As I went through the process of shopping a publisher and then having a book published during this school year, I shared all I learned along the way with my 8th grade class in hopes that they would share in the excitement of birthing a book. To encourage them to write, and ultimately to pick up a book and read for pleasure, I had them writing a chapter story (we called it a novella) throughout the entire school year. Once a week, in our Language Arts Lab class, we sat for 45 minutes in front of a Chromebook and GoogleDocs, working on plot, dialogue, creating characters with backstory, and dabbling in other such helpful author-like tricks and tools. Read-alouds of their favorite scenes were done briefly every few meetings to encourage collaboration on ideas and feedback.
At first, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. My resource teacher and I stepped back and watched, encouraging the students as they hunted-and-pecked at the keyboards and engaged in lively discussions about their characters, their plots, and other musings. To keep them on track, each quarter we gave a goal to reach (two chapters and a character trait sheet, four chapters, etc.) We weren't sure if they would ever reach the goal we set of 8 chapters, but each week they continued to type, and share, and talk.
Advance 165 days to the end of the school year, and guess what? Our challenge was met. And boy, did they succeed! Many of them typed out over 30 pages of storyline, which included zombies, loves lost, family drama, social issues, war and death. Working in some cross-curricular activities, the technology teacher had them design a book cover and back for their "novella", which included great graphics, a summary of their story, and an "About the Author", including a picture. After constant bouts of editing and revising, the students handed in their manuscripts, along with dedication and acknowledgement paragraphs, and we are now having them bound by our most wonderful copy-room attendant.
I asked some of them if they were proud of their accomplishment, and many thought they'd never be able to write a piece that long over such an extended amount of time, and yes, they were proud of it. A few asked if they could continue their story after they've graduated (Umm... that's called a sequel, I told them with a smile and an emphatic YES). One young man, who didn't consider himself a writer in any sense, actually told me that he feels he became a better writer because of the weekly class that focused him and forced him to write and set goals. Well, chalk one up for the good guys.
Will they write for pleasure after they graduate in three weeks? Time will tell, but I know one thing for sure. They certainly aren't afraid of that task anymore. As a teacher, I would call this a success.