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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Publishing Student Writing -- and Your Own

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

When I was a classroom teacher, my kids published a lot of books. We carefully finished our pages and then used the plastic spiral binder in the teachers' room to bind the pages into book form. We would put them on display in the classroom or in the library.

Publishing was important. It gave me the opportunity to take the moral high ground and ask the kids to do their very best because their writing was headed for publication. We all know that real audiences make a difference. And you've probably seen this when a classroom assignment goes from being something that only the teacher will see to something peers and the whole school will see. Effort and results go up.

Easier Than It Seems

But publishing a book doesn't only bring the best out of our students. For more than two years, I had been carrying an idea for a book in my mind and in my heart. I had the text mostly written but needed an illustrator and a publisher. I finally opened my eyes and found the illustrator living right here with me -- my wife. Now, all I needed was a publisher.

This is when I remembered talking with people who had self-published their books online through a Web site called Lulu. Two of those folks, David Warlick and Doug Johnson, I highly respect for their thinking on the effective and innovative use of technology to support schools, students, teachers, and their communities.

So it was now time to get this thing done. I got serious about cleaning up the text, and my wife got serious about doing the illustrations. First, I created my account on Lulu. As a frugal Yankee, I appreciated the fact everything was free and that I would have to pay only if I ordered hard copies of my book. I read forums on the Web site about what works and installed NeoOffice on my MacBook.

When the text and images were ready, I put them together in a NeoOffice document and exported it as a PDF file. Of course, I had to spend a bit of time figuring out how the numbering of pages works, where to put the title page, and other things a real publisher would have done for me. But I was learning, and the sense of empowerment when I uploaded the finished document was palpable -- I had done it!

Next, I used the supplied templates to create a cover. I inserted a photo of my wife and me on the back and a picture of a California gray whale fluking off the coast of Oregon for the front, along with the title. With the cover uploaded, the project was complete.

Hard Copies, or Virtual?

Credit: Jim Moulton

I was tempted at this point to put a link on my Web site and order a bunch of the books to sell at conferences. But Lulu has obviously worked with many rookies, and the site warned me to begin by ordering only one hard copy to make sure it really was the book I had carried in my mind and heart for so long. I listened to the site's counsel, ordered one, and waited impatiently for a week or so.

When it came, I read it, achieved a new level of humility, and set about fixing the multiple mistakes I found. Trust me, I have a new respect for editing. Yeah, I've edited stuff before, but this was our book. I made the changes, uploaded the updated files, and ordered another hard copy. That came, and I found one last flaw. I then uploaded one more set of updates and called it finished. But I still worried, just like a student. When the audience is real, the quality matters so much more.

So, there you go. Our published book is called Computers Can, Computers Can't.

Students as Published Authors

Ever since I used the Lulu Web site to create our book, I have been actively encouraging teachers to publish their books. I'm interested to find out how many educators there are out there like David, Doug, my wife, and me. Have you used Lulu or any other self-publishing utility to put your kids' work into a book? Are you an elementary school teacher who took that ABC book to a new level or a social studies teacher who has made oral histories of local old-timers part of the community collection of text in the school and local libraries? What about doing Anytown Middle School: Our Writing, 2009 and including in it one piece from each student?

And, of course, when you publish online, you can make your book available to anyone, or you can restrict access. So, how about creating a book with your class and sharing it with a class across town, across the state, across the nation, or across the globe?

The bottom line is, you can do so much. The only limit will be your creativity.

Remember, if you've self-published with your students, please share. I'd love to know what folks are doing and, as always, what you think are the best technology tools out there.

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Kristi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I loved when our teachers would publish our finished writing in large books. In second grade we wrote fiction stories and our teacher laminated them and binded them. We got to dedicate the book to someone special in our lives. I still read it from time to time and laugh at how creative I was at a young age. I think students take more pride in their work when it looks like a book they can pick up in their own library.

With the technology today and the knowledge students have of computers, I believe my students can create published work that I could never have dreamt of doing when I was younger. Students today are making greeting cards and powerpoints to display their work.

Susan Stephens's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

How did you find time to create the book? I made a book when I taught first grade but now that I am teaching fourth grade I just can't find the time to have the students type their writings let alone put pictures with them and publish them into a book. Since I teach an older grade now, there a lot more types of writing that we have to cover throughout the year that we can only spend approximately 2 weeks on any one style of writing. That includes the book work from the curriculum and then the students doing their individual writing showing what they learned. I would love to create a class book but I just don't know how I would be able to find the time. How long did it take you to create yours?

Ashley Spence's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim,

Thank you for introducing me to such a concept as Lulu. I have been publishing books for a few years now either on the spiral binding machine or just be having the books stapled together at the district duplicating center. However, having the books made in such a professional and polished fashion would be such a motivator to my third graders. Perhaps, as I advance in my career, it could even motivate me to do something of my own....

Thanks for the great information and I just want to add that I truly enjoy the Spiral Notebook blog.

Thanks,
Ashley

Amanda Bryant's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My 8th graders love to create class books. As an English/Language Arts teacher, it is always easy for me to have student writing published. However, this year I was very pleased with the books our students published as part of a project in social studies. You can tell the pride they feel from the looks on their faces once they receive the books.

I had never heard of Lulu before. It sounds like a great program, and is definitely one that I plan to check out. When I have published books with my students in the past, I have always used StudenTales (www.studentales.com). You do have to pay a small price for the publishing kits and for shipping, but each student receives a free copy of his/her book, with the option to purchase additional copies. In the past, my students have completed their books and sent off their kits so that we can host an author's tea just before Christmas break. We have refreshments, invite parents, and students share their books with the audience. Publishing these books with my students has truly been a rewarding experience!

Dawn Cleave's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

WOW! What a great idea! My brother-in-law created a book of my nephew's first year and it was beautiful but I had never thought to create a book for my classroom! I am going to put it on my to-do list for sure! Thanks for the inspirational article!

Cynthia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim,
Thanks so much for sharing your story of the publication process. I teach first grade and for the last two years our school has been using Nationwide Learning, Inc. to publish works written by our students and one that was a complilation done by the faculty. But these books can be expensive, especially when trying to sell them as a fundraiser. The information you shared about Lulu was great and I will definetley be looking into it as another option.
Thanks!

Cynthia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jim!
Thanks for the information about lulu.com. I teach first grade and for the last two years have used Nationwide Learning Inc. to publish books created by my studets. Last year the faculy at our school also collaborated on a book about our school and used it as a fundraiser. Unfortuantely this can be expensive, especially when trying to sell the books to raise money. Lulu.com sound like a great alternative!
Thanks again,
Cindy

Susan Stephens's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach fourth grade as well but we do roughly 3-4 different types of writing each marking period. I would love to focus on just one so that we can create books but we are given our curriculum this way. What 4 types of literary genre's do you do each marking period?

Brittany Littlefield's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a student, I wrote countless stories that I had hoped would be published as books someday In fact, I still have some of them stored in a box in my bedroom :-) haha. I remember showing my teachers and wishing that they would find just one of my stories interesting enough to "make something happen" with. I used to design my own book covers, and even copy the books several times to give to some of my friends and family members. In reading this blog, I feel as if I can make this happen for my future students. What a great idea and a wonderful project for students to be involved in! Thanks for the info. Jim!

Mandi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great testimony to the excitment connected with seeing YOUR story in print! Each year, our non-profit holds the Imagine this... Story Writing Contest. Over 10,000 students across California submit stories written about California agriculture. The winning stories are then published into a book, illustrated by high school art students. It is amazing to see the pride of writing a successful story and how other students respond to the "winners" in their school! They become local celebrities overnight! Check out www.cfaitc.org/Imaginethis/Imaginethis.php for more information.

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