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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

Comments (52)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kerry -

The address is hyperlinked in the posting above, but here it is in the "light of day." ;-}


Go for it, and let us all know how it goes.



Marguerite DeWitt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that this would be a great way to incorporate technology into the writing process. I am a student at Auburn University and we have discussed using "bare books" (which a bound books with nothing on/in them) to use with students' story writing, but this takes it to a whole new level. To be able to have an electronic copy would be great for sharing on a teacher web page or something so that students could access it at any time, and be able to show it to any one with access to the internet. What a great resource!

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Marguerite -

Blank bound books are another great tool - so I would urge you to look at all the different ways we can make books, and then help the kids think about the concept of "book-ness." What is it about placing information on that paper and stitching it up nice and neat... Publication makes it real.

Oh, and here is one more you'll love: http://www.pocketmod.com/ - They say it makes "organizers," but I bet the creative teacher can think of a way to stretch that!

Have fun!


Marguerite DeWitt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks so much for the link! These are so cool! It would be great to make books that are "their size" sort of like the Beatrix Potter books.

Chelsie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also participate in the writer's workshop model and have been looking for a way to get my first grade student's writing published. I checked out the website and it sounds great! Publishing student writing is an effective way to make the learning focused around the students. The more learning is focused around the students, the more the students will learn. Thanks! Chelsie

Chelsie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also participate in the writer's workshop model and have been looking for a way to get my first grade student's writing published. I checked out the website and it sounds great! Publishing student writing is an effective way to make the learning focused around the students. The more learning is focused around the students, the more the students will learn. Thanks! Chelsie

Colette Schrank's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The idea of publishing student works is awesome....with this in mind I plan to "publish", i.e. upload my students' research projects to our course website in Blackboard. It will be there for posterity and they can refer to their classmates projects as well.....thanks for the great idea!

Lori Vaughn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a fairly new elementary teacher. What a neat idea. I have trouble getting my students to do their best on their writing. Publishing their writings would be a great motivator!

Katie Maltby's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I agree that publishing student's work can be a great way to make their work meaningful and memorable. I teach World History to a group of students who are part of a Future Teachers Academy at our high school. As one of thier projects they write a children's story about an ancient empire. We then publish the books through http://www.studentreasures.com and then they have them to read to local elementary school children. It's a great website that sounds a lot like those mentioned above.

Keep up the great work

Becky Polzin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of student publishing, but I'm not sure whether to go ahead for my students, who are high school juniors and seniors. Does anyone have experience with publishing for high school students? What did you think?

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