Learning by doing: Berryville teacher turns students into authors
When Berryville Middle School seventh-graders leave Candy Phillips' English classroom at the end of the school year, they won't just be eighth-graders. They'll be authors.
Last year, Phillips began a project allowing students to write and design a page in a book she purchased for the class. She chose a topic and the students chose what they wanted to research related to that topic. The first topic, she said, was inventions.
Phillips got the idea after reading a book about various inventions.
"It was just a book of several inventions with illustrations, and I thought, 'We could do that as a class,' " she said.
She explained that the activity is multifaceted, as it allows students to research and illustrate while teaching them how to cite and edit work.
"It's more than just one lesson. It's our entire research unit," she said.
The students do various types of research, from reading old copies of the Carroll County Historical Magazine to personally interviewing people. After they research the topic, Phillips said, the students write a four-page research paper and choose which excerpt from the paper to include on their page.
Once they type up the article, they create artwork or take photos for their page. Phillips said this part of the book is especially important because it teaches students about plagiarism.
"They get illustrations or pictures that aren't copyrighted they can use to illustrate their article," she said. "It motivates them because the book is very professional and it's got illustrations done by them or photographs taken by them."
Phillips helps the students edit their work until the final draft, when students personally type text onto their page and add illustrations. After that, her advanced English class edits the entries and adds citations.
"It's important that the advanced class realizes that publications need to be perfect. They really take the reins on editing more than I do," she said.
Though the students do learn about writing and editing a publication, Phillips said she is most proud of the way the project creates community involvement.
"Getting the community involved is a big part of it. The other teachers, the students, the parents - I've got parents taking pictures and helping relatives get interviewed," she said. "It's getting people involved in student education. It's getting everybody to try to work on it and make it important to the kids."
After seeing the success of the project, Phillips applied to present it at the National Council of Teachers of English. About 2,000 proposals were entered in the contest, and Phillips was chosen among a couple hundred teachers to present. She presented at the conference Nov. 19.
"It was quite an honor to get my name in the program," Phillips said. "It really didn't seem real until I got the program in the mail and I said, 'Yeah, that's me.' "
At the conference, she presented a poster displaying information about the project as well as the book itself. She said that she hoped other English teachers might look at the project and adapt it to their classrooms.
Her seventh graders are currently working on this year's book. The topic -- historical sites in Carroll County -- is more personal to the students than last year's topic.
"There are a lot of personal connections to the places. Maybe they are from there or maybe they've been there or maybe their grandparents have personal connections to the places," Phillips said.
Seventh-grader Jacey Howerton said she is enjoying the project because of these personal connections. She is writing about Metalton, a historic town located about 11 miles south of Berryville.
"Metalton is where some of my family roots are, so that makes it even more interesting for me," Howerton said.
She added that she can see how important the project is to Phillips, saying, "Ms. Phillips has a strong passion about this project because she wants us to not only learn about where we are from but to help us be more knowledgeable citizens as we grow up."
The idea for the topic came from Elementary School Principal Kelley Swofford, with whom Phillips taught years ago. She immediately latched onto the idea, saying, "There's a lot of importance to rural sites and a lot of it is rapidly disappearing. If we don't put that in front of kids, who's going to care?"
Middle School Principal David Gilmore praised the project for helping students understand their roots.
"We talked about researching some Carroll County history, which is something we've tried to do for quite some time here, and I was very proud that she took that avenue," he said.
Gilmore noted that he worked with Phillips as a teacher before being promoted to the administration.
"Now that I'm an administrator, I'm very happy to have her on my staff," he said.
Phillips added that the students did have personal connections through the inventions book; one student, she said, wrote about a stent after her mother had a stent put in.
Overall, Phillips is just happy to see students energetic about research and writing.
"There's really some hard-working kids that get excited about learning, and I think that's what it's all about," she said.