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Project-based learning makes second-graders real authors

‘The whole world is going to be reading this’

Rockford — Second-grader Piper Dense is visiting her local library with her dad on a Tuesday evening, but instead of heading to the busy children’s section, she grabs a book from a shelf in the building’s foyer. Then she leads her dad, Ross Dense, to a quiet spot where together they read the book — her book — for the first time.

The book is called “Double Trouble: The Crazy Sleepover,” and it’s part of a three-book series that Piper wrote with two other students in Jaci Jackson’s second-grade classroom at Crestwood Elementary. 

One of her group mates, second-grader Marlo Schoem, is there too, sitting with her mom, reading her contribution to the “Double Trouble” series. (Their third group member was not able to be featured for family privacy reasons.)

Piper and Marlo worked on their books for months during their English language arts classes, and showing their work at the Kent District Library’s Plainfield Township branch is the culmination of months of planning, plotting, writing and designing.

Second-grader Piper Dense reads her published book to her dad, Ross, at the KDL Plainfield Branch

New Tools for Creative Expression

Piper’s dad says she is very creative at home and spends time improving her drawing skills by watching YouTube tutorials. Now, thanks to her writing project in Jackson’s classroom, Piper has a new medium through which to express her creativity. 

“She’s a great storyteller; I always knew that,” said Dense about his daughter. 

Piper and Marlo also had the opportunity to learn a new skill as part of their book publishing project: graphic design. Using a kid-friendly design app called Pixton on their laptops, students used pixels instead of pens to illustrate their chapter books. Then they took their digital art and placed it into a Google slides document, where they typed their story and prepared their books for publishing.

Project-based Learning

Jackson and her team of second-grade teachers piloted the young authors project in winter 2020 after they attended a project-based learning institute in 2019. But because of the pandemic, the students’ books never got the full exposure they had hoped for.

The idea that their books are being published and might be read by library-goers creates a higher level of engagement from the students, said Sharayah Gariepy, a second-grade teacher at Crestwood Elementary for 11 years. 

“Their attention to detail is so much higher now because they really feel like they’re published authors, like, the whole world is going to be reading this book,” she said. 

Students had the chance to develop other skills during the young author project. Jackson said that while the students start using Chromebooks in the fall of second grade, the young authors project became the perfect opportunity to put their beginner typing skills to the test. 

‘Their attention to detail is so much higher now because they really feel like they’re published authors, like, the whole world is going to be reading this book.’

— Sharayah Gariepy

Piper and Marlo also had the chance to learn what it’s like to be an editor as they worked together to provide feedback on ideas and proofread each others’ books.

“The idea that they’re now the editor for other students, they take that role so much more seriously,” Jackson said. 

Piper Dense, left and classmate Marlo Schoem, right provide feedback on each other’s stories as they go through the development and publishing process

Perhaps the greatest skill Piper learned was the ability to collaborate with classmates to create a book series with the same theme and characters. 

“They both go to the sleepover and they have twice the trouble of something,” Piper explained. “Like in Marlo’s book, we were playing hide and seek in the dark and then I got lost … and they couldn’t find me.”

As Piper and Marlo finish out their second-grade year, they won’t forget the opportunity they had to become published authors — or their beloved teacher, Ms. Jackson, either. In her book’s dedication, Piper chose to honor Jackson and her other teachers at Crestwood, along with another special someone. 

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Allison Poosawtsee
Allison Poosawtsee
Allison Poosawtsee is a reporter covering Rockford Public Schools and Kent City Community Schools. She has spent 15+ years working and writing in the education context, first for her alma mater, Calvin University, and then for various businesses and nonprofit organizations in the Grand Rapids area. As a student journalist, she served as editor-in-chief of Calvin’s student newspaper where she garnered several Michigan Collegiate Press Association awards for her work. Allison is a proud parent of two Grand Rapids Public Schools scholars and a passionate advocate for the value of public education.

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