Teachers as Writers: You Can’t Teach Swimming from the Side of the Pool
Today I am pleased to offer a guest post from Cynthia Mershon on the importance of writing teachers being writers themselves. Cynthia is a former long-time literacy specialist and writing teacher and is currently a workshop presenter for Teachers College, Columbia University.
by Cynthia Mershon
During high school and college, I worked as a life guard and a swimming instructor. Most of the children I met in swimming lessons were between the ages of five and ten – some had never had a swimming lesson, but some knew a little about swimming. As a swimmer myself, I appreciated the importance of being in the pool with them, standing beside them and talking with them as they clung to the wall or bobbed up and down in the shallow end of the pool.
When it came time to demonstrate a particular swimming skill - how to use arms to stroke through the water, or feet to kick, or how to turn the head to breathe - it was easy to gather them around me so they could watch as I moved my arms, or held onto the wall and kicked, or put my face in the water and turned my head to the side and took a breath. Most of the time, they were close enough for me to touch them and I often did, supporting their bodies while they tried each skill so they could feel what it felt like to be a swimmer, offering them the chance to know what it would feel like to glide through the water when they could put all of their learning together.
Now, many years later, I work with upper elementary teachers, supporting them as they develop their reading and writing workshops. As a part of our work together, I recommend that teachers write their own pieces when teaching students a particular genre of writing. I encourage them to share this writing with their students as mentor texts, as examples of the kind of writing they want students to do in the units being taught. Reading John Hattie’s 2008 analysis of what factors maximize student achievement (Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, Routledge), we learn students need crystal clear examples of what we are asking them to do if they are to be successful at specific tasks. Deliberately producing a piece of writing for them that illustrates the skills and strategies we are teaching so they can use our writing as a model to examine makes perfect sense.
Another reason to think about writing teacher-generated mentor texts is because Russ on Reading: Teachers as Writers: You Can’t Teach Swimming from the Side of the Pool: