Kids Are Authors Program Connects with Common Core Standards

Implementing the new Common Core State Standards is challenging enough, but implementing them in a fun, practical way adds an additional challenge – one met by both winners of the 2012 Scholastic Book Fairs Kids Are Authors awards.

“This program has everything that you need, and you can write your whole language arts program around it for a year,” says educational consultant Barbara Masley.

The fourth-grade gifted class at Piney Grove Elementary School in Kernersville, N.C., won the nonfiction prize for A Kid for Jack: A True Story. The fiction prize went to the third-graders of William McKinley Elementary School in Burbank, Calif., for Two Dollars, One Wallet.

Piney Grove teacher Karen Davis, who directed her class submission, says the project drove her gifted students to go “deeper into the writing process by giving every child a job – whether as an editor, writer, designer, or illustrator. It was a great learning experience for them,” she says.

Upon learning of the KAA program, Karen solicited storyboards from every student. Once the best fiction and nonfiction stories were chosen, she divided her class into halves, half working on the fiction title and half working on the nonfiction title. The winning nonfiction title was based upon one student’s experience with adopting a dog from a New Leash on Life Program run by prison inmates.

Throughout the process, Karen was able to hone in on specific skills. She presented mini-lessons on dialogue, worked with students on appropriate vocabulary, focused on paragraph development, referred students to reference books such as a thesaurus, and emphasized the importance of illustrations – using author Patricia Polacco’s work as an example – in communicating the story.

Collaboration, though not always easy, was an essential ingredient in her students’ success. “They worked as a team. Sometimes they didn’t get along. Sometimes they did. But they had to come to agreement on things,” Karen shares.

The skills they worked to develop were put into a context, she says, making them relevant. “I think kids need a purpose for writing, and then it comes alive for them,” she observes.

Principal Bobbie Kavanaugh of William McKinley Elementary also spoke of the rigor and relevance that the KAA program brought to her school’s English Language Arts instruction. “This is a perfect example of students reaching to the depth of what writing is all about,” she says.

Two Dollars, One Wallet follows the merging paths of a dollar bill and a dollar coin from their inception at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The third-graders gave each dollar its own voice and placed each in the pocket of a school janitor named Mr. Juan Carlos – a character based on their own school’s beloved custodian.

“They had to use language that was appropriate for the encounters these two dollars had. They had to understand verb tenses when they were passing back and forth between the lives of the dollars. They didn’t have grammar books there telling them, ‘Okay, we have to do this.’ They were simply learning without realizing they were learning,” Bobbie says.

“The Common Core Standards are stressing the importance of students' depth of knowledge in all subject areas,” she continues. “The writing of this story gave our students a firsthand opportunity to understand that delving into a topic makes it more personal. That personalization brings the history alive for the children and makes it easier for them to make additional historical connections.”

Parent Shari Wendt brought the program to Bobbie’s attention and then coordinated the project with her daughter’s class. “For us, the luckiest part was having a parent who was willing to work with the kids and provide guidance that they needed to stay on track,” Bobbie shares. “Kids’ creativity can take them down roads that aren’t always connected with what they’re working on. For instance, with a math problem, you have to pick out the important pieces of a problem and those that don’t quite fit.”

Barbara has latched on to the many ways KAA fulfills Common Core requirements. Barbara has served as an elementary teacher, curriculum specialist, staff developer, and elementary principal in Massachusetts over her 42-year career in education.

“Through Kids Are Authors, students learn to write a narrative, organize a sequence of events, introduce characters, use dialogue, show a character’s responses to various situations, and provide a conclusion that follows a narrative,” she observes.

Take Advantage of the Program’s Common Core Values

Barbara offers tips for how educators can take advantage of the program’s Common Core values:
  • Begin by selecting a project coordinator – perhaps a teacher, media specialist, parent, or teacher’s assistant – who can work closely with students to see the project through to completion.
  • Read both fiction and nonfiction picture books as a class.
  • Discuss the components of each story: the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution.
  • Study the illustrations. How do they augment the story? What media are used?
  • Develop mini-lessons on grammar, punctuation, diction, and syntax.
  • Ask your students to brainstorm either a fiction or nonfiction story idea.
  • Remind them that many authors – including Karen Davis’ favorite, Patricia Polacco – write about what they know.
  • Coordinate illustrations with the text.
“Watching that collaboration and cooperation among children is an extraordinary happening,” Barbara says. “It’s not only cognition that grows but also the socially affective aspect that makes such a big difference in how they work with one another.”

To learn more or to register your students for the Kids Are Authors program – which awards $5,000 in merchandise from the Scholastic Book Fairs School Resource Catalog and 100 copies of their published book to each of the two winners – click here.
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