All the World’s a Remix
Mentor texts are the keys to creativity and creation
How do babies learn to begin speaking legible words and, eventually, sentences? They copy the sounds they hear from the people around them.
How do musicians learn how to compose music? They study the works of great compositions and use those notes to make new ones.
Likewise, how do writers learn to create work that is meaningful, inspiring, and relevant? They, too, must learn from copying “mentor texts” within a given genre.
A mentor text acts as a teacher. A mentor text guides. It can inspire. It can encourage a writer to push themselves. It can teach a writer how to create within a new territory like fiction, memoir, or photojournalism. And mentor texts are all around us, they don’t need to be just words on a piece of paper — a text can be anything that conveys meaning and connection.
A text can be a powerful image:
A mural on the street:
A book cover:
And so on.
Like babies learning to speak or musicians learning to compose, writers use the world around them as a mentor text. To write is to make. The act of writing is making. Why do humans make things and why is it important? We make to understand and to be understood. To share stories of our histories. To imagine possibilities. We make to make sense of our world.
In his video, “Everything is a remix Part 2,” Kirby Ferguson highlights the power of mentor texts by explaining the human desire for sequels, remakes, and adaptations in film and meme culture. Ferguson makes a point that we understand new information by building upon and making sense of old information. Examples of this are the many versions and renditions of superhero movies, songs from musicians like Olivia Rodrigo, and trending TikTok dances. He reiterates that in order to create… you must first copy.
Today’s student writers are already doing more than arranging five-paragraph essays on paper. They are creating videos about their passions and their hobbies. They are remixing songs to educate others about feminism and body positivity. They’re ingesting podcasts and wearing clothes that send powerful messages to others. In “The Composition of Making,” Christina Cantrill and Paul Oh explain:
If we define writing more broadly than as simply a vehicle for text creation — as a social practice, for instance, that also involves the composition of any multimodal piece intended to communicate an idea to an audience — then we see that writing is also most often the way makers reflect on, document, and disseminate what it is they’ve made and how they’ve made it.” (107)
Writing teachers have the power to bring these multimodal texts into their classrooms to use as mentors that guide student writing. The addition of multimodal texts does not mean that academic writing will be ignored and forgotten. On the contrary, diverse mentor texts can help push students far beyond the constricting limits of traditional five paragraph essays. In “Composing Texts Across Medias and Genres” Troy Hicks confirms, “The question is no longer whether we should use technology to teach writing; instead we must focus on the many ways that we must use technology to teach writing” (2). Multimodal mentor texts introduce students to the types of writing seen beyond the walls of the classroom and invites them to actively make and contribute.
How can you introduce multimodal mentor texts in your own classroom?
- Choose one of NPR’s “This I Believe” texts as a mentor, listen to the podcast, and have students write and record their own version.
- Have students guest write a blog for the Nerdy Book Club or create their own like Andy Schoenborn’s students.
- Invite students to create a photo essay documenting their lives as teenagers in a pandemic and publish with The Learning Network in the New York Times.
The possibilities are endless. Multimodal mentor texts generate inspiration for students and encourage them to produce writing that holds value and meaning in the 21st century.
Teachers, what multimodal texts do you use to support writing/making in your classroom?