My students have come up with some interesting publication ideas. One year we wrote a class novel. One year a fifth-grader wrote the President about the crime in his neighborhood. He got a letter back. Everyone wrote the President that year.
Publishing: The great motivator
Sorry. Truth is the writing your students do will be vastly different if you are not their only audience. Students catch the writing bug when they go public and get feedback.
I remember the first time The Charlotte Observer editor published a letter I wrote. I couldn’t believe that (1) colleagues called and wrote notes to thank me for my comments, (2) my friends at school put notes in my box and stopped me to talk about what it was like to publish in the paper and (3) someone wrote to the Observer Forum the next day and quoted me! I was hooked! For a while, I wrote so frequently that the Observer kept my photo on file. A pretty heady experience, this getting published business.
It took me years to figure out that my first discussion with students in each unit of study should be about this excitement: where we publish. Any author knows that there's a big difference between writing to our kindergarten buddies and writing to the principal. The genre, a letter, may be the same, but the tone, the voice, the research is v...e...r...y different. I always heard “form follows function,” but I never really understood what it meant. From going public I realized I have to know my audience so I can choose an appropriate structure, voice, tone, theme, the difficulty of my vocabulary, how humorous I can be, and how interested I am in revising.
Could you make a living at this?
To introduce this idea of publication I start with this lesson. I ask, "What if you had to make a living off the writing you do? How would you live life differently if you had to pay for your shelter, your food, your clothes and your fun from the writing you sold each month?" When I encourage my students to paire-share, they realize I really do want an answer.
I record their suggestions on chart paper: write every day, study others' writings, collect good writing and tips, and read! The list develops slowly at first, but then the ideas start flowing: find out who would buy the work, ask other people to read and edit the pieces, and keep troublesome-word spelling lists. Buy journals to write in and favorite pens and pencils. Purchase computers, a thesaurus and a good dictionary. Create a space at home to write in and find a trusted, writing buddy.
After the brainstorming session, I explain the relationship between the behaviors they just proposed and success in writing class this year. Because they put energy into creating the list, they see the relationship between their jobs as students and writers' jobs as writers. The chart stays up all year as a reminder.
Students generate ideas for publishing
Then, we begin the discussion about publishing. I try to explain the sheer joy of sharing my writing – of putting myself out there in the world and getting a response. When given a moment, my kids come up with some interesting publication ideas. I make a list and add to it throughout the year. We love to write class books and individual books. One year we wrote a class novel; each group of 3 students was responsible for one chapter. One year the students asked to write a story to send to last year’s teacher to show them how well they were progressing. Sadly, one fifth-grader wrote the president about the crime in his neighborhood. He was tired of seeing friends and relatives getting shot and killed. He got a letter back. Everyone wrote the president that year.
Another motivation is money. There’s a wonderful book that lists all the places that will publish student work… for pay! Magazines publish student work, too. Download "Places to Publish" (right) for a list of sources.
Know that collecting finished papers from students is just not the same as watching young writers share with a greater audience, be it study buddy, parents, administrators, friends, or...anyone besides "just" the teacher. Go public!
Next: Sustain excitement through publishing