Allowing opportunities for student choice and flexibility is at the forefront of my teaching philosophy for middle school learners. I have had the privilege of teaching two Grade 8 students for consecutive school years and I wanted to give them an opportunity to showcase their strengths and explore their passions- one an exceptional writer and one a captivating artist.
Being a Certified Google Trainer my students have become fluent and proficient in the core applications of Google Apps for Education. I knew that Google Slides would be the perfect platform for these two talented students to produce their very own children’s book. I selected these two students in particular because I wanted to challenge and push their abilities beyond that of the regular curriculum; it was time to offer them a project that would light their fire and ignite a new found enthusiasm for learning. I approached the two Grade 8 students with this project idea, influenced by my publishing experience with yearbooks, and they were immediately taken with the idea and concept. I discussed with the students an open criteria framework, offered a few Google tips to get started, and I let these two independent students set sail on their three-month collaborative journey together.
Lauren and Khushboo started brainstorming topics for their book in a shared Google Doc. They developed a list of potential storylines and then slowly narrowed down the ideas to their concept of an empathetic bullying tale. Next came the character design and project name “Strong at Heart”, and slowly the story began to unfold and build in complexity. Once the concept and protagonist were established Khushboo immediately let the words flow and ended up with a twenty-two page single spaced Google Doc.
Simultaneously, Lauren was using iPad App “Paper 53” to develop the words into brilliant and original illustrations. Being a struggling reader, this project turned into a great strategy for improving comprehension and sight words. It encouraged Lauren to continuously read the shared Google Doc material and transform the information into her own unique vision. The illustrations were built in layers, using the various style tools in the Paper 53 App, and carefully shaded and embellished to formulate breathtaking supporting images. The mind-blowing images were then exported as .jpeg’s and imported into Google Slides.
The School Community
As the children’s book project began to grow we started to bring in individuals from our school community to assist with the collaborative aspects of the project. Through the sharing capabilities of Google, we added in both our retired and current Learning Commons teacher. Our retired Learning Commons teacher offered ongoing revision suggestions and feedback from afar, and our current Learning Commons teacher offered a supportive and encouraging environment in which to work with one another. Our principal was also informed of the project and was instantly supportive of the personalized learning opportunity. The funding was generously provided by our school administrative team and the school yearbook.
When reflecting with the two girls on the project, the biggest takeaways became the following:
1. Perseverance. The editing, revising, and formatting of a children’s book is more work than writing and illustrating the book itself. When the story is completed for the first time, it is just the beginning of a new journey of refining, tweaking, and redesign.
2. Patience. The students had to take the time to listen to each other and support the ideas of each other. They didn’t always agree on font style, character name, or plot twist, but they would eventually come to a compromise and smooth out the challenges.
3. Possibility. The girls never imagined that they could be a part of such a life-changing and memorable experience. I will never forget the look on their faces when I took them to pick up the copies of their children’s book at our local book publisher- it was a look of complete and utter amazement- their book was now officially catalogued in Canada! Their sense of pride and accomplishment on this project will definitely carry momentum into future endeavors.
1. Ensure that writing and all revisions are fully completed in Google Docs before transferring over to Google Slides. The girls got excited to start compiling their book and transferred the writing over into Google Slide text boxes before the story was completely polished. This made it more difficult to collaboratively edit as Google Slides can insert comments, but not in specific character places like Google Docs.
2. Ensure that students leave a good ¾ to 1” margin around the edges of their Google Slides. This will guarantee that no text or image is cut off when the book is printed at the publishers. I would recommend creating/inserting a workspace border (even just a 1-pixel transparent rectangle) using a Google Slide master template or simply by just copying and pasting.
3. Encourage students to maximize the custom settings in Google Slides- for this particular book the students decided on a 10” by 10” layout (File>Page Setup>Custom>10” x 10”)
Certified Google Trainer
Middle School Teacher & Technology Support
Saanich School District 63