Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Something New Every Day

Every time I receive an email from one of the administrators I work with, I smile each time I see her signature. She has cleverly placed these words in bright blue letters to remind educators each and every day of this important message:

“Learning from a teacher who has stopped learning is like drinking from a stagnant pond.”

Indonesian Proverb

At the moment, I am in the process of defining one hundred terms related to literacy. Until I began this venture, I felt confident about my understanding of teaching reading and writing. I am finding that each time I sit down at my computer to write, I toil with the subtleties of language and question what I know. Each definition becomes a quest to confirm my understanding and as I read for validation, I find I don’t know some things as well as I thought.

Two of the terms that I recently set out to define were “mentor text” and “touchstone text.” My first thought was, “Easy! We use these terms interchangeably so whatever I write for one I can cut and paste for the other.” Oh, how I wish it were so simple.

As I sat thinking about these two terms and synthesizing the information in my head, it occurred to me: These terms do not mean exactly the same thing. A touchstone text is a book or piece of writing that a teacher uses as her “go-to” text for classroom discussion and demonstration. A mentor text is the book that a writer lays alongside her when she writes to guide her decisions about writing. The difference is subtle but significant.

My understanding of these terms will impact how I teach students and teachers about the role of mentor texts and touchstone texts in the writing workshop classroom. It reminds me that in my recent teaching, I have forgotten to encourage children to find and use mentors to guide them as they write.

Some days I am absolutely overwhelmed by what I am learning. Other days, I am awed and inspired. But I can safely say that there is not a day that I do not learn something new that humbles me and reminds me of how much there is to learn about being a good educator. A recent IRA publication by authors Jan Miller Burkins and Melody M. Croft called Misguided Reading came in the mail yesterday. I am devouring its short 130 pages because I need to know and understand Guided Reading better. I suspect I’ll have some new learning to share with you next week but in the meantime I ask you this: What are you learning?

1 comment:

Cara said...

I am learning a lot from you each and every day! What a task you have taken on, wow!