We completed our zine projects on our final school day of 2016!  Originally, I envisioned the students crafting 8 page zines; however, I realized about 1/4 of the way into the project that it was going to be difficult for them to meet that target.  I adjusted the project to include a cover, a heart map of the topic, and four content pages instead of six.  I thought that four weeks be would plenty of time for all grade levels to complete the project (we used each class day to work on the project in class), but most students still struggled to get all four content pages finished even with a calendar of target dates/formative assessments to help them stay on track.  Consequently, I adjusted my evaluation criteria and scaled back to three completed content pages as a final goal.

Since this is the first time I have ever done a zine project with students, this project was as much of a learning experience for me as it was for the students.  One thing I tried to do throughout the project was to provide LOTS of modeling and model pages; as I shared in an earlier post, it was virtually impossible to find any age-appropriate examples of zines (with quality) for middle school students.  Once my students began crafting pages, I was thrilled to use their work as examples to show other students (the ScannerPro app made it easy to capture images and make PDFs of student work I could print on the fly through the day to the workroom printer next door).   I think most students found it incredibly helpful to see work from their peers as models, and of course, I love showcasing student expertise!  In addition to the student work models, I also tried to model for my students by crafting and sharing my own zine pages with them.  As we built our “library” of models, I added these to zine content page galleries students could visit around the room.  However, I realized many of my students needed the gallery brought to them, so I wound up crafting mini-packets with hard copies of the examples, tips/steps, and ideas for crafting that type of content page that students could get as needed and keep handy in their writing folders or zine “pouches” (the “pouches” were the kraft paper manila envelopes with a clasp–perfect for storing zine work separately from the writing folders).    Collages, informational comic strips, newspaper style articles, and informational text + visuals were the most popular genres of zine pages students chose to create.

While the modeling worked for quite a few students, I’m still puzzled and worried that it didn’t seem to help a large number of students.  Even with our noticings activities, regular access to the models, and lots of 1:1 conferencing, many of my students had a difficult time crafting the different zine genres that we explored.  I’m wondering what else could I do to help them to better make the connections between the models and their own work.  This challenge is one I will contemplate as I reflect on the successes and struggles of the project. With that said, though, most students (especially my 6th and 7th graders) were quite invested in their projects and showed great enthusiasm for the writing and content they were creating.  In their project self-assessments, many students indicated they genuinely enjoyed the project and would like to do it again in the future.  Several also shared how it pushed their thinking, writing, and design skills.  Some who struggled shared they realized how important topic choice genuinely was for this kind of project.

I was also impressed by the breadth of topics students chose—here is a sampler:

  • The Holocaust
  • Playing the piano
  • Solving two step equations
  • A wide variety of sports (soccer and baseball were especially popular)
  • Pancakes
  • The moon
  • Growing roses
  • Favorite states
  • Cosmetics
  • How to survive your first year in band class
  • How to care for pets (parakeets, hamsters, cats. roosters and chickens)
  • Photography
  • The Alabama Crimson Tide football team
  • A variety of different cars
  • Fingerboards/Tech Decks
  • Hunting
  • The ocean
  • Favorite animals
  • Specific video games
  • Baking cakes
  • Caring for your saxophone

Thanks to the generosity of friends and colleagues who funded our supplies through Donors Choose, we had all the supplies we needed for zine crafting.  The only thing we did not have that would have enhanced the project was a printer in my classroom.  Because our students do not have access to printers through the Chromebooks, I had to print every single item they needed, a task that became overwhelming and time-consuming at times.  The print jobs students needed usually included pages of graphics they wanted to cut out and use as well as text they wanted to type and print.  I think the quality of some projects might have been even better had we had our own classroom printer and on demand access to color and black and white printing.  I would not do this project again without a printer in my room and student access to printing.

Last but not least, I am reconsidering how to structure the zine gallery walk differently to get the students more engaged in giving meaningful “glows” and “grows” to each other.  Even though students have had opportunities to do this activity throughout the year, several still struggle with participating thoughtfully and providing fellow writers useful feedback.

The zines that are fully completed will now go to our media center for display so that other students have an opportunity to browse and enjoy them.  If you teach middle school, especially struggling ELA learners, I’d love to hear strategies you’ve tried with your zine unit of study.