Publication production, the ultimate in project based learning with technology

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This article originally ran in Education Update’s Nov./Dec 2012 issue.

Producing a student run publication is the perfect juggling act of direct, individuated instruction, leadership mentoring and technology usage. Students learn to become media and technology savvy, consuming that which they create and share the knowledge they develop in a way other students can hear.

In any one of my newspaper classrooms, a visitor would recognize the absence of the typical. Students are in charge in this classroom, offering feedback to their peers in a variety of ways. Using a Mac lab is the most ideal way to carry-out a successful publication class, but laptops work just as effectively.

Every student is engaged in his/her own learning all the time, going at a pace appropriate for him/her. In any given class, reporters can be gathering research online, deciphering between reliable, useable sources and those which can’t be cited. They can be writing, revising or conferencing about drafts they have created for a particular audience. Some may be gathering primary sources using their interviewing skills to gather expert information to be crafted for other student consumption.

Other students use class time to design the pages using InDesign or Photoshop to clean and crop photos for greater reader engagement, more points of entry for our readers. Editors are using Google docs to give real time feedback on drafts provided by reporters to ensure clarity, completeness and our journalistic style. While the students are working together cooperatively, the harmony is maintained by the managing editor keeping data about student production and updating our issue spreadsheet which is at the heart of each issue. A simple, shared Google spreadsheet that allows students to track their process for the rest of the team to see. Editors update what they have seen so that layout knows when they can get started.

At first, many teachers would feel like they would need to be involved more. At first, I was. I needed to have my hand in all of it. However, the more competent the students became because of my one on one time with each of them and the building and positive interactions, the less I have to be involved. Sitting on the sideline, I conference with newer reporters and editors about how to respond to different situations, act as a barometer for ethical choices and teach students through specific issues that come up, most of the time unexpectedly.

Teaching a publication is not for the feint of heart. Trusting the students’ knowledge of technology and reporting and allowing them to take risks can produce some of the most rewarding classroom experiences.

How do other teachers run their publications? Has it proven an authentic learning experience? Share your successes.

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