Article #19
Publishing in the 4-Blocks Classroom
Cheryl M. Sigmon

One cause for celebration in the 4-Blocks classroom is the publication of a student book. Even those students who have not previously been inspired to write are generally motivated by seeing the first student sit in the Author's Chair to share a published book. That reading sparks an interest throughout the classroom, and every child finds himself setting a goal to get published. For teachers who have hesitated to get started with formal publishing, let's look this week at how to manage the process.

First, some rules about getting published must be set. Usually the teacher states a specific number of pieces or compositions that must be completed by students before they are ready to have a conference with the teacher at which time they will select one piece to publish. A reasonable number may be three, four or five completed compositions. However, never underestimate the cleverness of students in figuring out that, if allowed, they can manufacture junk to reach that number! Therefore, the teacher must set some criteria for students so that the 3-5 pieces are worthy of being considered. So, what constitutes good writing? And, how can the teacher convey what a good piece of writing is to her students? The ideal way to establish the criteria would be to let the class come up with a list of what they consider to be good writing. Of course, the teacher must offer some guidance in what is suggested and decided upon. The types of criteria might be items such as the following:

  1. The draft is readable (not necessarily correct, but readable!).
  2. There are several good ideas written about the topic. (At upper grades, minimum length might be specified or a class might determine something like "at least 3 ideas or details are included".)
  3. The draft has a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
  4. The items on the Editor's Checklist have been corrected.
  5. A classmate has checked over the draft for items on the Editor's Checklist and to make suggestions. (A student signature might be required on the paper as having checked that draft. The peer editing can be done after each piece is completed or just prior to meeting with the teacher for a conference.)
In her daily modeling of writing, the teacher must apply these criteria to show students what qualifies as a "good" piece of writing.

Students will need a simple writing log into which they can record their topics and the dates the pieces were written. The teacher may want to do one of two things to manage when and with whom she will meet during the Writing Block to work with a student. One way to manage this is that the teacher can require the students to sign her conference log when they have their specified number of pieces. This gives the students more responsibility in the process. Another way is for the teacher (or teacher's assistant) to review the students’ logs daily or weekly to see who has the specified number of pieces. Whichever way the teacher decides to handle this, she must plan the conferences accordingly and notify the students which day she will be able to meet with them. One simple way to notify students of their conference dates and times is to post them on the blackboard or bulletin board daily. The students can be told that they will come to the conference in the order they are listed on the board. That way the conferences can flow, student to student, without any interruptions if students are mindful of who's meeting with the teacher and when that student returns to his desk. It is wise to let students know ahead, though, that sometimes conferences may take longer than expected and that the conference might need to be rescheduled for the next day.

If several students are awaiting conferences with the teacher after having completed the specified number of writing pieces, they should not be allowed to sit idly. They could be doing a number of different tasks which the teacher should define: 1) having their pieces peer edited (consider allowing only one piece to be edited by any one student so that students don't get bogged down with editing several pieces of a student's writing); 2) continuing with a new cycle of writing pieces; 3) checking over their drafts to be sure that Word Wall words are all spelled correctly; 4) putting pieces in order of what they would most like to see published (or writing rank order numbers of the pieces if they are in a spiral notebook). If students are allowed to sit during the writing time without a task, there is no doubt that trouble will brew!

Once the teacher has determined which students she intends to meet with during conference time, she must make efficient use of the precious few minutes she will have with each student. These tips may help:

  • Try not to take the pieces away from the child during the conference. Leaving the papers in the students’ hands helps them retain ownership of the writing. Work "over their shoulders" to guide the work that must be done.
  • Help the student choose one piece that is best to publish. They will probably have a favorite one among the several pieces, and that is most likely the one you will want to encourage them to revise, edit and publish.
  • Help the students see the merits in the draft that is selected. They need to feel proud of what they are publishing and many will lack this confidence.
  • Be sure to insist that all Word Wall words be spelled correctly, even in the rough draft writing. If you note a misspelled WW word, write a "WW" above it and tell them to change it.
  • Try to move beyond editing with your students. Help them to see how to revise something to make their piece better.
  • Have students learn to use a dictionary to spell words they have misspelled. If you've had them circling words they think they may have misspelled as a part of their Editor's Checklist, then have them now check them in the dictionary -- but only the ones in the piece to be published. There is no need to correct the other pieces of writing that will not go through the whole writing process. If a student has missed many words, help them correct some and leave a couple for them to look up so that the task won't be unmanageable for them. Also, if the task of looking up lots of words in the dictionary becomes too laborious, they will stop using some of the words they've elected to use in favor of easy words, and that is certainly not what you want to accomplish. (Note: One clever teacher found a great way to motivate kids to want to use the dictionary during the editing process. She bought cheap sun visors and wrote "EDITOR" on the bill. She put these on the table with dictionaries and reference materials. When kids came to the table, they got to wear the visors while they looked up their words. They loved it!)
  • After marking the misspelled words and helping with some of them (if that seems necessary), send the student on to a reference area or "editing table" to work on looking up the words. Then you are free to start with another student.
  • Require that kids skip lines on all of their rough drafts so that revising and editing is easier for both of you.
  • Don't overwhelm a student during the conference time. Clean up the work so that what is published is really something to be proud of and is relatively error free. But, if a student is especially weak in writing, spelling, etc., keep the corrections to a minimum.
  • Require students to copy their work onto a final draft that is neat and clean.
  • Take the conference time as an opportunity to teach each student something that will make his writing better. This is a time to individualize instruction. Sometimes it's just a little something you might teach that can make a lasting difference. See this as a challenge!
  • Don't hold all students to the same standards. See them as being at different developmental stages. Accept them and praise them. But, do try to encourage them and help them to grow. Even what you accept as a "good" piece of writing will have to vary from student to student.
Now, after the teacher has conferenced with a student about his writing, she can give him the responsibility of the actual publication of his book. This gives the teacher more time to continue with other student conferences. A publishing center will need to be included in the room. This can be as simple or as elaborate as desired. The center can be a table with boxes of colored paper (cardstock) for book covers, colored paper for rewriting drafts, lined paper, lineless paper, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, markers, stamps, shapes to trace, a computer and printer (if you're lucky!), and prepared book pages (This book is dedicated to ... About the author…). Some classrooms have spiral book binders available, but a stapler can work just as well. Kids will have a ball designing their one-of-a-kind books!

You might want to require a last check of the copied book before it is presented. You will need to be guided by your own philosophy about how correct you want a published work to be. Some communities and parents pressure teachers not to send work home that has misspelling and mistakes. Personally, I would not want to publish a piece in a book format that had mistakes that I wasn't aware of. I would hope that someone would tell me to change it. Kindergarten work should remain unchanged. Correctness should not be their goal.

The final step of publication is presenting the new book to classmates. The author should be invited to sit in the Author's Chair and read his book to his classmates. Some classes have monthly Author's Teas or celebrations for all the children who have published for that month. Some published authors are invited by the principal to come to the office to read the newly published work. What motivation these provide for all the students! Also, find many ways to use the published works -- for the Self-Selected Reading Block's book baskets, in the reading center in the classroom, in a special section of the media center, on a bulletin board, in the lobby in a basket where parents and visitors might be entertained by the books while they are waiting, in the sick room for students, or even in the principal's office.

Hope these ideas help you with the total writing experience in your class. Happy publishing!

4 Blocks Goodies