This is the fourth in a series of posts on the upcoming 2023 VCE English and EAL Study Design. For the first three posts, see the links at the end.
In the new Study Design mentor texts are “Texts to be read and re-read as models of effective and cohesive writing.” They are a crucial part of the writing process, providing both inspiration and technique to students as they learn and develop their own authorial voice.
I’ve been using mentor texts and models for years, even using them as a way of breaking out of tired structures like TEEL for essay writing. They can range from short non-fiction or fiction through to longer pieces (and when I teach essay writing, I use previously successful students’ work as the mentor texts). The (suggested) list of mentor text types from the Study Design also provides a useful frame of reference:
“The mentor texts can include short stories, speeches or monologues (with transcripts), essays (comment, opinion, reflective, personal), podcasts (with transcripts), poetry/songs, feature articles (including a series of blog or social media postings) and memoirs and biography and can be entire texts or extracts.”VCAA VCE English and EAL Study Design 2023-2027
Note that there is a tendency towards shorter texts, rather than extracts from longer texts. Extracts from longer texts – such as novels, autobiographies, and longer nonfiction – are OK, but it is recommended that even these be kept to “shorter novels” that are more approachable and accessible to students as a form they may write themselves.
Basically, if you’re going to choose a novel to use as a mentor text, make sure it is the type of novel students can imagine writing.
The mentor texts should cover a diverse range of styles, voices, perspectives and techniques to allow students to experience a breadth of writing. Short engaging texts like blog posts, feature and lifestyle articles, flash and short fiction, and personal writing are perfect. I’ve heard a few comments that this might be seen as “dumbing down” the curriculum, but I disagree. I think that it reflects a more contemporary curriculum, with students being encouraged to produce the kind of writing which they might create in the real world. After all, if you’re reading this, you’re reading a blog post! Consider how much of the reading that you do as an adult comes in the form of novels and longer texts, versus how much is short, accessible writing on particular ideas and current affairs.
I’ll talk about the ‘idea’ shortly, but with regards to the mentor texts, the idea is a thread which unites the texts and gives more structure to the study. Mentor texts should align with an idea, but the idea should be broad (and in Unit 1, not one of the Frameworks from Unit 3) and the purpose of the mentor texts is for discussion of style, voice, technique and language, not how the author has approached the idea.
Using mentor texts in the classroom
Mentor texts are incredibly important in the initial stages of the ‘Crafting Texts’ Area of Study, where you will be studying them for ideas and inspiration.
In the ‘pre writing’ stage of the Area of Study, students should be offered a broad range of mentor texts, underpinned by the idea, which give them access to a range of styles and voices. These can be discussed as a class, in groups, individually or – ideally – all three. In my video on the VCAA’s ‘On Demand’ page, I discuss guided reading, active reading, close reading, and inferential reading. Of these, the first three are the most useful for this Area of Study.
Guided reading activities include ‘think alouds’ while the teacher annotates a text, and whole class group discussion and annotation. Following a ‘gradual release of responsibility’, teachers should hand over the annotation and study of the mentor texts to students, working both in groups and individually.
Students might wish to keep a folio of writing – both provided by the teacher and that they have collected themselves – with an ongoing record of their annotations, ideas, and inspirations.
On the run up to the new VCE I’ll be releasing PDFs of mentor texts with annotations, ideas about how to use them in class, and video discussions of the different styles of reading and annotation. Sign up to the mailing list if you’re interested:
The idea of the ‘idea’ is both incredibly helpful, and also possibly the part of the new Area of Study which has caused the most confusion. Research shows that students learn better when writing is anchored to an idea or concept. This is why a central idea is used in Crafting Texts to anchor all of the mentor texts and provide cohesion and alignment in the classroom.
However, it has also been the point around which one particular discussion seems to centre: is ‘Crafting Texts’ basically the same as the old ‘Context’ AoS from the pre 2016 Study Design?
The short answer: no.
The old Context AoS was – like the Comparative that followed it – essentially a reading Area of Study rather than a writing one. Although students could write in a variety of styles and voices, the basis of the outcome was a prompt on two set texts from within a choice of four contexts. The Framework of Ideas (only part of Unit 3) may have echoes of the Contexts, but that’s where the similarity ends. The old outcome, and the examination Section B, required students to produce “an extended written response in expository, imaginative or persuasive style… [which] must draw directly from at least one selected text for this Context and explore the idea that…”
In Crafting Texts, the idea is for schools to decide upon. Even in Creating Texts, the U3 equivalent, the idea anchors the texts, but the mentor texts do not need to be explicitly used in order to explore the idea.
What idea should we study?
I’ll be putting together some resources on different ideas, starting with ‘future’, over the next few months. The only hard and fast rule for Unit 1 is that schools cannot use the U3 Frameworks (Writing about… Country, Protest, Personal Journeys, and Play). Note that ‘future’ was one of the suggestions in an early draft, but it was replaced by Protest after consultation. Here are some suggestions for Unit 1 (note that these are my suggestions, but the first two are also mentioned by VCAA in the On Demand videos):
- The Past
Some of these are covered in the upcoming Insight Year 11 book, where I provide advice on how to approach the idea and examples of mentor texts, with annotations.
When choosing an idea, consider the many different experiences and contexts of your students. Also, think about discussing with your students and reaching a consensus with them before beginning the study. The more personal connection the students have to the idea, the better. The idea should be accessible, relevant, and broad enough to offer both sophistication and complexity of thought.
I’ll be sending a PDF of mentor texts on the idea of ‘Futures’ to my mailing list on the run up to the 2023 Study Design. This will include suggestions for texts, annotated examples, and ideas about how to approach the idea in the classroom. Sign up to the mailing list to stay up to date: