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Rewind: Publishing as Pedagogy

From December 2010 — I still have a few crayoned, laminated, hand-bound books that I wrote in elementary school. InĀ  many ways, the drawing and writing I did in those books was no better than the work that made it onto my mom’s fridge, or the work that cluttered my bedroom and was thrown away. But the fact that they were published means that pieces of my childhood were preserved, and that I felt a sense of legitimacy in my work, even as I was still practicing D’Nealian handwriting. Even if no one read the books, the sense of accomplishment they brought was similar to what I feel today when publishing a well-read news article or blog post, or even when I see that I’ve been “retweeted” by a stranger on Twitter.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about the future of the publishing industry, self-publishing is no longer considered a last resort for serious writers, but is becoming an increasingly legit way to share your work. This shift in thinking opens the doors for teachers and students to use new classroom publishing platforms and tools, and to share their work with increasingly wide audiences. All publishing industry issues aside, when I think of the way technology impacts publishing from a teacher’s perspective, fireworks go off. The possibilities for quality work are endless.

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 event’s keynote speaker was Erick Gordon, formerly of the Student Press Initiative at Columbia University. Below are notes from his motivating presentation:

  • Publication is no longer for elite students only, but also for students who are at risk.
  • Publication raises the bar for all students involved in a project.
  • Explore the idea of publishing as pedagogy. Allow it to expand your ideas of what kids can accomplish.
  • Get linked up with teachers who are involved in publishing with the Student Press Initiative’s Ning.
  • “This work can set you up to really know who kids are.”

If you’re interested in the Student Press Initiative, check out the organization’s website for classroom resources and inspiring project videos.

Stay tuned, because highlights from the Ooligan Press workshop on Classroom Publishing are in the fryer.


Rewind: Going electronic with a student newspaper

From March 2011 — Several weeks ago, the newspaper staff at my student teaching placement site learned that they would have no allotted budget for the coming school year. To save money and to propel their newspaper into a new era of publishing, our team got innovative and put the newspaper on The results (as seen here) have been fantastic:

  • The publication has the look and feel of an e-magazine.
  • Our team saved money by printing only four pages (which were distributed throughout the school) and including teasers on those pages to lead readers to an additional six pages online. (I should note that this idea came from our student team, and was a key part of moving our team in this new direction.)
  • Within a couple of days, the online publication had about 200 views. There were about 400 views within a week, equivalent to a quarter of the student body.
  • The online publication is in color, allowing for more emphasis on photography and new options for our page designers.
  • The account that allowed us to do all this was free.
  • The viewer statistics we receive from will be used in advertising sales packets. And the opportunity to publish additional pages online means there will be more room for ads.
  • We are already planning online extra issues in between our major scheduled publications. This allows us to memorialize a student who recently passed away, to provide sports updates, and to be available for other breaking news reports.

We have our current issue up online, along with two archived issues in black and white. You can see them all right here. We plan to use at least for the rest of the school year, hopefully in conjunction with a news website that a student is developing.

I know this blog is getting a lot of traffic from readers who are interested in classroom publishing and student journalism. Are any of you using Which online resources have helped you and your students save money or reach new audiences?

Rewind: My student featured on

From April 2011

I love memoirs. And I love brevity. So when Smith Magazine rolled out the Six-Word Memoir project, I knew it would be part of my life in some way.

Oddly, I’ve never posted my own Six-Word Memoir on But I bring it up in conversation and compose mini-memoirs in my head all the time. It’s a brilliant vehicle for sharing personal stories that are razor-sharp.

This month, as a warm-up for their writing exercises, I started asking my high school English students to write six-word memoirs at the beginning and end of our free-writing sessions. I hoped that my students would eventually find meaning in the practice, and I soon found out that one student had taken ownership of the six-word craft in a way I hadn’t expected.

“Ms. Thompson, I love six-word memoirs!” she said when she came to class one morning. “My mom grounded me from my computer, but I told her I had to log on to SmithMag.”

A week or so later, she came to class radiant.

“People are reading my six-word memoirs now!” she said. “I’m getting comments and people like what I’m writing. One of them recommended that I write posts on”

Today we were preparing for our last day of the in-class state writing test. I was trying to cross a hundred ‘t’s while dotting a thousand ‘i’s before we started our session. But my mentor teacher asked me to pause and hear some good news from this student.

“They gave me the featured memoir of the day!” our student reported.

I was about to tell her how proud I was of her when she showed me the chosen memoir. Now I’m more than proud of her. I am awed. And grateful.

This is happening! Kids are reading books and liking it

English teachers, tell me if you’ve seen this happen. You plan to start the period with a round of silent reading. 15-20 minutes of bliss, right? Everyone is quiet, minds are active, worlds are expanding, knowledge is building. Until you look at their reading journals and see that they are pretty much empty.

Working with two remedial English classes this year, it became clear by Winter Break that if I didn’t change this pattern quickly, my students would actually hate reading more than they already did. Having been an avid reader since about age 5, I’ve had to work to understand my students’ relationships with books, but I have gotten the sense that they feel a period of silent reading is like a period of falling into an abyss.

Imagine starting every class period falling into an abyss. Not a good way to kick things off.

In December I asked both classes, “What would you guys think if the whole class read the same book at the same time? What if we had the choice to read it out loud, to listen to it on CD, or to read it silently?” And both classes were all for it.

Raiding the school library, I found out that two killer YA novels were available — Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Each class voted for a book to read — one picked Rumble Fish and the other picked Speak. So when we returned from Winter Break, we plunged in. As luck would have it, I found an audio version of Speak for students to listen to in class, but Rumble Fish is old and obscure enough that we had to read it out loud.

In any case, both approaches with auditory learning have worked fairly well. When I ask students to take notes or answer questions about a section, they’ve been on track. Much more so than they seemed to be when they were reading silently. So I was surprised today when about half of my first period class asked if they could do today’s Rumble Fish reading silently. The rest of the class seemed on board, so we went for it.

I was ASTONISHED. They read it. They totally read it! On their own. Silently! And completely! I didn’t have to stop them even once for being off task. We were breaking classroom behavior records all over the place.

Then came the best part:

When one student finished reading his assignment he said, “Ms. Thompson, can I finish reading this book at home?” To which I responded, “Of course!” Then he said, “Does this author have any other books like this?”And I said, “YES! The Outsiders is amazing.” He asked what it was about and THEN (get this!), one of my most reluctant students chimed in and gave an impromptu summary of The Outsiders, like we were at a book group meeting or something.

I am still so amazed by this that I’m laughing with joy as I write.

The first student said, “Can I go to the library right now to get a copy of The Outsiders?” to which I responded with so much enthusiasm that I probably scared him. I told him that his response was one of the most important things that’s ever happened to me as a teacher. And I sent him to the library.

Since we’ve moved through Rumble Fish so quickly, the class agreed that they wanted to try and finish The Outsiders before the end of the semester in a few weeks. As I write these words, I can hardly believe them. A transformation has happened. They are still reluctant when it comes to grammar lessons and writing. But they have found an author that they connect with, and we are making progress. They are having a positive experience with a book, and I feel like all of our lives have been changed because of it.

The students who are reading Speak have also surprised me in wonderful ways, but that is a story for another time. Please keep reading (however sporadic my posts are), and please share any stories, questions or suggestions you have about struggling readers.

Why is this baby in a bird bath?

I found a vintage photo of a cherubic-looking baby sitting in a bird bath. I don’t know what he’s doing there — do you? Help me write a story about it! I’m collecting video anecdotes on