How do you like that analogy? If students know that their writing work is “real” and will culminate in a “real” book for a “real” audience, they get a lot more interested in their work. I’ve seen it happen dozens of times.
Doesn’t it just make sense? If we know that our work has an authentic purpose and will be received by others in a meaningful way, we put a lot more into it, right?
When I began the personal narrative project with my daughter’s 2nd grade class, I made sure to tell them that we would be publishing our final stories. I told them that I was Editor-In-Chief of the “Antonelli Publishing Company” and that I would be turning their final images and words into “real” bound books. I also built up the idea that we would have a celebration once the work was done so that they could share their stories with their parents. One of them asked, “Will there be refreshments?” My answer: “Of course there will be refreshments!”
The student enthusiasm for the personal narrative project was very high.
Once the students created their images and wrote their first drafts, I took their stories home with me and spent some time looking through their work. There was some editing and revision to do- in both the images and the text. For example, one little boy’s text made reference to his dog, Shadow, but the dog was nowhere to be found in the images. Another little girl went on and on with a long list of gifts she received at her birthday party, but the image actually showed the moment when her mother cut the cake.
For several days I went back to their classroom and conferenced with the students 1-on-1. I was selective with my feedback, only choosing 2 or 3 of the “biggest issues” within each child’s work so they didn’t feel overwhelmed or discouraged. Sometimes we cut apart their text and reordered it by gluing it back together on a fresh piece of paper. Other times we inserted sentences or words that enhanced or clarified the story. Occasionally their descriptive words were a little too descriptive (i.e.- the monstrous, exploding sun gazed down on my house) and needed to be toned down a bit. Sometimes the artwork was incomplete or needed an addition (i.e.- the little boy mentioned above realized he remembered the parts about the dog after he finished his artwork, so I had him draw the dog on a separate piece of paper, cut it out, and paste it into the image. Problem solved!)
I will admit that it was difficult for me to choose a few conference points for each student and leave other issues unaddressed. The writer in me wants to correct and improve each sentence! I had to remind myself that these were seven and eight year old developing writers. It would be far more productive to recognize their accomplishments and choose 1 or 2 things to “teach” and revise rather than bogging them down in an endless rewrite process!
Finally, the stories were ready to be published. I typed all of the stories (parent volunteers could share this workload) and glued the text and images to black tag. I corrected all errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation- just like a real publishing house. A published book should be error-free! (The rough drafts show each child’s “true” work in that regard.)
The final step was to bind them with the plastic comb book binder. It took a while but was well worth the time and effort when I delivered the books to the children. They were ecstatic!
The next day we held a “Publishing Party” for the parents. (We scheduled it two weeks in advance so the parents could make room in their schedules.) Mrs. Goodwin had the cute idea to call it a “Donut” publishing party, as in “Do NOT you like my story?” Ha! It might be silly but the kids thought it was great fun. They drew huge donuts on a piece of paper and collected compliments “sprinkled on their donuts” from the parents. We also had real donuts and juice as our refreshments. BIG HIT!
Here are my top tips for hosting a special publishing celebration:
1- Make sure the writing is quality work. Sometimes we feel so rushed to teach our content that we end up rushing the students through their work. Image-making takes time. Good writing takes time. Conferencing takes time. Publishing takes time. However, I would argue that the time is well-invested. What is more beneficial for a student’s writing growth; moving purposefully through the writing process all the way to publication/celebration or 3 weeks worth of “prompt-based” journal writing?
2- Give invitees advance notice of the event date. Most parents will make an effort to attend these types of events if 1) They are well timed and 2) You give them 1-2 weeks of warning. I have noticed that parents are most likely to attend an event right at the beginning of the school day or at the end of the day just before dismissal. It’s easier to take an extra 30 minutes away from work if it naturally fits into the rhythm of the day. I’ve also found that working parents will often send a “stand-in” such as an aunt or grandparent if they have enough time to coordinate one.
3- If parents aren’t likely to attend at your school, use another class! Peers are a powerful audience for students. Sprinkle in a few “special” school personnel (principal, custodian, counselor, etc.) and you’ve got an audience!
4- Provide refreshments! You don’t have to get fancy- even bought cookies and juice feel festive. Of course, you might have a few parent volunteers who are happy to coordinate the food for you- even better!
5- Provide students with a “compliment collection” form. This is a simple document that allows the “guest” to record his/her name and their best compliment about the student’s story. It’s wonderful for children to end the celebration with a page full of nice remarks about their published work.
6- Prepare your “guests” in advance about the scope and goals of the project and give them some “accomplishments” to spot. It will help them give more specific compliments. For example, I spoke briefly before the party started and gave the parents a quick overview of the work we had done, encouraging them to notice specific story-telling techniques in images and text.
7- Plan how students will share. If you have a typical class size (20-30 students) there won’t be enough time for each child to read his/her story out loud to the entire group. That gets very tedious, even if the stories are well done. My favorite format is to place the children in seats with an empty seat at their side. The “guests” float around the room, looking for an empty chair (and waiting student.) In this manner, the student gets to share his/her story several times (great oral fluency practice, by the way!) and the “guests” get a good sampling of the student work. Before moving on, the “guest” takes a moment to record a compliment on the student’s form. After about 20 minutes, the teacher signals that it’s time for refreshments. Students can still informally share stories with guests and friends while refreshments are served, but the “formal” sharing time is over and adults are free to leave.
8- Keep the stories in the room for a while! Children love to read their peers’ published work. Adding student books to your classroom library sends a powerful message: Your book is “real” and worthy of shelf space in our library. Students also build fluency as they reread their stories.
*It is important to teach children to respect peer work and take good care of it. If you are concerned about original work being damaged, try alternative publishing techniques such as laminating the pages or placing the pages in clear binder sheets and assembling the books in 3-ring binders or folders. You can also reinforce plastic binding combs with duct tape. (Use black or a pretty color!)
– 8 Tips for a Great Publishing Party (current post)