Adopting A New Approach To Publishing In The Classroom
I must state from the beginning that I have long held misgivings regarding what passes as publishing (of student writing) in many schools. Like fast food, publishing student writing has evolved into something pretty much standardized.
A one size fits all mentality often applies to the publishing phase of the writing process. Publishing should not be every student publishing their writing at the same time, in exactly the same way. Yes, publishing is time consuming, but it presents a powerful mechanism for motivating students to continue reading and writing.
Publishing should allow students a strong sense of ownership over a host of decisions regarding the shape and form of the final product of their writing efforts. I think that for some teachers 'publishing' becomes a beast that needs to be controlled. This need to control is what ultimately stifles creativity, resulting in a pie factory outcome. We should hold fast to the idea that publishing means ‘to make the writing public’ and for student writers this can mean different things, given the experience and development of those involved. So our concept of publishing requires some flexibility in order to take hold. Let’s get back to giving our writers some options and a sense of ownership about publishing. Have them talk in small groups about a range of possibilities for their writing, rather than a single, teacher directed, pathway. Running concurrently with these options we need to be ready to provide resources, advice and support for their efforts. Support that encourages meaningful engagement and successful outcomes.
While the majority of writing undertaken by students remains ‘unpublished’ it is important for students to identify a piece of writing they wish to lift from their notebook entries and polish towards publication. It is very easy to linger too long in the notebook- to get caught up in the cycle of continually adding entries without developing one special piece. When we allow this to happen opportunities to redraft, revise and eventually edit are lost. These are critical places for real learning to take place.
Let’s face it, writers need an audience for their words. The greatest feedback any writer can receive is to experience the reader’s response. When the reader is emotionally moved, informed or entertained, the writer is affirmed. Writers not receiving opportunities to share their writing with an audience, is similar to an actor who rehearses for a play that never gets performed. Publishing makes all the planning, drafting and revising worth it!
So, we need to build into our planning, frequent opportunities for students to experience the full range of options that publishing offers. Let’s allow students to delve into publishing in ways that allow their individual preferences to shine through.
As well as asking students to think about HOW they wish to publish their writing, we must also ask them WHERE they wish to publish their works. In doing so we broaden the concept of audience and appeal. Publishing presents numerous opportunities for students to practice making decisions about their writing. Public displays of student writing are only limited by imagination. Move from display boards to more exotic locations. Consider, banks, shops, waiting rooms, shopping centres. Let them travel home with students in collected anthologies. Feature student writing in newsletters, within the neighbourhood, and in writing competitions. Organize author parties and book launches and invite other classes, parents, visitors.
Every child should be given the opportunity to publish in book form. What an achievement it is for a student to experience the joy of publishing their very own book. –A book that can be added to the classroom library. This is an ideal time to alert young writers to the considered moves made by authors and illustrators. In the classroom develop displays that highlight aspects of writing such as leads, endings, character descriptions This is the art of publishing and providing a lens through which to view it is most important. Challenge your student writers to identify book elements they admire and might like to incorporate into their own publications. This is the territory of blurbs, dedications, publishing symbols, illustrating techniques, text positons, maps, codes, about the author and so on. So many possibilities emerge. The writer has choice and voice in deciding the best course of action for them.
Consider publishing poetry anthologies, class books, magazines, plays. You could provide digital story telling opportunities. Students could be encouraged to set up blogs and podcasts. Film scripts and plays add further to the plethora of possibilities.
A young teacher recently approached me during a break in a presentation about Writer's Notebooks to ask, What about publishing? She was projecting ahead and it set me to thinking more deeply about this important issue. Young writers need to experience every phase of the writing process and yet it is publishing that frequently gets squeezed or curtailed with the justification being, ‘we just don’t have time for that.’
With so much emphasis on gathering entries in the Writer’s Notebook there is a further danger it will begin to establish itself as the primary focus for writing both in the minds of teachers and students. The notebook becomes a whirlpool difficult to escape
It would therefore be easy to lose sight of the purpose of the Writer’s Notebook. The Notebook’s primary function is to provide a place for writing to begin. Across the pages of the notebook we gather writing ideas - experiment, trial, and start to play with words. It is the place where potential writing projects find their humble beginnings. It is where the writer first breathes life into a writing piece. Let's think of the notebook as a launching pad, rather than an end in itself. The notebook is the gathering point where the words ready themselves, prior to being launched. It is where humble first drafts and fragile ideas emerge.
Young writers need to publish some of their writing to experience the entire writing process. This is where the ‘polishing’ of their rough diamonds takes place.
It is in publishing that we most effectively teach our students to appreciate the importance of grammar and conventions. Publishing provides authentic opportunities for students to work through the revisions and editing of their work and prepare it for their intended audience.
These process steps provide genuine purpose to the work being undertaken. By engaging in this process, writers display increased critical awareness for making their message as clear as possible. Their writing gradually assumes a ‘reader friendly’ shape. The more time students spend revising, means less time is needed for editing. Editing must be seen as a separate action from getting their thoughts organised and detailed. It must take place after adequate time has been devoted to those critical changes made during revision. Editing will not improve the content of the writing. It will improve the surface features.
Rereading Notebook Entries.
Young writers need to be shown the value of rereading their notebook entries. Rereading their earlier writing ‘closely’ is an important skill that benefits every writer. They need opportunities to ask themselves, - Which of my notebook entries jump out at me?
This is the place where possibilities for publication emerge! It is therefore important for teachers to demonstrate and promote this strategy. The goal is to help students discover buried treasure within the pages of their notebooks. Rereading shines light on the writer’s words and ideas. The more entries, the more choices avail themselves to the writer.
As the writer rereads, they ask themselves questions, such as:
•What stands out?
•What can I imagine spending some extra time on?
•What deserves my attention?
The decisions writers make about potential publishing projects are enormously enhanced when shared as a class. Making these project ideas public enables students to briefly outline the ideas they are considering, and why they consider a particular piece worthy of further attention. Hearing the writing intentions of others, helps the less confident writer make decisions.
Reason for Choosing a Particular Publishing Project to Pursue
In consultation with the teacher, students may develop a set of criteria for rereading their notebooks. At this point students will benefit from support that encourages their thinking and decision making. This can be achieved by providing a list such as the one that follows:
Some Reasons for Beginning a Publishing Project:
•You believe an entry is important and you have already written a lot about it.
•You believe an entry is not your best writing and you know you have more to say about that topic, subject, or idea.
•An entry sounds like a genre you are familiar with and you believe you can develop and revise it for publication
•You have a series of entries about a topic/idea and you can see the potential to join them into a single piece of writing.
•You have an entry you believe is well written and you think you can improve it even further with some revision.
•You think you have a story that readers will find interesting because it deals with an issue in which others are interested.
•You notice a theme threaded through your writing pieces and you believe it is worth developing.
•You have a question in your notebook you would like to answer.
The final decision in identifying a piece of writing worthy of more attention can be guided by asking students:
•Does this piece deserve more of your writing time and will you look forward to working on it?
•Who do you see as an audience for this piece of writing once you lift it from your notebook?
•What literature and what writers (mentors) will support you if you choose to publish this particular piece of writing?
Students will produce writing pieces at different rates across the course of the year. However, once they have completed their first publication, they often require less assistance and guidance the next time they undertake a project. This is because they now have experience with the process. The writer has an increased sense of direction and ownership. Their vision of the publishing process is sharper. They are travelling down a familiar track the next time they wish to publish.
Once the decision has been made about the focus of their publishing project, we assist students by moving the writing from the notebook to a writing folder, where the piece is further developed on paper or a computer –or both. This enables the writer to experience the freedom to move the text around, craft the texts, cut and paste, sequence events and generally reshape the words. Eventually they may work with a mock up book should they decide to publish their work in book form. This redrafting and revising phase is where the writing is seriously reworked.
In some schools teachers have developed a step of moving young writers from the writer’s notebook to another book called the ‘draft book.’ This appears to be a containment measure. I suspect the teachers are fearful that students will be unable to manage the various pieces of paper that may develop as the writing progresses. The draft book is neat, tidy and contains the spread of words and paper. On the other hand, writing is sometimes wild and unpredictable in its development and requires time and space to reach its full potential. The ‘draft book’ has the effect of limiting the writer, acting as a halter. It makes more sense to teach students to manage this phase of their writing and therefore encourage the best possible development of the writing they produce, than to keep writing under control.
My fervent hope for the new school year is for student writers to be afforded multiple, authentic opportunities to make meaningful decisions around making their writing 'public.'
The important thing about lifting writing out of the notebook and pursuing publication is that writing needs to reach a real audience -otherwise the desire to write will be difficult to sustain. Writers need readers to respond to their words and ideas. It is through publication that writing becomes honest, powerful and influential.
Hindley, Joanne (1996) ‘In the Company of Children’, Stenhouse
Fletcher, Ralph ‘Writing Workshop, The Essential Guide, 2001 Heinemann
Davis, Judy & Hill, Sharon, ‘The No Nonsense Guide to Teaching Writing’, 2003, Heineman
Fletcher, Ralph ‘What a Writer Needs’, 1993, Heinemann
Wright, Alan J 'Igniting Writing- When A Teacher Writes, 2011, Hawker Brownlow