, and despite an insane amount of snowfall in the hours that led up to the start time, it was usual.

When Ellen asks me to present year after year, I just can't say no; she's a Northern Nevada treasure, loved by our librarians, and as a guy who loves to share writing lessons inspired by mentor texts, NRW is a great place for me to share some of my newest wares.

This year's presentation, inspired by my work with our State Common Core Standards, was called "Reading with a Writer's Eye."  When we read a mentor text, we must first "Read it like a reader," which I explained means we read it to comprehend it.  Later--perhaps a few days, in fact--we can re-read the same text "with a writer's eyes," which means we look at its specific skills and writing tricks the author used to make the writing stand out.

To "read like a writer" requires us to arm our students with tools of analysis and evaluation; from my observations of reading and writing instruction--and this is not an insult, it's a fact--teachers mostly push students to the comprehension level or the application level.  I rarely see reading/writing instruction that pushes the students to analyze or evaluate what they're reading and writing.  Common Core State Standards are really going to surprise our teachers who think they're not that different from the current Nevada Standards.

And NRW presentation introduced some new tools that require readers to analyze and evaluate mentor texts, and then we saw how student writers--when they've learned to do this--can imitate the writing style in original pieces of writing.

We started with this chapter three excerpt from Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer:

The 5:38 southbound train went by Petra’s window exactly three second before it passed Calder’s.  In between, in shot by the Castiglione’s and then the Bixby’s—Petra had once calculated that it passed a house per second on Harper Avenue.  She liked the trains.  Looking out, she saw the bright shout of a red hat, a child in a purple jacket pressed against the window, a bald head just rising over the stiff rectangle of newspaper.  She’d noticed that colors sometimes left their shapes when things flashed by so fast.

After we discussed the context of the excerpt and all comprehended the writing, we used the following Post-it to analyze and evaluate it.  With partners, they re-read the text and decided which of the three skills listed on the Post-it stood out the strongest (gold medal), the second strongest (silver), and third strongest (bronze).  As the adults began disagreeing with one another's rankings, I knew they were achieving the analysis and evaluation level:

Of course, there's no right answer to the rankings; it's a very subjective task, as is responding to the style of any piece of writing.  When I use these analysis Post-its with students, I ask them to find the answer they believe in and--when they write for me--try to imitate the skills they believe were at the "Gold Medal" level.

It works.  It makes students more aware of the strength's of good writing.  You can see evidence of imitated skills in this piece by a fourth grader who was challenged to write about something that also moves fast--like the train in the mentor text:

Click the story above to see it in larger form!

When we analyze text, when we read with a writer's eyes, we can be influenced to write using the skills of our favorite authors.  This is made clear to me by Austin's sample!

Tomorrow, I'll be posting the second activity I did during my Friday night session at Ellen's Nevada Reading Week Conference.



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