Bookmaking projects are a staple in English and Language Arts classrooms, especially at the middle and elementary school level. While the arts and crafts approach to building books out of hard stock, construction paper has its benefits (I’m a big fan of any hands-on, sensory activities), what if you had the budget to have students make and publish professional-quality books? How would making a real book change their vision of themselves as readers and writers?
Every year I block aside my budget for The Ultimate Crusaders, a literary magazine that the students in my Rebecca School poetry workshops publish. We set up the book on Lulu and place the order so that students are able to receive personal copies by the end of the year. Rebecca is, “a therapeutic day school for children ages 3 to 21, promoting the education and development of children with neurodevelopmental delays of relating and communicating, including autism spectrum disorders.” In working with these students I like to break the publication down across several months and make it a focused, process-oriented project.
Here are the four major steps of the publishing project with some brief descriptions and reflections of the classroom activities:
- Selection: Every poet has the opportunity to pick which pieces of their writing go into the journal.
Throughout the year I offer “Creative Cool Downs” at the end of every session. These are writing and art prompts given in the last ten minutes of a workshop. They vary from making monsters to describing a snow day.
After everyone has a chance to share their work aloud, I collect these pieces so that when it comes time to work on The Ultimate Crusaders these “Creative Cool Downs” form the body of work each student chooses from.
- Revision: Next, the poets have the opportunity to revise their selected pieces.
This can be an especially slow and painful step as the poets, like many young writers, are often reluctant to return to and re-work on their pieces. I like to devote multiple sessions (sometimes even a whole month’s worth of workshops) to this step.
The process of going back to edit and better a piece of writing is an important process to sit in and see through. Having time set aside to try again, and make something different, can be confusing and frustrating for a lot of the poets. However, it’s an important lesson in abstraction: showing that it’s possible to go back and not just move forward linearly.
- Review: I give my poets the same opportunity as every other author to be literary divas.
To do so, I dedicate sessions to both cover and galley reviews. My good friend Allison Truj [https://www.allisontruj.com/ ] donates cover designs and then the students have the chance to vote on them and offer edits. The same process is then repeated again with the interior design of the book in an adapted galley review.
While I’m fortunate to have Truj for this stage, if an educator has the time and know-how to teach design skills and put that onus on the students, I could see it being a really wonderful step to the process. It would give the workshops further creative control over the publication while imparting useful resume skills to the students in charge of the design.
- Publication: Like any proper lit mag, there’s a launch party for The Ultimate Crusaders!
I wish I could say that this is a refined gathering, but in truth it’s mainly everyone, myself included, riding a sugar high on the last session of the year before summer break.
Sweets aside, this a powerful event to be a part of as an educator. While there’s no formal reading, students are always looking through the book, reading their work to friends and then listening to the work of their friends. After the party, a copy is sent home to each family and then an edition is also added to the school library.
Self-publishing The Ultimate Crusaders gives these poets proof of their ability to self-advocate. Holding a finished, professionally bound book full of their work removes the stigma of reading and literacy deficiencies and makes them, simply, authors.
The process of publishing a collection as a group challenges their social-emotional and literacy skills, I’m asking them to not only be writers and editors but to respect one another’s creative work. I’m asking them to express themselves and then to share and refine their expressions so that they fit a common theme. It’s moving, difficult work but every year the poets rise to the challenge.
The Ultimate Crusaders is a recognition not just of the poets’ artistic achievements, but of their voice, both poetic and political, and their power to exercise it.
Donnie Welch teaches creative writing at the Rebecca School for Autism. His writing has appeared in Gravel, Passages North, The Emerson Review, War, Literature, & the Arts, and elsewhere. He has a micro-chapbook, The Post Atomic Sonnets (Origami Poems Project 2016), and a collection of children’s poetry, Who Gave These Flamingos Those Tuxedos (Emerson College Wilde Press 2013). Visit www.DonnieWelchPoetry.com for more on him and his work in education.
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