Rewind: Classroom Publishing — Books, Blogs and Beyond

From December 2010 — Right now I’m in conversation with teachers about turning their fourth-grade students into members of an elementary school newspaper staff. The 9- and 10-year-olds would be responsible for interviewing each other, writing stories, editing each other’s work and establishing the design concepts for a quarterly publication. There’s a method to this madness, I promise.

Classroom publishing was the theme for this fall’s Wordstock for Teachers conference in Portland, and I was fortunate to assist with a workshop conducted by the Classroom Publishing team from Ooligan Press at Portland State University. The key concept from this workshop was that there are lessons all through the publishing process that translate to multiple content areas and skill sets. Here is a breakdown of the Ooligan workshop:

Acquisitions

  • Before you do anything, identify your publishing intent and audience. This will help get students invested in the project and help your team shape its style, voice and format.
  • “The content and the form of expressing it need to match.”
  • Students can evaluate potential content for their publications by using criteria that they have established themselves. In turn, they learn to look at their own work more objectively.
  • The process of acquisitions helps students understand how literary anthologies and textbooks are put together, and makes assignments involving bibliographies, quotes and citations much more relevant to students.

Editing

  • It’s easy to get stuck at this stage if you don’t have a clear plan.
  • Emphasize to students early on that revising is a necessity in the writing process, not a punishment. Remind them that their work is worth revising.
  • Developmental editing is the first round, and involves looking at the foundations of each piece and the way it is constructed.
  • Copy-editing is what we usually think of when we hear the word “editing.” It involves checking for grammar and spelling.
  • Make time for fact-checking.
  • Proofreading comes after a piece is laid out on a page or website, prior to final publication.

Design

  • The style and execution of your design will depend on who is creating your publication and who it is for. A publication that is made for students and by students will likely have a different design than one made by students for parents or by students for the community.
  • Design can go way beyond the printed page! Consider a website, a blog, a podcast, a web video, etc.
  • Web-based classroom publishing projects are a way for students to build a positive presence on the internet. A college scholarship committee will likely take note of a student with a web-based publishing project more than a student with a public Myspace page, etc.
  • Let design serve as a visual metaphor for your entire publishing project.

Production

  • This can come in many forms (paper, internet, digital presentation on a CD, etc.). When choosing a production method, consider your audience, intent and, most of all, your project budget.
  • Here is a great list of publishing and production resources from Wordstock for Teachers.
  • Contact local businesses and community groups to see if in-kind donations or financial assistance is possible for your production efforts.

Marketing

  • Marketing is often a dirty word to artists and educators, but a book that doesn’t get marketed doesn’t get read!
  • Marketing is more about connecting your audience with your project than it is about making money. But if you want to use a publishing project to raise money for another educational effort, it can’t hurt.
  • Ideas for marketing efforts include having students to read from their publication over the school intercom, having students design posters and bookmarks for the project, hosting readings and open mic events, hosting book fairs, and connecting with groups online that are conducting similar projects. Relationships can begin with something as simple as students students from different schools commenting on each other’s blogs.
  • Marketing is a great way to practice important writing skills such as persuasion, summarizing and identifying a target audience, and it requires clarity and conciseness.
  • Your project should have a hook and pitch. A hook is a short, attention-grabbing phrase (such as “Take student work beyond the classroom”) and a pitch is similar to an elevator speech — about 40 words that clearly describe your project.

Is classroom publishing really worth all the effort? As a writer who is about to make classroom publishing into a career as a Journalism and Language Arts teacher, I am inclined to answer with a resounding YES. Sure, I’m biased. But I’m biased because of the pride I felt in third grade when my teacher laminated the drawings I made to summarize The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’m biased because of the pride I felt when my sixth-grade teacher stopped the entire class to read my poem aloud (reading aloud is a form of publishing, too, because it brings work to an audience). I am biased because working on my high school newspaper staff taught me a variety of skills that have had direct applications to my paying work in public relations, nonprofit administration, journalism, and even parking permit services (that one’s a long story).

To learn everything you ever wanted to know about turning your students into publishers, visit Ooligan’s Classroom Publishing site and get a copy of their practical guide for teachers.

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