When Students Became Authors...

For whatever reason, I have always wanted my students to do a children's book, but never found the time. Then, with the SBAC testing and my department's agreement to try out project based learning, I threw my project idea into the ring and we decided to do a children's book regarding a US topic during the Cold War. I imagined using Storify to have students create their books, since my goal is to integrate technology whenever possible, but with no technology access during SBAC testing we decided to go "old school" and I'm so glad we did. I don't think my students would have been as creative and free to express their ideas if we had used technology.

The first step of project was to have students select their Cold War topic, which they did using Google Forms. I was eager to try the Choice Eliminator, but found out quickly that the add-on does not work as quickly as I hoped so I ended up having to quickly problem solve and adapt the form so students made their top three choices and we went from there.

Once the topics were selected, students then did research on their topic both online and in the textbook and submitted it on Google Classroom. This ensured that students understood that academic significance of their topic before they 'translated' it for children. 

Before they began working on the book itself, we reviewed the common characteristics found in children's book. I had students discuss their favorite books growing up and I even shared some of mine. But due to the difficult background of many of the students, some have no memories having books read to them so I decided to do a read aloud with The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, that way they all had something to contribute during the discussion. It also helped to demonstrate the main point of the project since The Cat in the Hat Comes Back is one big allegory for the Second Red Scare during the 1950s :) 

The pink spot (aka pinkos/communists) continues to spread and grow until the 'voom' (aka hydrogen bomb) eliminates the spot. 

We then brainstormed common characteristics of children's book on the board and what works well.

Following the brainstorm session, students began to eagerly work on their storyboards where they planned out their story. I also gave them the rubric that their projects would be graded on. I emphasized to the students that their main focus should be conveying their topics and not using certain literary strategies; they did a children's book as freshmen in English and were required to include certain literary strategies. I explained that the hardest thing they will do is make their topic understandable for a child and so that should be their focus. 

Students then set to work on their books once I had approved their storyboards, which I used as a way to keep students accountable as well as monitor student progress. I put the image of Spongebob's 'Imagination' picture to remind students that they had to be creative and imaginative to get their topics across.  

During the entire creation process, I felt relatively useless as a teacher. Beyond helping students jump start their stories or confirm that their story made sense, I walked around and monitored their progress. At the end of the period, I would worry that students weren't learning since they were all working independently, but I noticed that they eagerly worked on their books, had excited conversations with their peers, and even discussed their ideas outside of the class. Since my favorite part about teaching is seeing the 'lightbulb' go off for the students, I was worried I wouldn't see it if they work independently, but I was wrong; the lightbulb still went off and shined even brighter since students were discovering and understanding new information themselves without being told. As a teacher, this made me incredibly happy.

Then the big day came for students to present their books to the class. Because of the lack of time, I modified the plan so that their children's book were their final exam. On the day of the final, we moved all the desks aside, sat around for story time, and had each student read their book to the class.

During the readings, students sat quietly like story time in kindergarten, but when each person finished they evaluated one another using a Google form on their Chromebooks; as you can see by the pictures they kept them closed during the reading. 

I wish there was a way for me to easily share all of the students' books for all of you to see; they were so incredibly creative. They managed to make topics like the Woodstock and the baby boom appropriate and understandable for children. Other managed to make their entire story rhyme. We had flies who flew into a bug zapper to symbolize the Rosenbergs and a misbehaved dog to symbolize the CIA. We took trips with a lady bug to space, learned how the red ants launched fireworks into space before the black ants, and learned about the dangers of nuclear fall out from Adam the bomb. On top of that, every single student presented in front of the class, including ELs and the incredibly shy. I can't even put into words how proud I was of each student; they left me speechless and in awe. 

Without a doubt, this was by far the best project I have ever done with my students :)


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