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Fear & Loathing in Special Education

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No Child Left Unpublished

Posted 03-30-2010 at 11:03 AM by Speced9

The class-made book is an experience that too few special needs students get to experience. Trust me, in the not so distant past, I didn't think it was possible either until I realized that creating a book together was subject to modification like everything else.

I'd see other classes proudly displaying their books at open houses. There they were with their perfectly printed pages, vibrant illustrations and spiral bindings, and what did I have? A collection of random thoughts, broken sentences and unidentifiable pictures overly pasted on construction paper. I knew there had to be a better way.

It wasn't until about five years ago that I realized the shared writing experience could be modified without guilt. It started with the realization that children's authors very rarely illustrate their own books (but kudos to you, Todd Parr and Eric Carle!), and they definitely never had to self-publish. My thought was this- why not make class-made books a shared experience that takes advantage of everyone's strengths? Why not make the activity more realistic? Why not do something that no other class (regular or special ed.) has done before? So, that's what I decided to do.

I took the realistic approach to creating a book. Sure, it's always been in the standards for my students to know what an author and illustrator do, but going through the entire process from idea to published work was something I had never considered before.

Any book had to start with an idea. Like many before me, basing our writing on books with predictable text seemed like the best way to go. First, it eliminated the big picture idea, and second, it allowed students to expand on an idea that the original author had already set forth.

Given that I had students K-2, I had a lot of different writing levels going on at once. At the very least, I could be a scribe for those in the beginning stages, and set higher expectations for my early writers. Regardless, together, as a class, we brainstormed ideas and used word webs to record them. Students helped each other with ideas and formulating sentences. After everyone had their piece of the book done, I would write it all out on chart paper. I also used modified word processing programs like PixWriter to have students type out their text.

The toughest part of the whole process was illustrating. That always seemed to be the deal breaker in the past. My students are typically in the scribbling stage of art development. It's kind of hard to have them be illustrators for a book when you can't even tell what the heck is in the picture. Because of this, I modified the process a couple of ways. One was to show my kids that many authors are paired with illustrators. Since it just so happens that I'm a bit handy with the pen and computer graphics, I became a part of the process. The other way to deal with this aspect was to involve our art teacher. She might draw pictures then focus the kids on certain color and styles, or painstakingly go through a whole process like making collages ala Eric Carle.

When text has been written, and illustrations completed, I introduced a usually unknown aspect to my students- editing and art direction. My way of explaining it was that a person had to figure out how to put the pages in order, how they could look with different effects/fonts and how to get things ready for the publisher. The great part of this aspect is the amount of computer programs designed for this very purpose. My Master's is in Ed. Tech., so I was already familiar with a lot of programs that fit the bill nicely. With the help of these programs, I could enhance illustrations where needed, and get things ready for professional publishing.

Putting books together with staples and yarn was cheap, but they don't hold a candle to having something professionally published. We have a few ways to have this done with varying levels of cost.

My favorite (and most expensive) way is to use Apple iPhoto. It has an option to put together a book that can be uploaded and printed up. At around $35 a book on average, it's one of those options that I reserve for PTO grants. Still, they come with a dust jacket and the illustrations always come out vibrant and shiny.

Another favorite is to use blurb.com. Although it's pricey like iPhoto, they give you the option of selling your book online. Now, we've never sold a book, but it's still kind of cool to show the kids that part of the book making process.

The best option though, is a company that I've recently discovered- Student Treasures. The process is simple and cheap, and they return a great product to boot. At $14.95 a copy ($10 for teachers) it's a guarantee that multiple copies will be produced. If you want to make a class book, they will send you a book making packet for free. Your job is to get the pages filled in by having students write/draw directly on them, or by using a computer printer. The latter option is not for the faint of heart. Considering that you have to print on both sides of a page, you have to have your page orientations clear in your mind, or you'll end up printing on one side twice. Yikes! This is an option that you'll want to consider though if you're using photos for your book instead of illustrations. When everything is done, you send the manuscript and order forms back in a prepaid UPS envelope. You can't make it any easier than that, folks.

Regardless of the methods, I've had my students write and publish six books over the last five years. I'm proud of all of them (the books and the kids). Out of those six, we have copies of five of them in the school library. How cool is that? They are very popular and are rarely sitting on the shelves.

Here's the lowdown on what we've done over the years:

The Sheep Book



Focus: Rhyming
Based On: Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw
Writing: Shared writing activity
Illustrations: Me
Published: Apple iPhoto

It's Okay!



Focus: Individual differences
Based On: The Okay Book by Todd Parr
Writing: Shared writing activity
Illustrations: Me
Published: Apple iPhoto

Things That Make Us Feel Good & Bad



Focus: Todd Parr author study
Based On: Things That Make You Feel Good/Bad by Todd Parr
Writing: Shared writing activity
Illustrations: Basic drawing by our art teacher, coloring in the style of Todd Parr by students
Published: Apple iPhoto

Animals In My Closet



Focus: Animals
Inspired by: The Hat by Jan Brett
Writing: Shared/Individual writing activity
Illustrations: Me
Published: Apple iPhoto

Lunch With Our Class



Focus: Food groups/describing words
Based On: Lunch by Denise Fleming
Writing: Individual writing
Illustrations: Photos
Published: Student Treasures

Does a Zebra Have a Mother Too?



Focus: Eric Carle author study
Based On: Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too? by Eric Carle
Writing: Shared writing activity
Illustrations: collage completed by students under the supervision of our art teacher
Published: Apple iPhoto

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