Being content is perhaps no less easy than playing the violin well, and requires no less practice.
Alain de Botton
I played hooky a few weeks ago. I filled out my paperwork for half a personal day and took the afternoon off.
It’s not something that was easy for me to do. I’m usually overcome with guilt and angst whenever I take time off. I can count on one hand the times I’ve actually taken a personal day, and sick days are used only when I am so ill, I can’t muster the strength to crawl to the shower—one every few years. There’s too much work to be done to miss school—the students need me too much, right?
So, I don’t take time off.
Yet that day, I did. In Ohio, where I live, the weather can be fickle and complicated. We never really know what’s going to happen on any given day. But this autumn, we were given a delightful weather gift. We had six uninterrupted weeks of perfect days—blue skies, exquisitely clear air, and leaves that turned color slowly. Every day dawned beautifully—and stayed that way.
But I knew our streak was almost over. Forecasts predicted plunging temperatures and heavy rain. That’s why, on a whim, I decided to take the afternoon off.
I went home and settled on the chaise lounge on our back patio. I sipped a cup of tea and read my way through a few back issues of my favorite magazines.
As the afternoon came to an end and it came time for me to go gather my children from their school, I thought about how peaceful and easy the afternoon had been. I felt full of energy. I’d put a stop to the hamster wheel and it felt terrific.
Since I felt so good after a simple and easy afternoon, I wondered how something like that would feel to our students. I worry about them. I fear they feel the effects of our “teacher anxiety.” Amid the push for high achievement, along with the immense pressure to have students reading and writing on grade level—now!—we forget that sometimes we all just need a break. It doesn’t have to be pedal-to-the-metal every moment of every day, right? Certainly not. In fact, I’d argue that kind of approach does more harm than good.
So, to all literacy teachers out there, grant yourself permission: Sometime soon, on a day that feels just right, let yourself put down the lesson plans for an afternoon. Ignore the to-do list and the upcoming assessments and the small-group conferences you have planned. Instead, gather your class and tell them to pick out a light book or magazine. Take them somewhere lovely and different, away from their routine. Join them in sinking into a comfortable spot to read—in a corner of the school library, beneath a favorite tree in the courtyard, or spread out on the bleachers near the football field. It doesn’t matter where—just so it’s away and interrupts the routine of intensity. Make sure it’s easy.
This week we look at mentor texts. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
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We think of mentor texts for teaching literary elements, but what about for organizing writing? Aimee Buckner describes how she selects books to demonstrate a range of ways to organize writing and help students make choices independently:
Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan share some favorite picture books for teaching nonfiction text structures on this Pinterest board:
Mary Helen Gensch has compiled a wonderful list of mentor texts tied to the seasons and holidays, with each link describing how the book could be used for writing instruction:
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Jillian Heise discovers her students need more access to the mentor texts she reads aloud, so she develops strategies to get Mentor Texts in Student Hands:
Katherine Sokolowski explains why picture books are useful for teaching inference to intermediate students, and shares some of her favorites:
Gretchen Schroeder finds one mentor text has many uses as her high school students explore memoir writing:
In this week’s video, Jason DiCarlo continues his third-grade reading workshop lesson on character traits with a mentor text. This is the second video in a three-part series:
In an encore video, Aimee Buckner gives some quick advice on selecting mentor texts for writing instruction:
That’s all for this week!