A while ago, I discovered that our district does not have a newspaper or a magazine for student content. This bothered me because I had an intuitive feeling that this type of planning and writing would be very good for our students’ current disdain for lack of interest in writing. I had time (sort of) and motivation to get things started. I doubted I would have financial backing, so I focused on a digital model that would require time and talent, but not money. In researching best ways to accomplish my idea, I discovered that according to the Journal of Authentic Learning*, there are four components that support authentic learning.

  1. An activity that involves real-world problems and that mimics the work of professionals; the activity involves presentation of findings to audiences beyond the classroom.
  2. Use of open-ended inquiry, thinking skills and metacognition.
  3. Students engage in discourse and social learning in a community of learners.
  4. Students direct their own learning in project work.
Real World Problems
Since the High School students couldn’t commit the time and the elementary students don’t have afterschool clubs, I called in a few middle school students and told them our problem. There was no magazine. I showed them this one: http://meltedcrayons.bayridgeprep.org/ and asked them if they thought there might be any purpose to having a similar one. They loved the idea and said they were so happy they would finally get to write what they wanted to and know that it was accepted for publication instead of just adored by a parent who was “forced” to like it. We made a plan to share the idea.

I went around to some classrooms in our district to let the kids know what I was planning. Early on I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get into every classroom, so I made this video for teachers to share. Clearly I have a lot to learn about film, makeup, and hair!

Inquiry and Thinking Skills

Eight middle school kids agreed to meet every Thursday afternoon for an hour. We began putting the idea into action. I let them make decisions and use me as a resource. I told them what I thought, but I let them know that they made all final decisions. They did some research and decided they needed a rubric. They created one. They located many different kinds of writing samples that they considered to be great so they would have other writing to use when evaluating their peers’ submissions. They took the project on as their own.

Discourse in a Community of Learners
They began discussing things right from the beginning. When one student was more dominant, another asked that person to listen as well as participate. They asked me to set up a Google Classroom where I could post each submission so that they could evaluate and comment on submissions in one place. This became an active and engaged space for their conversations. It also meant that students who could not attend meetings had the ability to participate from home or study hall.

Student Directed Learning
After several arguments about different submissions, the students made the rule that it takes just two students to accept a submission for publishing. This helped account for the fact that art––writing and illustrations––can be very subjective. So if two students feel a piece should be in, they cannot be shut down by one person who thinks “fantasy is a stupid genre” (actual quote during one active discourse).

The ownership of this magazine became obvious when despite my admonitions that we might not be ready to go live, the students overruled me by saying that there is never a wrong time to share art. They wanted us to go live the first day one piece was published. So now we have a rolling schedule for submissions and publications without any theme because students wanted to reduce any barriers.

Want to check out our magazine?

*The Components of Authentic Learning” by Audrey Rule, Journal of Authentic Learning Volume 3, Number 1, August 2006, Pp. 1-10.