MakerZine Project Wrap-Up

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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.

Introducing Our Zine Topics with Informational Heart Maps

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Like many of you, I’ve been a big fan of Georgia Heard and her work for years.  Earlier this fall, I purchased her new book, Heart Maps: Create and Craft Authentic Writing; I also joined the Facebook group for the book where other educators are posting their students’ heart maps.  It was in this Facebook group that I found an inspirational mentor text for our my students from a mother who was using the tool with her son:

Screenshot from the Georgia Heard Heart Maps Facebook Group
Screenshot from the Georgia Heard Heart Maps Facebook Group

I printed 10 copies of each photo and put them in my trusty neon shop ticket pouches so students could have copies at their desk to work from (as well as a projected copy on the whiteboard) for our noticings activity.  I also downloaded one of the nonfiction/informational templates that you can access online if you register your book with Heinemann.

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I did different variations of how we approached the noticings with each grade level, but essentially, we brainstormed in small groups what we noticed about the organization of information, the information itself, and the visual qualities of the “mentor text” heart map.   After we discussed our noticings as a large group, we generated a list of the design and organization elements we wanted to incorporate into our heart maps of our zine topics.  Since our plan is to use these as the first content page in our zines to introduce the reader to our topic, we used our zine project planner we had already completed to help us set up our categories or labels for the outer parts of the map; students then aligned a nugget fact they loved most about that subtopic on the corresponding inner part of the map.

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We used our #makerzine project supplies funded so graciously by our friends and DonorsChoose to begin crafting our heart maps.  Once students completed their heart maps, they cut them out and glued them onto a piece of colored paper of their choosing.  Here is a sampler of our student created zine topic heart maps from students in grades 6-8:

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The students have been incredibly enthusiastic about creating their heart maps; students who have been reluctant writers or not always engaged have been engrossed in their work.  We are now finishing our zine covers and working on our first content pages of our zines.  I’ll have a new post up later this week to talk about how we’re working toward crafting those pieces of our zine projects.    Have you used heart mapping for informational writing?  I’d love to hear from you if you have or are currently using this tool with your writers and learners!

Introducing Zines with a Noticings Gallery Walk

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We are kicking off a new unit of study in the War Eagle Writing Studio as we begin to explore different kinds of informational writing.  I decided that zines would be an appealing point of access for my writers; students will be making and crafting their own zines on a topic on which they are experts.  Our zine making will be the first “bend” in this unit of study and is my modification I’m making to a Calkins Units of Study for Writing Workshop.  Our focus will be on crafting informational/descriptive zines or “how to” zines.  I have never crafted zines before with students, but this choice was inspired by the work my friend and fellow English teacher Kyle Jones has done with his high school students.   Thanks to DonorsChoose and the generous donations from friends and colleagues, we now have the crafting supplies we need to do our zine making!

Two of the most inspiring professional resources I’ve discovered in 2016 are Writing with Mentor Texts by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, as well as their blog, Moving Writers ( a blog that should be on anyone’s “must read” list).  The blog posts by Marchetti and O’Dell, as well as their team of classroom teachers sharing their innovative and insightful ideas for teaching writing, provide me a near daily menu of ideas to contemplate and strategies to try in the War Eagle Writing Studio.  One post from earlier this fall, “3 Simple Exercises to Help Your Students Read Like Writers,” inspired an activity I did with students this past week to introduce zines to my middle school writers.

I set up 9 “stations” around the room with excerpts of zines or mini-version of zines I found on the web.  Finding zines with age-appropriate content was especially difficult; I hope more middle school colleagues will share examples of student work and that students will have more opportunities to publish their zines through the web whether it be a PDF version or a web-based zine.  Using post-it notes chart paper, I labeled each station and taped on the pieces of zines or mini-versions of zines for students for our “noticings” gallery walk.

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Students first received a copy of a graphic organizer:  this simple handout identified each station and gave students space to record:

  1. Two noticings
  2. An interesting fact (content) the student learned through the zine at each station

After showing students some pictures of zine collections, I introduced the gallery walk by orienting the students to the locations of each “station” and explained to them that we would be moving around quietly in a random order to examine the zines or pieces of zines and capturing our noticings (we’ve done noticings activities before, so I did not need to review that concept again).  I also reminded them that they needed to channel their energy into writing and thinking and to keep only 2-3 students per station so that everyone would have plenty of room to work.   I also reviewed a list of questions to prompt noticings and kept these posted during the gallery walk.

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Students then took their graphic organizers and began visiting the stations.  Some classes needed the one class period to capture the noticings while my sixth graders needed a day and a half of class time to do this activity.  Every single class was focused on their inquiry work and engaged; even my classes that sometimes struggle with these kinds of learning activities were really into the activity!

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I followed up this activity by giving students to share their noticings with a Turn and Talk activity; students worked in small groups to share their noticings with a focus on four categories:  fonts/typography, use of visuals and text together, types of writing in the zines, and materials used to create the zines.    We then finished up with individual reflections in a Writer’s Notebook prompt that asked students to contemplate these four questions:

1. How would you define a zine?
2. What qualities did you notice about the zines today?
3. What questions do you have about zines right now?
4. If you could create a zine on any topic, what topic would you choose? Think about something you know a lot about or feel passionately about in your life.

Next week we’ll begin brainstorming what we know about our topics and begin thinking about how we might organize and “chunk” our ideas for specific pages in our zines.  We’ll then sketch out our own heart maps on our topics (inspired by the new book from Georgia Heard and this post in the Heart Maps Facebook group).    I then hope to try Angela Stockman’s wonderful strategy for identifying craft moves in mentor texts (for us, informational and how to writing in zines) to help students really be intentional and purposeful in crafting their zine compositions. Angela Stockman calls this “making the study of mentor texts more actionable.”

If you have crafted zines with middle school writers, what advice would you and your students give?  What strategies did you try?  I’d love to hear specific strategies you used to help students craft authentic zines with effective use of text and visuals.