When it was suggested to Grade 5 students at Lakeridge School that they publish a book of stories, their eyes lit up.
"We had started as just a regular writing assignment but then we came up with this idea 'Hey, let's put it into a book.' As soon as that idea was put into their heads their engagement level skyrocketed," said teacher Amy Heavin.
"They were more involved, they were more excited about what the end product would be. I think having that goal at the end changed the whole process and the whole idea of a writing assignment into an actual project."
The result of that excitement is Why the Coyote Yelps: Fifth Grade Pourquoi Tales, a compilation of stories that answer more than a dozen questions including why does the dolphin squeak and why is the beaver's tail dark and flat.
A pourquoi tale is a fictional narrative or legend that explains why something is the way it is. The assignment for students was to demonstrate their understanding of the elements of writing and traditional literature, but the end result was anything but traditional classroom learning.
Heavin said the biggest lesson for students was the importance of using a step-by-step approach to take a writing project from rough draft to a piece of published work.
"They learned the whole process of writing and they learned how to improve their writing by using the thesaurus and choosing those right words so they could make their writing better," she said. "They learned about doing a rough draft, making changes, revising it, editing it, and making another draft. I think some kids had three or four drafts before they actually had an end product. Knowing what the end product was (a published book) they did invest more time, more energy and they worked very hard at creating it."
The book was launched during a celebration on June 6 that saw the group of authors sign copies of their work for family and friends.
Student Nini Li said the writing process was challenging, but learning how to editing and polish their writing with the guidance of their teachers made it a fun experience.
"Usually when we have a writing assignment or something, just a few paragraphs, one rough draft is enough. But when we write a book we have stacks of drafts and you have to choose from the best one and then change that one up a little bit to make it the best," said Nini, who hopes those who read the book recognize the effort she and her classmates put into their work.
Logan Kok's favourite part of the project was creating the illustrations. He appreciated the chance to work together with his classmates.
"It was fun to do with your friends and bounce ideas off them. It was enjoyable to work with friends and talk with them and put all of their ideas into a book," he said.
Teacher-librarian Jennifer Berthelot says the opportunity to self-publish their work helped inspire the students. Being involved in the process of writing, illustration and design provided them with insight into how much work goes in to creating and publishing a book.
"They have all said they have learned something from this process. Even the strongest writers have learned something, but some who didn't really feel like they were writers have blossomed into writers," Berthelot said.
She hopes the book will give the students an opportunity to reflect on their work when they are older and provide them with a snapshot of their learning and experiences in Grade 5.
"I think they will enjoy looking back on their stories and see their growth and their evolution as somebody who reads and writes."
Like many first-time authors, the opportunity to hold a printed copy of her work and the knowledge that it is available for others to purchase and read created a mixture of emotions for Olivia Arnold.
"I am happy, but I'm nervous because I don't know if other people will like it and excited to know that I am already a published author," she said.
Heavin said the opportunity for students to take an in-depth approach to writing in Grade 5 provides a building block that will set them up for success as writers as they move toward high school.
"It's really important that they learn this process now, at this age. It's beneficial for when they get older and in those higher grades where there is more writing and more assignments, she said. "It improves their writing; I had kids whose spelling is better because of this whole process. They learned many different things that will help them in higher grades."
Heavin and Berthelot hope their experience and that of the students will encourage other classes to tackle similar projects. Their forward to the book outlines the learning goals and the steps involved in shepherding the process from start to finish.
The book was available during the launch event and can be purchased online at Amazon.ca.
Photos from the book launch event can be viewed in the photo gallery.