reading · slice of life

Digging in the Heels Over a Mentor Text

I’m going into Isabelle’s second-grade classroom tomorrow morning during writing workshop. As a result, I asked her teacher what the kids would be doing so I could make a conferring plan. Isabelle’s teacher informed me the students are coming to the end of their information writing unit of study and that tomorrow’s minilesson is on content-specific language. She told me Isabelle was writing a book about Halloween. However, when I asked Isabelle to tell me what she was working on as a writer, I learned nothing more than what her teacher told me.

Since I knew Isabelle might have a tough time with using technical language to teach about her topic, I grabbed one of my favorite books, The Slug by Elise Gravel, to use with primary writers who are doing informational writing. I’ll never forget how the first class (of first graders) cackled when I read it aloud to them soon after it came out in 2014. I expected Isabelle would love it too.

She didn’t. Isabelle showed her disinterest in the text by refusing to look at the pictures, playing with a small piece of skin on her thumb, and keeping a straight face during the first few pages of the book (even when the slug, himself, uses the word snot). In fact, she seemed perturbed I was making her listen to a book. I was feeling frustrated but didn’t want to show it so I closed the book. I told Isabelle I was going upstairs and when she was ready, I’d be happy to read the book aloud to her.

Moments after retreating upstairs, Ari woke up and I became consumed with his needs. About 20 minutes later, Isabelle appeared in my room.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“What are you sorry for?” I asked.

“I’m sorry I didn’t want to listen to the book you wanted to read to me.”

“I appreciate your apology. But do you understand why I wanted to read that book to you?”

She didn’t. So I explained, again, that it was to help teach her something as a writer. I explained that books, not teachers, help me write better now. I explained how this book was funny and could also teach her how to teach her readers about her topic.

She agreed to go downstairs and try again. I grabbed my phone and took the kids downstairs. As I did, I noticed I had a voicemail from my husband. Odd. He was in his home office. I put the phone to my ear and discovered it was from Isabelle (who had called from our home phone to my cell). Go ahead and read the transcript.


She’d left that message about 10 minutes prior to coming upstairs to apologize in person. I guess she figured out what to apologize for when she didn’t get me on the phone.

I’d like to say everything went well when we got downstairs, but it didn’t. Isabelle tried to employ more stall tactics. Once we finally made it through the book, I went back and quickly reread the pages that contained content-specific language. She didn’t seem to care.


Frustrated — again — I simply told her we’d be looking at the book together in writing workshop tomorrow. She said nothing. I don’t like being ignored, but I know when I’m not wanted too.

I’m armed with my materials for tomorrow morning.

Four hours later, still feeling like I wish our interaction had gone differently, I sat down at my computer and typed up two mentor sentences. It’s my hope she’ll be more agreeable when her peers are in the same room tomorrow. Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing.

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10 thoughts on “Digging in the Heels Over a Mentor Text

  1. How I loved reading the voicemail your daughter left you! How sweet.
    As a side note – Over the years I found that teaching my own children was much harder than my students.

  2. Oh how I can relate! My daughters, now teenagers, have often dismissed my school lessons at home. It stings for sure, knowing we have the expertise. In the past few years, they have asked me for help with papers, literary analysis, and debates. These moments are lovely yet short lived. I’m hoping they are turning a bend where they will WANT my advice and lessons more and more. Hang in there. I would love to read The Slug. Maybe it will inspire my high school Creative Writing students.

    1. As one of my dear teacher-friends said to me, “All you wanted to do was read her a book. It’s gotta hurt that she was uninterested.” That kind of gets at the core part of the issue, I suppose.

  3. It must be so hard to want to help your child as both a teacher and a mom, and to have her be so resistant. I love that she tried to apologize with a voicemail – so sweet! (Also, I can’t believe she’s in 2nd grade! I remember you writing about a little girl!!!) Hope all goes well tomorrow. Maybe she’ll see your expertise in a different way in the classroom setting!

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