The Importance of Real Publishing for Students

The Importance of Real Publishing for Students

I was struck again yesterday about the importance of real publishing of student writing in the 21st century classroom. We are now 5 weeks into our school year and since the beginning of the year we have been working on a writing unit called Personal Essay. This is not really an essay, per se, rather more of a small moment autobiographical story. The students spend a lot of time working on generating ideas through lists, testing different seeds, drafting different stories, and spending a lot of time revising their writing.

This year, though, I tried something a little different. I have used in my classroom for two years now, and I knew that I would use it again with this class. But this time I didn’t say anything to them about it. For whatever reason, I just didn’t feel like opening that door until we were ready. There was too much going on in my room what with setting up rituals and routines, getting to know each other, mandatory testing, and rolling out iPads, to warrant another piece to the puzzle. So I held off.

Until yesterday.

We are finally getting ready to publish our essays and so I broke the news to them that they wouldn’t just be handwriting a final copy to be turned in to me to read and grade. Rather, they would be publishing their work so that any and all could read their final stories. And this is where I was surprised by their reactions. Many of them were immediately visibly shaken, surprised, and discouraged. Hands went to faces and many had worried expressions.

They were used to the comfort of knowing that their writing didn’t truly matter. It would only be read by me, maybe a friend, and their parents. But now the stakes had changed. Their writing meant something and they were scared by that.

Their perspective changed in that moment. Now they had no choice but to take their writing seriously, which is exactly what they did. Suddenly the act of editing their work became serious and they began to work harder, they were more focused, they asked me more questions about what I was looking for and how to make their writing better.

When I finally gave them the keys to blog to experiment with before they published, they were excited to try it out, to write, to know that others were reading and commenting on what they wrote, even if it was just their classmates. They wanted to write more, to share more, to take it home and write this weekend.

We haven’t published our stories yet, but there is already a different feel in our room because now they have an audience. A real audience.

And it matters.

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