What are the greatest aspirations you might have for your students in the various subject areas? From your maths class you might like a mathematician. From SESE, you might hope for a scientist, historian or geologist. From PE, an Olympian. From Visual Arts, a sculptor. And so on. But what might be your greatest aspiration for a student from your English class? Perhaps an author?
Well now, every single one of your students can be authors! For years, teachers have engaged in the writing process by writing books in their classrooms, illustrating them with markers, and stapling the end result together to form a book. There is no greater joy for a child than making their own book about a topic they’re interested in, as opposed to one prescribed by the teacher or textbook. How much more care and enthusiasm a child will put into their work if writing about their interest, be it Manchester United, wrestling, Irish dancing, my pets or my family.
With the internet, book making can be taken to a whole new level using free software and Print On Demand (POD) publishers. One such publisher is Blurb. You download their free book-making software, Booksmart, and off you go. Children draft and then type up their books. Their work can be illustrated with photographs or scanned artwork. Pupils choose their own book size, covers and layout. The finished product is then uploaded to Blurb in America, where you are given 15 days to purchase the book before it is removed from their server.
Prices range from 10 to 30 euro which isn’t expensive for such a unique product. When all the school copies have gone in the bin, this book will be a treasured keepsake and snapshot of childhood. Once ordered, the book is printed in Holland and children can track its courier delivery across Europe. A great way to integrate with Geography! The excitement in the classroom when a book arrives is palpable. Imagine the pride your young author feels taking home a professionally bound book in hardback, dust cover or softcover.
When all the pupils’ books have arrived (35 in my class last year!) the books can then become the reading material for the class. Each child makes a comment sheet for their book as well as a multiple choice comprehension card. The card, sheet and book are put into a zip-loc bag and all books are placed in a box.
No more forcing children to read and complete comprehension activities. Your pupils will be falling over each other to get near the box, read their friends’ books, leave a (positive only) comment, and see if they can correctly answer the multiple choice comprehension questions. When all books have been read, the box can be loaned out to other classrooms. It is also possible to include digital versions of the children’s books for inclusion on the school website for relations abroad to read.
Yes, it is a hell of a lot of work. But the process and end product make it totally worthwhile. They say everyone has a book in them. But how many people ever get a chance to write one? Give your pupils the chance, and you give them something to treasure forever.
Kieran Fanning is a teacher in Scoil Cholmcille, Skryne, Tara, Co. Meath. He also writes for children (www.kieranfanning.com) and can be found on Twitter (@KieranJFanning) . He gives a summer course for teachers on this topic every year in Navan Education Centre.