Sharing Their Voices with the World: Helping our ESOL Students Self-Publish with Smashwords

The Hooch Learning Studio, in conjunction with Ms. Balogh’s ESOL students, is delighted to announce the publication of Twelve Worlds, One Book.  This book is an anthology of student writing created by Ms. Balogh’s students crafted as part of the work they crafted in Ms. Balogh’s writer’s workshop approach to composition instruction.  The book contains many pieces of writing, including poetry, short stories, essays, memoirs, monologues, plays, a biosketch, and microfiction.

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How did this book project come about?  Earlier this semester as I was working with Ms. Balogh and her students on mini-research assignments, Ms. Balogh told me about the writer’s workshop approach she had implemented this academic year.  I asked her what they were going to do with their finished pieces, and at the time, the students were just keeping them for themselves.  When I suggested we publish their work as a collection of original writing in eBook format, she and the students enthusiastically said yes!  Since I had previously worked on a collaborative eBook project using the Smashwords publishing platform, I decided to use it for this project.  What is Smashwords?

Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks. We make it fast, free and easy for any author or publisher, anywhere in the world, to publish and distribute ebooks to the major retailers.

Students began submitting the completed manuscripts of their works they had composed over the course of this academic year this earlier this month.  The students also chose the book title, decided how the book would be organized, and Hitoshi Akiyama designed the book cover.  My task was to compile the pieces into one master manuscript and then format it according to the Smashwords style guide.  This process took me about three full days to complete.

Yesterday, we debuted the book at our eBook launch party after school and celebrated our students’ success with each other, parents, fellow teachers, and administrators.   Students are already talking about eBook projects for 2016-17!

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Balogh eBook party

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The class eBook is now available for FREE at Smashwords!  You can download it in several formats:

  • PDF file
  • Mobi (for Kindles or Kindle apps)
  • ePub format (works on multiple devices and platforms including iBooks (iPad, iPhone) and the Overdrive app.

Our class eBook has its very own ISBN number (!!!) and we are waiting approval for premium distribution.  We are so very excited to be able to support Ms. Balogh and her students and to help them have a medium for sharing their voices with the world!  We also plan to integrate the eBook into our school library digital collection.

Here are some reflections on this experience from Ms. Balogh and her students:

Ms. Balogh:

When I saw the book and saw the copyright page, I got tears in my eyes.  My students wrote a book!!  What an amazing experience.  This group of students is one of the best I’ve ever worked with.  I’m so very proud of them.

Vrajna P.

It was amazing to be part of this project. I would love to do it again. I learn so many things from writing and it helped me to improve my English. After launching this book I feel so happy and I feel like that I am something. I feel like I have achieved something.

Sofia R.

Being part of this book  was a amazing experience, and I’m so glad to have this journey in my story, to take with me for the rest of my life.  I can’t wait to tell everyone about this awesome project that me and my class just done.

Hyesun K.

This is first time [for me] to make books; I was the author.  I like to make different genres for us.  When I made the poem or short story, memory, essay it was enjoyable to make it,  and I think my English is better.   It’s really fantastic experience to make a book.  I am really thankful for Ms.B and Ms. Hamilton.  And to make relationships with friends.  In class we enjoyed writing and thinking about it.  I want to do it again next year.  Some of students are leaving ESOL, but they will remember the  experience with Ms.B, Ms. Hamilton and me.  Thanks for giving great experience.

Pessi L.

It was amazing to be part of this project. I really liked publishing my own work and reading other students’ writings. Usually I write essays just for a grade and the teacher is only person who reads them. But this time it was different. It feels like there is a reason to write if someone actually reads it.

As you can see, this project had tremendous personal meaning for our students.  It is my hope that our eBook project will inspire other teachers and students to think about how the media center program here can help them self-publish student work and to expand the possibilities for our media center program in 2016-17!

Revving Up Student Thinking with Choice and the Reading Un-Frenzy

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Last year, Jennifer Lund and I had the pleasure of doing a reading frenzy with Language Arts teacher Sean O’Connor and his students.   The concept of a reading frenzy comes from teacher and speaker Nancy Steineke.  The basic premise of the activity is to give students a series of texts, allow them to skim and read fairly quickly, and then rate/rank the articles/texts they have read from most favorite to least favorite.  This activity is a springboard to helping students either choose a topic or find a focal point for a topic they’ve already identified as an area of interest.

When ESOL teacher Amy Balogh approached me about helping her students with research, she wanted them to have a positive experience and to develop key skills rather than trying to blast them with too much information.  We had great fun brainstorming and thinking together; ultimately, Amy decided to approach the research unit as a series of mini-inquiries infused with modeling mini-lessons as well as some light information literacy instruction with me.  Because she has been implementing a writer’s workshop approach all year, she decided to use some of the mini-lessons and writing/mini-inquiry assignments from Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts as the inspiration for her instructional design.

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Amy decided to begin with the “5 Things You Can Do” inquiry/writing/research assignment.  Each class brainstormed and decided on a top topic to explore as a class.  Using a LibGuide as our “home base”, we decided to introduce the students to two of our Gale databases,  Opposing Viewpoints in Context and Kids InfoBits, as our starting points for research.  The students *loved* the search interface, but they especially loved the ease of citation of the articles with EasyBib.  Their favorite feature, though, was the Gale integration with Google Drive.  Students were super impressed with the ability to download articles directly into Google Drive for annotating or just having a digital copy of the text; they also loved the highlighting and note-taking feature and the ability to download those highlights and notes into Google Drive.  This mini-lesson gave students some search tools and strategies to begin their group inquiry into their class issues like current debates around gun control and gun violence.  Amy used shared documents in Google Drive to model the writing assignment from Gallagher in which they investigate the issue and then develop 5 solutions or “things you can do” about the issue.  This mini-lesson gave the students some solid starting points for search, but because the students’ bigger challenge is reading and understanding informational text, we didn’t want search to be the focus of their learning experiences as we moved forward with new mini-inquiries that we wanted to use to “spiral” up the depth of student thinking.   We both agreed that working with the information–reading, synthesizing, and then creating their own writing based on their research interests were the priorities.  With these learning needs in mind, I felt a slowed down version of Nancy’s “reading frenzy” would be a great way to scaffold students to these goals.

Our next step was for students to choose a topic to explore individually or with a partner.  Students brainstormed a diverse range of topics, and I pulled together text sets on each topic.  “Texts” in each set could include articles from the web, articles from different databases, podcasts, and/or videos; for digital texts, students could use the media center iPad to watch/listen to their those texts.  These texts would be a springboard to helping students then craft their own “5 Things You Can Do” mini-paper.  Topics included:

  • How to sleep better
  • How to eat more food in a restaurant (two ideas:  eating contests and getting the most for your money while dining in a restaurant)
  • Decreasing junk food in schools
  • How to have a good day
  • Time management
  • Taking care of a dog
  • Growing plants
  • Traveling on a budget
  • How to get rich
  • How to avoid major life mistakes; making smart life choices
  • Healthy eating/nutrition

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We gave the students two days to muck around with their text sets.  I told students they could read the articles in any order, and they were also welcome to explore other text sets if something caught their eye.  Each student received a green sheet to record his/her articles and how they would rate the article on a scale of 1-10.  We asked students to read the articles of their choosing from their set(s) of interest and to annotate the texts as they read.  We used Nancy Steinke’s text annotation codes as a supplement to the annotation strategies they had already learned earlier this year with Ms. Balogh.  In addition, I provided students different kinds of sticky notes they could use to jot down notes and highlighters.  They immediately jumped into their sets and immersed themselves in the readings!

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Normally, students would scan and skim the articles in a shorter time frame and rank the articles based on their interest in the topics within that set; they would then begin engage in presearch and begin developing an inquiry plan around that topic.  For us, our “slowed down” version of Nancy’s reading frenzy structure was to help students confirm an interest in the topic and/or further refine a focal point and narrow the big topic to a more specific scope.  We did give students an opportunity to rank their favorite articles at the end of Day 2; this ranking was helpful in identifying the kinds of articles students found most helpful or interesting.

Two things really struck me about this first round of the slowed down reading frenzy with Amy’s students.  First, they were incredibly engaged and involved with their texts—whether they were discussing the articles, reading intently and annotating, jotting notes on the sticky Post-It pads, or asking Amy specific questions about a text for clarification, the students were soaking up the text sets.  Secondly, the camaraderie among the students in each class was inspiring to observe.  Amy has clearly cultivated a classroom culture of care and empathy, and the students really function as a true learning community.  Whether they were helping each other with a text, sharing an idea, or thinking through an idea with a partner,the rapport was genuine.  In many ways, the feel of the class is reflective of the practices of participatory learning; I think this culture of learning is so vital for meaningful learning experiences.

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For our second mini-inquiry, Amy introduced the problem-solution writing task from Kelly Gallagher’s book and modeled this in person using a shared Google Doc with the students.  Once again, students generated topics of personal interest, and I put together text sets to get them started:

  • Cosmetic surgery–blepharoplasty or double eyelid surgery–with young people, especially in Korea
  • Bees in danger of extinction
  • Teens – body image
  • Teens – grade pressures
  • Drugs and teens/the heroin epidemic in the “Triangle” in metro Atlanta
  • Teen dependency/ over-dependency on phones
  • Hours in a school day, changing the start time of the school day in relation to teens needing more sleep; also decreasing school day
  • Time management
  • Improving school cafeteria; better school cafeteria design
  • Bullying and teens
  • Teens and suicide
  • Poor/poverty and education – in US
  • Refugee crisis – Syria – US
  • Personal debt
  • Getting into college–admissions policies for Georgia schools

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With both “slowed down” reading frenzies, there was always 1-2 students who were still struggling with a topic; sometimes they were able to think of something on their own, but other times, they discovered a path to a topic by exploring the existing text sets.  Again, we gave students two complete days to immerse themselves in the text sets; they also had choice in where they wanted to sit and the table/seating arrangements.

Reflections

Here are some of the grows and glows about the activity from Ms. Balogh’s students:

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As you can see, the students felt the activity helped them move forward with the information they needed to dwell in the thinking, composing, and idea development processes they did in their mini-papers.  As one student pointed out in the “grows”, we definitely need to add some nonfiction and/or informational texts in print, particularly ones that are more varied in reading levels so that there is something for all learners.  This area of development is one of our collection goals for 2016-17.

Amy shared these reflections on the work we’ve done for the last month:

My struggle in the past with the ESOL students and research is that it’s challenging to find articles that are both “scholarly” and are at an accessible reading level. Also, it is difficult for the students to skim articles when searching for them to see if they are actually helpful. This activity eliminated problem.  I’m more concerned with them actually READING good articles that help them, instead of spending a lot of time trying to FIND articles to read.  My favorite quote from this activity was when one student said, “this really made me think.”

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Amy and her students over the last few weeks, and it has been joyful to see the students happily engaged with their topics.  I am deeply appreciative that Amy puts student curiosity and choice at the center of the learning experience; clearly, that focus has yielded student growth.  She has supported students with regular modeling of writing and thinking processes, and I am happy I could be part of fostering learning experiences to scaffold students’ engagement with their topics.   Now that we have a solid foundation established, we can begin looking to 2016-17 and thinking about ways to fold in more mini-inquiries throughout the year so that we can build search skills as well as informational text reading strategies.  I am looking forward to further collaboration with Amy and her students and new opportunities for us to provide learning experiences that will help students grow not only their reading and writing literacies, but their digital and information literacy skills as well!

The Culture of Inquiry-Driven Learning in Art Classes: Inspiring the Possibilities for Research and Composing Literacy Practices

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Last fall  I had the pleasure of spending a good bit of time with Dorsey Sammataro’s art classes during the first nine weeks of the semester.  One of the things that struck me about her classes was the inquiry-driven approach that felt like a real-world workshop because there is shared ownership of learning by the students.   In late October, I was really thinking about how her approach to teaching and learning reflected the ideals of inquiry-driven learning and how could her art classes inspire how we approach research projects.

While I’ve been busy with other projects, assignments/initiatives, and working with other academic classes, Dorsey and I have continued to muse and think together.   Earlier this month,  I had the chance to observe Dorsey’s 1st period students, and this experience crystallized the possibilities of learning I want to see happening as part of our instructional program.  At the same time, it really brought to the surface a lot of the frustrations I have felt in recent years as I’ve tried to elevate my work and role as an instructional designer.   If you’ve taught in a high school, you know that these learning environments are often the most difficult to frame from an inquiry stance on learning and literacy.

I thought it would be helpful to share the aspects of the learner experience I’ve seen in Dorsey’s classes since starting here last August.  Dorsey provides learning structures, but students ultimately make choices.  Some elements I’ve observed include:

  • Students set learning goals—short terms and long term.
  • Students engage in multiple “drafts” and passes at art work.
  • Student have freedom to “fail” because failure is viewed as positive and part of the learning experience that values experimenting and mistakes.
  • Students keep idea books/sketchbooks that they share and serve as a place to pen ideas for immediate use or to revisit at a later time.
  • Students do regular peer review and discussion of their works; collaboration is encouraged and an integral part of daily life in these classes.
  • Students engage in frequent reflection and self-assessment.
  • Formative assessment is integral in these classes as is time to actually engage in the craft of creating art.
  • There is always something to learn from completed projects even if they did not turn out the way students planned or if they are not completely successful in the eyes of the student.

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As I have been drafting this post, I was taken back to the roots of my interest in an inquiry stance in learning:  READ 8100 (Inquiry Based Literacy) with Dr. Bob Fecho at the University of Georgia.  I could write an entire post about this life-changing course, but instead, I’ll point you to some reflections I composed (2002!) in response to a reading on Paulo Freire. Here are some of the qualities of a learning space that takes an inquiry stance on learning (this list was compiled by my classmate Sharon Murphy Augustine, and I incorporated them into my response):

  • DIS-ease. There are many questions raised without answers
  • Establishes more than the teacher as validator of knowledge/work
  • Feeling of responsibility to yourself and the class
  • Recognizes classroom as a complicated, non-laboratory place filled with complex, caring human beings
  • Fights culture of school that wants THE right answer
  • Doesn’t hide what is occurring in class and makes class part of determining what is occurring.
  • Patience- doesn’t give up too quickly and realizes community/learning/inquiry doesn’t happen overnight.

Unlike the banking concept of education,  Freire says,  “For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other”(72).

Of course, these qualities dovetail with those of participatory learning spaces, something I’ve written and spoken about extensively over the last few years.   You can search my blog if you are interested in reading more, check out my pieces in print, or view my presentations.

One of the regular learning structures of Dorsey’s class is peer critique—students have an opportunity to share a completed piece of work and share the successes as well as the struggles.  It’s a fantastic reflective experience for the student sharing as well as the peers providing feedback.

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Here is a sample set of reflection questions that Dorsey uses when students are ready to share out individual projects with the larger class:

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Students write or type a narrative based on these questions to help them think about the verbal/oral discussion with the group.  Over a series of a couple of days, each student has an opportunity to share these reflections with the group, and classmates then provide on the spot feedback.  It’s a relaxed conversation, and I’m always struck by how articulate, candid, and invested students are in their work and assessment of their work.

So what does the exemplary work of an art teacher have to do with me as a school librarian?

What I see in Dorsey’s art classes invites us to rethink how we see literacy practices like research projects and writing assignments.  What if more teachers approached research and writing the way Dorsey’s artists approach their work?  What if students had more say in topic selections?  What if the processes of topic selection, developing questions, investigating, wrestling with information, drafting, and composing final products (whether a paper or alternative forms of expressions/composing/creating) were valued as much as the end product (usually a traditional paper)?  What if formative assessments were integrated and valued as much as the summative assessment?  I think we would see deeper learning, higher quality of work, authenticity, and more excitement because students would be taking responsibility for their learning rather than the experience being completely teacher driven.   It’s hard to be emotionally invested in something when you have little to no input or voice.

I’ve been lucky to experience this sustained, inquiry-driven approach with different teachers in recent years, but these experiences are often the exception, not the norm.   I become giddy when I get to help co-design learning experiences where we can go deep and kids are not rushed through some of the most important life skills they will acquire and take with them wherever they go.  I relish these opportunities to do deep dives and give students choice and ownership of their learning as well as meaningful learning structures to scaffold that decision making.  I worry about the consequences of these kinds of literacy practices are increasingly commonplace and  limit kids to certain kinds of assignments that are often couched in “college and career” readiness rather than a broader mindset of life readiness where literacy practices are evolving as people move through different careers and personal experiences.  Many of you teachers, librarians, and students are weary of research assignments that feel formulaic and artificial.    I have always aspired to be someone who helps grow a learning environment of inquiry and curiosity and meaning making like Dorsey does in her classrooms.  As a teacher and librarian, I worry about the practices I’ve seen in recent years with research assignments and how it seems increasingly marginalized at the high school level.

Maybe it’s my life and professional experiences of recent years, maybe it’s part of being this far in my career with only a few years left to go, or maybe it’s the culmination of these factors and more, but whatever the case, I feel a sense of urgency to be a catalyst and team in player in a larger learning environment that dares to re-imagine not only research and literacy practices in academic areas, but also the public school learning experience from an inquiry, participatory lens.   The art studio experiences that Dorsey and her students live and breathe serve as inspiration for how we might rethink the dominant research and composing practices and framework.  I am looking forward to continued collaboration with Dorsey, art teacher Donna Jones, and their students as we all learn from each other.