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Teachers are just beginning to explore the potential of the World Wide Web for publishing student work. Many teachers are using it as a means to supplement or replace other forms of publication such as submissions to journals and anthologies or classroom-created books. The Web offers teachers and students several advantages over traditional means of publishing. Students and teachers can retain control of the format and content of the works they've created. The process of Web publication may also be quicker and less expensive than traditional publication. But most uniquely, the Web provides an immediate and real audience that has the ability to communicate feedback to young authors.
Literacy has long been a cornerstone of children's education. Within the last ten years educators have expanded their vision of literacy to move beyond basalized skill and drill approaches to the teaching of language. One of the main shifts has been in the conceptualization of children's writing. Many teachers now strive to have their students write on topics of importance to them and seek ways for students to have more authentic writing experiences. Key to this has been teachers' efforts to find audiences for students work, to give students the sense that their writing is not a canned exercise that goes no further than the teacher's desk. Educators have realized that publication of student work is crucial to students' development because it encourages writing for practical and important reasons.
Publishing is a natural extension of the writing process, it gives student work purpose and motivation beyond the exercise (Garner and Gillingham, in press; Routman, 1991). Publication also spurs students to critically examine the writing they do and to shape it to the needs of the audience that will be reading it (Calkins, 1991). The process of writing and revising is also closely linked to the development of reading skills because it provides the connection between students as readers and as writers (Routman, 1991). Enabling students to become authors also helps students see themselves as problem solvers who have a voice that can be effectively used in addressing problems that they identify (Calkins, 1991).
The push to publish initially involved displaying students' writing in the school and classroom (Calkins, 1991). This effort served as a beginning, which many educators realized needed to be expanded upon to involve real world audiences (Calkins, 1991). Subsequent publication efforts involved formal classroom publications and libraries of student work (Routman, 1991) and efforts to have students' work accepted for publication in magazines, journals, and anthologies (Bromley and Mannix, 1993). These avenues for publishing increase the motivating effect of publication because children become more engaged in their writing when they perceive the audience as genuine (Andrasick, 1993).
While these strategies do work to provide students with audiences for their work, some drawbacks remain. Classroom publication is intrinsically limited in the nature and scope of the type of audience it can provide. Submitting children's writing to national publications can involve rejection and long lags between submission and actual publication, leaving children impatient and diluting the positive effects gained by having a potential audience. At times, national publications are not easily available to students and students may have to choose between purchasing the publication and not seeing the fruits of their work.
Publication on the Web addresses some of these problems. Throughout the process, teachers and students have control over crucial decisions about the publication of their materials. With increased control over the process of publication, students can become further involved in the publication process itself, making decisions about formatting and layout of text and how and where to include graphics.
The whole process of Web publication is much faster than journal or anthology publication. Once server space has been obtained, publication of student works can proceed as quickly as students and teachers learn how to create HTML documents and up-load Web pages to their server space. The speed of the publication process is only limited by the Web-authoring capabilities of students and teachers. With browsers like Netscape, students and teachers can quickly and easily view their finished product. This quick publication cycle is especially useful in classroom situations, because it allows teachers and students to display and frequently update examples of the work that they are doing in class. Students also benefit from seeing the fruits of their labors displayed more quickly.
One of the primary benefits of Web publication is that it provides an immediate and real audience for students' work; it can be viewed by anyone on the planet with access to an Internet connection and a Web browser. The Web easily allows classrooms to target specific audiences that are best suited for students' work. Teachers and students can announce their projects to various electronic forums inviting forum members to visit their site and respond to their work. Students in an AP history class who have created essays on the Civil War can announce their Web publications to electronic forums that deal with history, the teaching of history, and the Civil War.
The audience that is available to students on the Web has an added benefit; audience members can easily respond to the work they read. When student work is published and announced on the Web, writers can easily receive feedback from a variety of Web users including academics, interested individuals, and other students working on similar projects. This connection to readers through electronic feedback provides an essential link in the creation of an authentic audience for student work. By soliciting and receiving electronic feedback on their publications, students come to know that their work is valued and really being read. Feedback, and the sense of audience it fosters, helps students write better and motivates them to write more often.
The Web is the most recent advance in the field of publication. Its technology has the possibility of becoming more far reaching than that of the printing press. As schools and other public institutions, such as libraries and universities, increase the amount of computer and Web technology that they hold for common use, more and more people will have the opportunity to publish their writing and other creations on the broad forum of the Web.
Adrasick, K. D. (1993). Classroom publication: Motivation for literacy. English Journal. 82(6), 10/93, 90-1.
Bromley, K. and D. Mannix. (1993). Beyond the classroom: Publishing student work in magazines. The Reading Teacher. 47(1), p. 72.
Calkins, L.M. (1991). Living Between the Lines. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.
Garner, R., & Gillingham, M.G. (in press). Internet communication in six classrooms: Conversations across time, space, and cuture. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Routman, R. (1991). Invitations: Changing as teachers and learners K-12. Toronto, Canada: Irwin Publishing.
- Nicole Ellefson
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