One of the most rewarding parts of my job as an educator has always been the ways my students react to becoming published authors. They don’t just smile; they glow with pride.
Even though it was years ago, I still remember the way one of my female students reacted. She walked up to me just before doing her reading in front of the class. Bouncing on her heels, she looked up at me with this enormous grin and whispered, “I’m so excited! I can’t even stand it!”
Moments like that one aren’t about finishing an assignment or getting a good grade on a paper. They’re about the absolute joy of becoming a published author. It’s one thing to get your students’ attention, but to truly engage them? That’s when the real magic happens.
The best way to make that magic happen and increase student engagement is to teach writing as a process, during which anything is possible, and the result is both affirming and inspiring. Keeping students engaged while in the classroom is difficult, but project-based learning activities, such as classbook projects, can help increase their engagement in learning.
Strategies for Increasing Student Engagement
Shift the Focus
Far too many people teach writing as a product and focus the lesson on the final result, a letter grade or a gold star.
This approach creates a “finish line” mentality and tells your students that the only thing that matters in the writing process is how quickly they can finish the current assignment and move on to the next. Instead of enjoying the chance to get creative and put their imaginations to the test, students are busy thinking about how soon they’ll be able to get the job done.
Teaching writing as a process, on the other hand, encourages your students to focus on each step of the process as they’re working on it. This helps them determine how to best tackle each step, whether it’s researching a topic, writing a rough draft or performing final edits.
This shift in focus improves your students’ writing by slowing things down and encouraging them to take a more thoughtful and methodical approach instead of just rushing to the finish line. It increases student engagement while also giving them the opportunity to dig deep into each writing phase and let their imaginations run wild.
However, you also have to choose topics and writing prompts that you think your students will enjoy. One way you can do this is by tying creative writing assignments into other lessons. For example, if your students are learning about gravity, you can have them create a piece of writing about what they think a day on Earth would be like without gravity.
For social studies, why not give them a writing prompt about what they would do if they were the leader of an ancient civilization? Providing them with unique writing assignments will increase engagement alone, but if you tell them that you plan on publishing their work in a classbook, that will only make them more excited to get started!
Explore Different Strategies
Everyone learns a little bit differently, especially when it comes to writing. Some students may need extensive outlines to keep their responses on topic; others may find graphic organizers or color-coding more helpful.
Taking the writing process one step at a time gives your students a chance to explore their options and, with your help, discover what works best for them as individuals.
Instead of struggling to complete an assignment using a predetermined process that isn’t a good fit for their learning styles, your students will be able to experiment with different writing and editing strategies. Perhaps, they’ll even come up with variations of their own!
Tapping into each student’s learning style will make writing feel less like work and more like an act of discovery. Your students will be happy to partake!
Learn from Past Mistakes
Teaching writing as a process doesn’t just help your students do better. It enables you to do better too! When you only see the end product of an assignment, it can be difficult to reverse-engineer errors to figure out how and why they happened in the first place.
To fully engage your students and improve their writing, you need to show them how to learn from their mistakes, not just correct them.
Guiding your students through the writing process one step at a time allows you to review their work at each stage and pinpoint the areas in which they struggle. You can then use this knowledge to engage with your students to figure out how to tackle these obstacles.
Create Weekly Student Planners
Having your students create weekly planners or agenda books is nothing new. Still, there’s no denying that planning out each week ahead of time is highly effective at keeping your students moving, staying organized and completing their work on time.
The key to making agenda planners work is checking them regularly so they stay accountable. However, you can also use these weekly checks as opportunities to get them excited for upcoming writing projects. There is satisfaction in crossing off completed assignments, and many students respond well to the organization that a planner provides.
You can also have them write down weekly or monthly goals in their planners and discuss their progress. Schedule time to check each student’s agenda early in the week; you should only need a few minutes per student.
If a big writing project is coming up, such as a classbook project, your students can break down the writing process into smaller tasks in their planner. For example, on Monday, they will write the outline for their classbook page. Tuesday will be when they create their first writing draft, and Wednesday will be for revisions and edits.
Using a planner to organize their weeks is a skill that will significantly benefit them throughout the rest of their educational career and when they make it out into the real world.
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How to Connect with Your Students Using a Publishing Project
When I was a kid, my favorite teachers were always the ones who made me feel like they really cared about me. The subject they taught had nothing to do with it. The thing that mattered most was that they took the time to connect with me.
I trusted them enough to feel like I could talk to them when I needed to, and when I did, they made me feel heard. It motivated me to do my best and believe in myself. For that, I’ll always be grateful. The following tips will help you connect with your students using a publishing project like my favorite teachers connected with me.
Learn from Each Other
A classbook project is not just a chance for your students to learn and grow. It’s a chance to teach each other (and even yourself!) new things too. Brainstorming allows your students to share all their best ideas and will enable you to show them how much you value their input.
Peer editing enables small groups of students to learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and of course, publishing a book is an incredible learning experience for teachers and students alike, especially if it’s your first classbook project!
Most importantly, being open to learning from your students motivates them to push their creative boundaries. Connecting with your students should be a two-way street that encourages your students to learn and express themselves. It also makes you a better teacher. After all, the more you know, the more you can teach!
It’s no secret that storytelling brings people together. Humans have been bonding over tall tales since the very first campfire story.
Classbook projects are the ultimate classroom campfire story. Writing a book gives your students an opportunity to tell a story that matters to them. Publishing that book gives them the means to share their tales with the world.
It’s also a chance for you to share stories of your own. Maybe you’ve published a classbook before. Now is the perfect time to share what that previous project taught you or how amazing it felt the moment your students’ finished books arrived. Sharing with your students is every bit as important as allowing them to share with you.
Of course, the stories your students will publish aren’t the only stories a classbook project produces. The actual process of publishing a book is a fantastic journey. It’s the best kind of story: the kind you get to experience and bond over together. It’s one you’ll be telling for years to come.
While becoming published authors is the ultimate goal of a classbook project, it’s not the end of the journey. Being published is a phenomenal accomplishment, and you and your class should be proud once it is all said and done. Be sure to celebrate it! A publishing party is a fantastic way to connect with your students, and it’s easier to plan one than you might think.
Even if you’re not up for a party, you can still celebrate your young authors simply by taking a few moments to acknowledge what they’ve achieved. When their books arrive in the mail, take that moment as an opportunity to share an extraordinary moment together.
Look over your newly published masterpiece and read passages, or even the whole book, out loud. Talk with your students about how it feels to be published. Take your time and enjoy it!
How Publishing Helps Increase Student Engagement
Adding publishing as the final step in your lesson plan is one of the ultimate strategies for increasing student engagement. Unlike a simple letter grade or sticker, this result is both collaborative and highly individualized.
Knowing that their work will appear in print is a powerful motivational tool you can use to encourage your students to work hard and put 110% effort into each step of the writing process.
Instead of being the sole focus of the lesson plan, their published book becomes their well-deserved reward for working so hard throughout the project. It’s the perfect way to celebrate their writing and an inspiring reminder that they can achieve just about anything if they put their minds to it.