Planning Ahead for Publishing

Third grade was my favorite year of school. We had the best teacher ever. We sang songs and poems that I still remember to this day (Cumalada cumalada cumalada vista!). For math, we sorted and categorized things like old keys, and tiles, and bottle caps. We learned to multiply and divide using household objects — and songs. We made a gigantic map of our town, and each of us made a model of our own homes to put on the giant map. We had a week-long I Love To Read and Write celebration that included a sleepover at school one night, with our teacher reading us bedtime stories and everything.

But best of all, we published books. We wrote stories, poems, scripts, and reports. We bound them in cardboard with wallpaper covering the cardboard, so that they looked like real clothbound hardcover books. Sometimes our teacher even typed them up for us — but she always saved all the drafts.

To say those published books we created in third made an impression on me would be the understatement of the century. Those books changed my life.

Because of those books, I believed I was a writer — not that I would become a writer someday — but that I was actually, in fact, already a writer. In third grade.

Because of those books, I kept on writing, even after third grade. Even after fourth, and fifth, and sixth, and even through the dark and terrible seventh and eighth grades. I kept writing and writing.

And because of those books, years later I decided, as a teacher, that my students should also get to publish books.

And because of that, I discovered writing workshop. And well… the rest is history and here I am now.

In fact, I’ve already written about those books from third grade at least once on this very blog!

But enough about me. What will you do this year to inspire your students? How will your students publish their writing? Who will be their audience?

You could go old-school and bust out the wallpaper and cardboard covers — and I highly recommend you do. However, you may want to rethink the old-fashioned concept of that writers don’t think about publishing until the very end of the process. And while you’re at it, toss away the notion that publishing needs to be perfect. It does not.

Instead, I recommend that you announce your plans for publishing to your kids from the very beginning of a unit of study. This sets kids up with a clear audience and purpose, as well as something very important to all writers: a deadline.

How Kids Think About Publishing

When publishing time comes around, remember that writing workshop is all about kids’ independent work. This means that your children’s final products will look like children published them (not adults). In general, if it takes your kids more than one writing workshop to recopy or retype a published piece, then your kids will “fancy up” their original drafts instead of recopying — with all the beautiful markings, cuttings, and revisions. See this old post for more on how publishing does not need to be perfect.

A few other things to plan for with regards to publishing:

  1. A Real Live Audience. Consider who the audience for your students’ writing might be. Perhaps invite another class, or a few other teachers to come visit your kids as they share their work. Occasionally you might invite families to come celebrate the end of a unit of study. Whatever you decide, be sure to announce this early to your students and mark your classroom calendar so that they can look forward to the day, making it more meaningful.
  2. Highlight the Process Rather Than the Product. Before kids revise and edit, make a photocopy of their work and save the original. Then, at the end of the unit, create a before/after display of the two versions to highlight the revision work your kids did. When you celebrate revision (instead of copying it over or hiding it), you’ll see an increase in kids’ enthusiasm for revision in next unit of study.
  3. Displaying Student Work. Displaying all your students’ work in your classroom or in the hallway is huge. Never underestimate the power of making all kids’ writing public. They might not show it, but this small thing is not small at all.
  4. Digital Publishing. Consider all your options for digital publishing. With younger kids, they might not type an entire piece of writing, but they could digitally create a cover, a dedication, or a back-of-the-book blurb to add to their final product. With older kids who are typing, you might consider teaching them how to post their work to a blog or classroom website. Near the end of your unit, you might videotape each of your students as he or she reads his or her work. Then post the video clips on your class blog or website, or burn the video clips to a DVD that you can watch during a writing celebration with your class. Or, if you’re ready to take on a bigger video project, put cameras in kids’ hands and give them a day or two to produce their own video celebrations of their writing.
  5. A Yearlong Plan. Set tentative dates for all your published pieces across the school year, and while you’re at it, you could brainstorm some ideas for how you’ll publish each new unit. This will help you to pace yourself throughout the year, so that you don’t get bogged down for too long in just one unit. Save those tentative dates in a google doc or calendar so that your colleagues can add their dates as well — this will make it much easier to visit each other’s publishing celebrations and coordinate when you’re teaching similar units.

Many of you are probably in the first few days of your writing workshop – so now is the perfect time to talk with your kids about plans for publishing and celebrating your first unit. Mark it on your classroom calendar. Count down the days together. Get excited for it. Who knows? Thirty years from now, your students might be talking about how it was you who inspired them to keep on writing!