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Readers for Our Writers: Publishing Ideas for Writing Workshop

Thank you, thank you, for your great response to my very first blog post! Blogging (totally new to me) is a strange experience and you made it a lot of fun.

It was also confirmed for me that there is a lot of trouble in the world of writing workshop. I’m so excited!

Not excited that we all have troubles. I expected that. But that so many of you were willing to share them, and also knowing that with all the trouble comes lots of new stuff, and are attached to unstoppable teachers who won't let anything get in the way of their teaching. I have a really good feeling that with all the troubles out there, this may be the best year yet for many of us.

I plan to respond to all of you who shared troubles. Most of them will be responded to on this blog. Some, which overlap, I will respond to personally via e-mail. A few, if you’re willing, I will also share in the new book.

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I thought this week’s blog post could focus on a question from Joseph Teague. He asked, via Twitter, if there were ways kids could publish their work so that other kids could read those pieces.

This question has a few things wrapped around it. The first, that writers write best when they have an audience. Ideally an audience that goes beyond the classroom teacher or a kid’s family. It is also true that writers are often inspired when they see people like themselves writing. It is a noble and practical thing that Joseph wants for his writers - to share their writing with other kids. At first glance, to an outsider, it may feel kind of inconsequential, decorative, dare-I-say Pinterest-like. However, writing is an incredibly grueling activity and just as athletes say all the time that they were able to win because of their fans, many a writer is able to pick up that pen and go forward because they have an audience.

My favorite ways teachers have published their students’ work to have a larger audience, preferably a kid-audience are listed below. I organized them from simplest to most layered.

1. Publish as part of the classroom furniture.
A teacher and colleague of mine, Mary Chiarella, used to have benches in her classroom that surrounded her meeting area. These were wooden benches that were covered in decoupaged poetry. Every year when her class finished their poetry unit they would publish by choosing a favorite poem and decoupaging it to the bench. That way, the students in her classroom each year were literally sitting upon the words of their predecessors. If you don’t have wooden benches maybe you have book cases, bulletin board borders, lamp shades, curtains. The idea is that students publish one piece which becomes a permanent part of the classroom.

2. Publish in sturdy books that are then placed in the school or local library.
Either using Bare Books, or hand-made sturdy cardboard covers, several teachers I know pick one unit a year which will be published and placed in the school or local library. The students know this from the start of the unit and wrote knowing that they would have a much larger audience. When the books are officially published, the celebration is the students taking a trip to the library and shelving their own book. One school I know went as far as to put Dewey Decimal stickers on each book’s spine along with a library card pocket. When the student’s left the school they could decide whether to take the book with them or leave it to the school.

3. Publish on a piece of clothing.
Another colleague of mine, Bonni Gordon, a teacher in New Jersey, had a brilliant way of publishing that made students famous. When she was done with a particular unit, usually poetry or another unit that resulted in a one page piece, the students worked with the computer teacher to make mirror images of their words. They then printed these out on iron-on paper (easily found at office supply stores). The students tie-dyed old t-shirts. Bonni and some volunteers later ironed on the pieces of writing. The students all wore their published work to school on a day when they had a big field trip. Everywhere they went people asked to read their writing.

4. Guerilla Publishing.
Guerilla publishing takes its cues from the downtown arts scene. Many writers in search of an audience have been known to make copies of their writing and place them where they believe their targeted audience would find them. Bathroom stalls, inside copies of best selling novels, tucked between train seats. Students can do the same thing. One school who finished a journalism unit decided to publish their articles by hanging them up near the place the article was about. The expose on the bathroom went by the bathrooms. The investigative article about healthy foods in the cafeteria was hung near the cafeteria. The opinion piece about recess behavior was hung on a wall near the yard.

5. Online publishing.
There are a few different ways for students to publish online. One of the simplest ways is to find a pre-existing site, which invites submissions, and have students publish with them. Two sites I have heard some teachers have success with are cyberkids.com and launchpadmag.com. Not all submissions are published.

Another option is to create your own class web-site and link up to another school or class who has their own site. That way you have a built in, and known, audience. Two sites several teachers I’ve worked with have spoken highly about are: education.weebly.com and edmodo.com.

6. Parents with connections.
One year I had a parent who was an editor at a publishing company. When my class finished our unit on feature articles she collected them and turned them over to her lay-out and copy editors. Then on an appointed day my class took a trip to their publishing office to see their newly edited, with professional images and edits, laid out on massive screens. We then waited in the conference room for the finished piece – a magazine filled with each student’s article- printed on glossy paper.

Now, I don’t imagine all of you have parents who are editors. But many of us have parents who have other interesting jobs that would allow for unique publishing experiences: print shops, tech facilities, sky-writer (ok, I’m dreaming a bit there). My point is, in your next class newsletter, you might consider asking if any families have access to interesting ways to publish.

7. Fancy 'professional' self-publishing – print or e-books.
We live in a time where anyone can publish and through a little self-promotion, develop a readership. After all, that’s how EL James made her fortune. Not that I’m suggesting that you look to her as example, mind you. However, Amazon, and many other e-book purveyors will publish students’ books for free. There are also low cost apps like Little Bird and Book Creator that allow you to create e-books with your kids using your classroom technology.

If you’d like something analog – a book kids could hold in their hands, you might consider the Espresso Book Machine http://ondemandbooks.com It’s a program available at select libraries and universities where books can be self-published. There is also Shutterfly.com. There is a cost. But I can easily imagine that a class anthology or essays or stories would easily be worth it, especially if everyone chipped in or a fundraiser was had.



No matter which way you ultimately decide to publish, I believe it’s worth mentioning that if your students’ pieces are going to be published outside of your school, you will want to take precautions to protect your students’ privacy. This can be as simple as having students use their initials, or more exciting, like having students come up with their own nom de plumes.

One of the things I love so much about the idea of student publications having a wider audience is that when we let students know at the beginning of a writing unit who that audience will be, they write differently. They write imagining a person or people who will really read their words. The quality goes up. The attention to craft, structure, word choice, even editing, climbs higher than we ever dreamed possible. I know that even this blog post, now that I know that someone other than my brother (hi, Mike!) is going to read it, was written differently. I was imagining you and all the ways you’ve communicated to me so far as I wrote, and I took greater care and had more fun because of that.

If you have any other ideas or comments about this blog post, please share!

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P.S. I’m still on the lookout for your troubles. Please, please, I would love to hear them. If you have any troubles to share about writing workshop please include them in the comments below, e-mail me via the contact form on the top right corner of this page, OR tweet them using the hashtag #unstoppablewritingteacher (Yes, the hashtag changed. I left out ‘writing’ last time in my first blog excitement. Of course I did.)
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