Monday, February 27, 2012

Communication - more on the newsletter

I guess people really do read these posts - I got a lot of complaints from people who don't want to wait to hear more about the newsletter!  :-)

Actually, I will say I was fairly excited myself, when I thought of it. I woke up early on Sunday morning with the thought in my head, and I couldn't get back to sleep. I held out until, oh, at least 9am before waking up my boyfriend to tell him all about it!

As I see it, there are three things to think about: What do you want the children to get out of it? What process will do that for the children and also deliver a finished newsletter? And, what do you need from the school to make it all work?

From the children's point of view, I want them to have a fun experience doing something "cool," partly on their own and partly as part of a team. Educationally, I want them to use the skills they have learned in school (reading, writing, researching, planning) while their focus is on something else, because this is how learned skills become automatic skills. They may even learn some new skills, like how to structure an interview and organize a project. I also want them to develop greater autonomy through working on their own, improve their team skills through working together, and to develop the skill of switching between solo and team work as well!

How will it work? Well, you have to understand that I haven't done this with children this age before, so the answer is, partly, "I guess I'll find out!" :-)   But, I do have a plan.

I am thinking of recruiting 15 students in total, 10 from J4 (age 10) and 5 from J3 (age 9). I plan to minimize the burden on their teachers, but I will need them to help identify the children who will participate. In our school we have an existing process for things not unlike this (for example, there is a Junior Student Council that involves the junior school in events such as Food Harvest), so I will use that process. First, I will ask the teachers to let me come in and describe the newsletter to the class. Then, the teachers will see if anyone is interested. I can take up to 2 per classroom in J4, and 1 per classroom in J3. If we have more applicants than that, the teachers will hold a class vote for who will join us, and we will keep the others' names in case anyone drops out.

I will ask the older (J4) children to act as the team reporters, with each having a "column" to write (actually more like several paragraphs) and the younger (J3) children to act as the photographers for the stories. We will meet for half an hour, one morning a week, before school, in my classroom to discuss our projects and progress, and next steps. Then, one afternoon a month we will meet for an hour so the children can type up their columns on school computers. At first, I will do the editing and formatting, but I hope that by later rounds I may be able to involve the children in that. My goal is to produce one newsletter every 2 months.

So, what will the columns be about? I expect that we will have one on what's happening in each grade (e.g., a field trip) from the children's point of view; a language column (e.g., an overview of the Oxford Reading Tree reading system, by the children); math (e.g., what they think of the Investigations); humanities (e.g., UN Day); two profiles of members of the staff/administration; and 2 guest book reviews by non-regular contributors (could be from younger children, too).

I realize that the up-to-date thing to do would be a blog (like this!) but I'm going to try it as a physical newsletter first. I think that it would be nice for the children to have their work distributed around the Junior School in physical form, so they can see it and see others reading it. I hope that will be a big part of the fun; but if blogging seems to connect better for them, we can do that! The physical newsletter would have 4 pages, printed double-sided on 2 sheets of paper. With 10 columns, plus 2 book reviews, we have 12 columns total, or 3 columns per page on average.

Oh - a very important factor in getting buy-in to this: I will be volunteering my own time! Why? Because I think it will be cool for the kids, and I think it will be a lot of fun for me!

For now I plan to start next term!

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Most schools are very active communicators. They send regular communication out to the parents, letting them know what's going on in the school through newsletters, classroom blogs and emails. Of course, they also communicate regularly with the teachers and staff - and that's still adult-to-adult communications. In addition, the older grades have newspapers and blogs done by the students.

It's much less common, though, for the students in the Junior Schools to produce newsletters or blogs. On the other hand, producing a newsletter would be a fun way for the Junior School students to practice the skills they are learning, outside the classroom environment, without worrying about whether it will be graded. That got me thinking: what would it take to enable the elementary school children to do their own newsletter? After all, we were able to do a book club for six-year-olds, and that worked very well - it's not just for adults!

So, I am working to design a program for a newsletter prepared by 9-and-10-year-olds.

If it is a success I will let you know how it works. If it is not, we need not speak of it again :-).