I love what I do. Knowing that every day I get to help students all across the country become published authors is a magical feeling; seeing the pride and joy the process brings them is priceless. There’s one reaction in particular I’ll never forget.
A few years ago, I was at a friend’s house for dinner, discussing my work with Studentreasures. Their 12-year-old daughter suddenly jumped up and raced upstairs to her bedroom. When she returned, her face was flushed and her eyes bright as she held up her prize for all to see. It was a classbook published over five years earlier. She opened the book for us and there, listed on the author page, was her name. She couldn’t stop grinning, and neither could I.
For five years, that book had resided in a special place of honor on her bookshelf. It served to remind her of all that she had accomplished and all that she was capable of. She was a published author and proud of it. As we passed the book around the table, her parents recalled how much effort she’d put into her part of the project.
Knowing her work would result in something more than a letter grade and a sticker reading “Grape job!” made her want to work harder, do better, do more. It’s the same for kids everywhere—the key to inspiring student motivation lies in demonstrating why. Why do this assignment? Why should they care? Why does it matter? The promise of something concrete to hold onto, something they can show off and be proud of, is one answer that’s guaranteed to get their attention.
The Promise of Publication: Anticipation Sparks Motivation
While a lesson well learned may last a lifetime, individual assignments are often easily (and swiftly) forgotten. Rare is the parent who keeps every single piece of homework, graded test, and torn-out workbook page, and rarer still is the student who voluntarily preserves them for posterity. The reason is simple: there’s no emotional connection, no sentimental value. Most of us still know our basic multiplication tables, but if you asked me where I was sitting when I learned mine or how it felt to finally get the hang of them, I’d probably draw a blank.
On the other hand, my friend’s daughter could still vividly recall what it was like to take part in her 2nd grade classbook project even five years later. She remembered the fun of brainstorming wild and crazy topic ideas together as a class, and she smiled at the memory of sharing a big box of markers with her best friend as she put her all into writing and illustrating her very own pages for the book.
Where did her motivation come from? It wasn’t just that the project was more creative than usual, or more collaborative, or more fun. It was the emotional connection she had to the assignment, the knowledge that eventually her page would be published in a professionally bound book for everyone to see and admire. It made her work feel important to her, and because it was important, she felt motivated to do her best, to show everyone—including herself—what she could do.
The Joy of a Promise Fulfilled: Becoming a Published Author
Brighter still than the memory of making the book is the remembrance of the day my friend’s daughter finally got to hold the book in her hands. It was like Christmas, she told me, opening presents in the middle of class. Seeing her hard work on display in a beautiful professionally bound book just like the ones on her shelf at home filled her with joy and pride, and she couldn’t wait to show her parents.
I’ve seen the same reaction time and again in classrooms all over the country. First contact with the book they’ve worked so hard and waited so long for is an unforgettable moment in a student’s life. In that moment, several things happen all at once:
- They feel acknowledged. Book publishing seems like it belongs to that mythical, distant realm of adulthood. Allowing students to feel included in that world shows them that you and other adults see and respect them and their work. Consider hosting a publishing party to shine the spotlight even brighter on their accomplishment!
- They find reward in intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivation. Research shows that extrinsic reinforcements, such as grades and stickers, are far less effective motivators than learning the intrinsic value of a job well done. A published book, however, is both a tangible reward and an example of intrinsic motivation—the reward lies in the pride of being published and the joy of being able to share that achievement with others.
- Their self-confidence gets a big boost. It didn’t seem completely real until this moment, but now those students are holding the proof in their hands: they have become published authors. This shows them that their work is valuable and worth preserving.
- The student sees that hard work and creativity pay off. Because they tried their best, they got the best results. All that writing and illustrating they did resulted in something beautiful and unique, something they can really be proud of.
These feelings are invaluable and irreplaceable, making publishing an effective tool for fostering student motivation. The memory of how good it felt to see their hard work pay off will stick with students and spur them to do better in the future in order to recapture those good feelings again and again.
In the end, helping your students become published authors is about more than the book itself—it’s about the memories made and the lessons learned along the way. As for the book, it serves as a cherished keepsake as well as a treasured reminder of both past accomplishments and future potential. The most important thing your students will ever learn is to believe in themselves. Publishing their work will help build this belief and motivate your students to keep doing their best, both now and for years to come.