Students finish children’s book assignment

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“This assignment intensifies like no other schoolwork at deadline time.”

Writing students are working in my classroom afterschool and having this discussion. Our children’s book assignment begins in March when writing students are gifted with a first-grader. The project begins and ends with laughter and delight, but those final days building to deadline are crunch time—90-degree band camp and football two-a-days all wound together bringing angst and exhaustion.

The other students refuse to take their eyes off their work. The drawing and coloring continues, but a few join the conversation—briefly.

“Yeah, with other projects, you could lose points for missing the deadline, but when I’m ready to give up on this book, that adorable little kid is grinning back at me when I look up!”

I admit to using this technique. When I introduce the project to our partnering first-graders, I take their pictures. My students see photos of their audience. They check hair color and eye color as they work—of their first-grader and friends who are in storylines. Beyond the practical uses, having the audience oversee the authors is effective.

A student on the other side of the room is trying too hard to be quiet. Noticing this discomfort, I speak.

“Hey, I need some quiet to work and I’m not along.” The student exhales and we all work quietly.

Because this project began in 2005, I know the annual ending. Including this year, we’ve delivered books to each member of our partnering class for 14 years. My students will beg me to change the delivery date. They’ll complain that they didn’t have enough time. No matter how much time they’ve had, most will wait until the last minute because teenagers see time differently.

I structure checkpoints so that they finish, but they struggle. Finally, these writers are overjoyed that their work brings delight to their audience. I will insist that meeting their deadline allowed them to bring joy. I’ll insist that meeting deadlines brings opportunity.

They will still be teenagers—turning in final memoirs at the last minute. My optimism holds fast.