Friday, June 17, 2011

Using Classroom publishing to teach outside the box

Guest post by Kay Tracy

Once Upon a Time…
I was practically in

a box.

I recently read a statement made by the character Leo in The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda.

“And suddenly, unwillingly, he wondered what it would be like to have grown used to your parents talking about you as if you were a problem no normal person could solve.”

What is normal? The myth that success resides with the Joneses needs to be expelled from school. This heartbreaking query should be rewritten:

“And suddenly, he wondered what it would be like to have grown used to your parents talking about you as if you were the solution to the problems no normal person could solve.”

When children are given the opportunity to shine in whatever skills and interests they possess, the box of normal will be turned inside out.

Using publishing as a teaching tool can involve the entire classroom in ways that do not belittle or discourage students.

Many teachers use publishing as a way to display student work, but not many let the students have control of the publishing process. This process, which involves acquisitions, editing, design, production, and marketing, allows every student to participate. The collaborative effort of publishing takes diverse interests and skills, and using publishing as a teaching tool will involve the entire classroom in ways that do not belittle or discourage students. Reading, writing, editing, calculating, programming, marketing, selling, acting, and modeling are just some of the skills used in different types of publishing. Other opportunities exist for students skilled in photography, videography, costume design, illustration, radio broadcasting, and production. By allowing students to take charge of each stage in the publishing process, they will find areas where they excel and specialize in them. Classroom publishing is one way to teach outside the box.
The key motivator in publishing is the audience. The audience is the receiving end of the author’s message. Students work with passion if the audience is made of peers, parents, the community, and the world―an audience beyond a single teacher. An audience that receives and responds to the message is an inspiration to do work of high quality. In a post last August right here on The Innovative Educator blog described the sudden enthusiasm for writing that resulted when students were set-up with e-mail accounts and wrote to one another.

Student Press Initiative’s Erick Gordon had students read To Kill a Mockingbird, write monologues on specific characters in the book, and prepare a presentation before an audience. This required research and writing about the era, as well as decisions about stage and costume design.

The five stages of publishing were used:
  • Acquisitions: each student acquired a character to represent
  • Editing: students wrote, edited and revised their monologues
  • Design: students made decisions about how to present and design their monologues
  • Production: lights, camera, action—students prepared the stage, performed, and recorded the monologues
  • Marketing: students advertised the event to the audience

An exceptional performance is highlighted on Youtube, here:

Any subject can be taught in the form of a publishing project. Erick Gordon had students create a study book for the Chemistry Regents Exams (New York) called Turning the (Periodic) Table: Chemistry Regent Review Raps. Students acquired what was necessary for mastery and found innovative ways to help other students study it. By putting the book together, students took control of the material. See here (you may need to type “chemistry” in the search box)..

One of my favorite classroom publishing activities involved a small stuffed gorilla named Gus. I interviewed Jeff Munro for the Classroom Publishing blog of Ooligan Press about this project. His idea to engage a student combined the attributes of Flat Stanley with technology and became a study of math and geography. Here is the interview.

In 1992, Laurie King and Dennis Stovall wrote Classroom Publishing: A Practical Guide to Enhancing Student Literacy.

“[W]e wanted teachers to appreciate the powerful gift we grant our students when we encourage them to take ownership of their stories and control over how they are told.”#

Dennis founded the publishing program at Portland State University and Ooligan Press in 2001. The program uses the concept of classroom publishing in its graduate curriculum and actively publishes international titles in its student run press. In 2010, students released a second edition of Dennis and Laurie’s book: Classroom Publishing: A Practical Guide for Teachers. The book outlines the publishing process, has exercises in each of the five stages of publishing, and highlights stories from classrooms that have adapted and integrated publishing into all types of curricula.

Real-world publishing is changing rapidly with advances in technology. Publishing material online in blogs, wikis, Facebook, and more will open doors of communication between students and a legitimate audience. Vinnie Kinsella, the publisher of the online poetry journal Four and Twenty, worked with Laura Truitt and her fifth grade class at York Elementary in Vancouver, Washington. Vinnie devoted an entire issue of his journal to their poetry. Students wrote and acquired poetry, edited one another, and designed illustrations for the cover and interior work. The proud authors also wrote their own biographies. Students advertised the production of the journal and held a launch party, where they displayed handmade books containing additional poetry. Parents and visitors wrote comments in the physical books, while visitors to Four and Twenty commented generously online. (

There are vast opportunities for learning with classroom publishing. Children locked in the “normal” boxes of the world are set free to excel. There is no limit to what they can accomplish.

Jack Be Nimble

Think inside the box
for a moment…
Then jump out―


As a project manager for Classroom Publishing: A Practical Guide for Teachers, Kay Tracy volunteered in Portland-Metro schools. She helped present the attributes of classroom publishing at the 2010 Oregon Rhetoric & Composition Conference and 2010 Wordstock for Teachers. She is an associate editor for Four and Twenty and is planning future classroom publishing projects.


  1. yA+y! Yes, let's give children more control of the publishing process! Kay, I'm passing this one to my mom, who's been passionately involved with the Kentucky Board of Education for about 30 years.

    Do you have any photos of the "displayed handmade books containing additional poetry" from the *Four and Twenty* poetry journal contributors?

  2. Thanks, Geoff. As for pictures, I will ask Vinnie if he has any. They would be a great edition to the *Four and Twenty* site.

  3. Technology can be a great way for students to publish projects. Like creating a video, podcast, blog etc. Then instead of having presentations in class, students can find and watch presentations online at home and even with their families.