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Plugged In: Coming to You Live…Mentor Texts

by Julie D. Ramsay
 | Nov 28, 2012
In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this monthly column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.

I know that writing instruction can strike fear in the hearts of many educators. I think many teachers wonder, “Do I have to be a strong writer in all genres to teach my students how to write?” Although I feel like teachers who write become more confident in leading their students through writing projects, and they understand better the perspective of a student who is composing a piece of writing, there is no way we can become true experts in all genres.

There is great news though—there are people who get paid to write and publish in each genre. They are the true experts. After all, we are the ones who need to lead our students to the resources and experiences that will strength their scope of learning. These texts become mentors for our students to study, analyze, and emulate throughout their writing experiences. These are real texts, not something merely generated for one particular lesson. As one of my students said, “These people are the best at what they do. If we learn from them and write the way that they do, we become experts too.”

The first time my students wanted to create opinion editorials, I really had to do some digging to find some age-appropriate—yet still authentic—ones to share with them. Once I found my mentor texts, the challenge that I faced was that although I usually could find physical, hard copies of mentor texts for my classroom, students often gravitated to a particular one throughout the writing process. If a peer had that one text, the others would have to wait to look at it while a peer was using it. And as classroom teachers, we know how “creative” students can become while they are waiting for something. Also, many of them would want to write at home and wouldn’t be able to have access to all of the texts while they are writing.

How do we put high-quality mentor texts into the hands of our writers, provide accessibility to these resources, and keep the writing momentum going? The answer comes in the form of a digital tool called LiveBinders. LiveBinders is just what its name says; it’s a digital three-ring binder that organizes all of your resources neatly and easily online. To begin using LiveBinders, you need to sign up for a free account. Then you can begin creating binders on any topic.

My students expressed an interest in publishing poetry for a collaborative project in which they were engaged with peers across the country. Different students wanted to learn different types of poetry. We began by creating a poetry binder. Within that binder, we created different tabs for the different forms of poetry that my students were interested in writing. Then, under each tab, we could put the different online resources and mentor texts that we found for that topic.

That’s one of the features that’s great about LiveBinders—it organizes all of your links into one organized place so that students aren’t surfing all over the Internet. The webpages are now in your binder as a “page” so that students can study the mentor texts right there. You can even add a “LiveBinder It” bookmark tool onto your web browser’s toolbar so that when you (or your students) find a mentor text, you can easily capture it and add it to your binder, which is easily organized by tabs and subtabs.

Another great feature of LiveBinders is that you aren’t limited to just adding webpages to your binders. You can upload images, Word documents, and PDFs as well. You can combine your resources into one place, giving your students accessibility to these resources from any device that has Internet access. Every time we are using mentor texts and writing in new genres, I have students who find additional texts that they want to share with their peers demonstrating to me that they really understand the importance of finding high-quality resources, and they have a clear understanding of the characteristics of different genres. With LiveBinders, you can have access and the ability to edit from any device seamlessly. There is also a free app available on the iPad if any students have those at home or you have these devices available to use in your classrooms.

As educators, we know that the more we connect with fellow teachers, the more information, insight, and resources we learn to enhance our lessons with our students. LiveBinders knows that as well. With a LiveBinder, you have the ability to invite other educators to have access to your binder to add additional resources. While we were working on our poetry project, I connected with another teacher who was also teaching poetry. I gave her editing rights to our poetry binder and she was able to add her resources to our binder providing her writers, as well as my writers, a greater collection of mentor texts to enhance their own writing.

So the next time your students express an interest in writing and creating in a mode that you may not feel a high degree of confidence about, remember to look to the experts, the ones that can provide guidance and mentoring through their own writing. With LiveBinders, you can provide all of your students access to all of their mentors organized easily in one place…their digital binder.

Are you a fan of Plugged In? Come see Julie D. Ramsay present a session on collaborating in class and online at IRA’s 58th Annual Convention, April 19-22, 2013, in San Antonio, Texas.

Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator, a fifth grade teacher in a student-driven classroom, and the author of “CAN WE SKIP LUNCH AND KEEP WRITING?”: COLLABORATING IN CLASS & ONLINE, GRADES 3-8 (Stenhouse, 2011). She travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.

© 2012 Julie D. Ramsay. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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