Meredith Stewart recently began a conversation on the English Companion Ning about setting meaningful professional goals, and this thought of hers really struck me:

“Based on the goals that I have seen from others, it seems the trend is to write very nebulous or very easily achievable goals. I would like at least one of my goals to be something at which it’d be possible to fail.”

This is a compelling consideration, isn’t it? Goals have everything to do with learning and growth, and this has everything to do with struggle. Sometimes, I wonder how comfortable any of us truly are with that reality. We place tremendous value on success. We often expect instant gratification. When the journey toward the finish line becomes rocky or slows, we get nervous. We convince ourselves or others that we’ve done something wrong, that the goal is unrealistic, that failure is imminent. Steve Shann’s response to Meredith’s post was enlightening:

“Perhaps maximum safety always leads to minimum learning!”

I found myself nodding in agreement a bit there, and if you haven’t seen the cartoon he added to his reply, I encourage you to take a peek. The commentary is validating, particularly in May, when most of us are reflecting on the goals we’ve set for ourselves and those we’ve tried to achieve with students.

I’ve spent the better part of this week chatting with teachers about what they’ve learned about their students as writers and themselves as teachers of writing this year. These are my favorite conversations, because despite any failures, our successes are always greater. The energy of achievement is palpable in springtime. We’ve learned a lot. There is much to celebrate!

Quite a few of the teachers that I work with have just begun using mentor texts and touchstone texts as models for young writers. This practice alone has had a profound effect on their students’ willingness and capacity to write well. In recent meetings and workshops with teachers, I’ve watched their eyes light up in reference to a particular book, video, song, or student piece that has provided clarity and inspiration to the young writers in their classrooms. Anchoring instruction with the use of these models has become a powerful practice for many, and the way that we define mentor and touchstone text is evolving in response to the type of writing that students are now called to do.

Deb Renner Smith differentiates between mentor and touchstone text here, while providing great support to teachers who are interested in learning more about using them with kids.

Lessons aligned to the Six Traits of Writing are available at Writing Fix, and each August, they announce a Mentor Text of the Year and invite teachers to connect to one another as they begin making use of it.

As for me, I enjoy using student writing as mentor text whenever I am able to. Connecting kids to one another and suggesting that they share their writing and their expertise can be particularly rewarding. Even those who struggle with certain elements of craft or process may demonstrate strength with others. I often find that inviting young writers to mentor one another provokes great thought around what good writing is and what it means to “be” a writer.


1 Comment

  1. Carol Weintraub Reply

    That cartoon is amazing. I am showing it to everyone I know.

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