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What Does It Mean to Mentor? Session One


"We need to think hard about how we talk about writing to our colleagues, to our students, to ourselves. Language, as the linguists tell us, is also the language of thought." Ralph Fletcher

As Christine and I embarked on this journey, she shared that although her students were comfortable consuming digital media, they seemed reluctant to produce on their own at least in the educational environment. They were skilled at reading articles, writing summations and reports about media, but had little experience it seemed producing and creating their own digital media. As we further planned together we realized that many of her graduate students were English Learners, struggling not only with the academic challenges of a graduate program, but the challenges of learning the English Language. My own middle school students were all English Learners with a similar initial reluctance to write creatively in an educational environment, and with these common denominators I knew we could provide both an interesting link for both groups of students. I had learned in working with English Learners that using iPods in our classroom provided interesting ways in which my students could practice their reading and writing skills in relevant and interesting ways. I made it my goal to not only use apps that would support some remedial practice, but we would use tools such as iMovie and Storykit to create our own media to share. I wanted this project with her students to mirror some of that work from our classroom.

Working in digital media with my own students I knew the importance of creating along side your students. It was important for my students to see me struggle to both write and produce my own digital stories. It was also an extremely powerful tool to build self-efficacy in my students as well as an accepting classroom community. I wanted these graduate students to understand that including technology in the classroom was not about the program or the tool, but more importantly how that tool provides an avenue for that student to share their voice. Technology can at times feel isolated, and contrived and in worst case scenarios remedial in classrooms if students only participate as consumers of programs or games. The idea that students can use the same tool - for example an iPod - that in their everyday world primarily links them to music and games, as a tool to create their own movie to be shared with others is important as we move forward as educators. 

So we decided to try something different. When I came into the classroom I shared a modified lesson I taught my students. We used the poems "Where I'm From"  by George Ella Lyon, "Raised By"  by Kelly Norman Ellis, and an excerpt from Sandra Cisneros novel House on Mango Street called "Those Who Don't".  Students discussed the poetry elements, patterns and relevance and relationships between these pieces. (Links to these materials are posted to this article.) So far this was familiar work to students in a graduate program, and then I asked them to do something a little different.

I let the students know that the following week, we would be producing movies based on the work we had discussing in class. Just like in my own classroom, it would be a one shot take, and they would have the three hour class period to create. I asked each student to choose one poem or excerpt that spoke to them, and write their own piece and to bring at least 3 images that supported their work to the following class. The level of anxiety rose as I discussed the project. I was surprised that students at that level had many of the same fears and questions as my own students. "Would we have to share this out loud?" "What would the grade be worth?" " I'm not comfortable with the media." 

To alleviate some of these concerns, before the end of the first class I shared some iMovies created by my middle school students. Their digital poem pieces were  based on the same work that I had shared in their session. The movies were far from perfect, but revealed passion, individuality and an honesty that other writing we had done that year did not yield. I purposefully selected student work to emphasize that the process of writing the piece, and the focus on student voice, comes not from only looking at perfect or near perfect mentors, but it lies also in respecting the work and process of those around you. Students seemed still apprehensive, but intrigued with the project. I looked forward to creating movies with them the following week.

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