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Lifelong Learning

Project-based learning: Horizon East students write original picture books to share with elementary students

June 20, 2018

Groups of Moorhead elementary students listened closely as eighth-graders from Horizon Middle School East Campus read their original picture books and led the younger students in short lessons.

Project-based learning gave Horizon East students in the co-taught social studies and language arts classes instruction to address state standards, besides incorporating technology and the 4Cs of creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

Students began the project by researching broad topics related to global studies, such as cultural identity, human rights or a world history event.

“The students take that broad topic, and author a question they will use to direct their research,” said Karen Taylor, Horizon East language arts teacher. “After reading sources and taking notes, the students begin looking for story lines. They start thinking about the characters involved and what they experience, and ultimately they decide on the basics of a narrative they would like to write about in some detail. They also have to think about how to adjust their work for a younger audience.”

Students read some of their favorite picture books from earlier in their lives.

“We begin by reading some of those and asking students to analyze not just the story, but also what it is that makes the text and the pictures engaging,” Taylor said. “Using what they learn from that analysis lends meaning to their overall goal — the creation of a book that will engage a young reader or listener in the way a book engaged them in the past.”

After brainstorming the basic structure for a picture book, the students decided whether to continue developing the story alone or begin working with a partner.

“They muscle through the whole writing process from beginning (drafting/creating) to end with finished projects being published as paperback books,” Taylor said. “The day they arrive is always fun for us. The amazement on their faces when they see their printed books makes the project so rewarding for us.”

Taylor said the project covers nearly 20 benchmarks under the reading, writing, speaking, listening and conventions topics in the language arts standards.

“While this project involves all of the 4C’s, there is a definite focus on the areas of creativity and collaboration,” Taylor said. “In the area of creativity, students have to generate ideas, explore ideas to find an original story with interesting characters, adapt the story for their audience, go through extensive revision, and reflect on their work. Even if students work as individuals, they work collaboratively with classmates who provide them with feedback to help direct their work in the revision process.”

Students use their Chromebooks, which are part of Horizon’s one-to-one technology initiative, for writing and collaborating. The teachers are able to add feedback while the work is in process.

“Some students create illustrations entirely on computer, some are a mix of original illustrations and realistic backgrounds like photos, and others are completely hand-drawn, original illustrations,” Taylor said.

Getting to share their work with students from their former elementary schools, and at times in the very classrooms where they were students, brings the work full circle, Taylor said. The book tour makes the Horizon East students feel part of the larger school community.

“Students are so engaged in this project because it is authentic,” she said. “They know the books will be printed. They know they will be shared with an audience beyond the classroom. It pushes them to do their best work.”

Photos: During their book tour this spring, Horizon East eighth-grade students share their original picture books and short follow-up lessons with students at Robert Asp Elementary School and S.G. Reinertsen Elementary School.

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