Monthly Archives: August 2010

Some Other Place

I met some of my yearbook staff at Barnes & Noble today (a Sunday–they’re willing to do this sort of thing).  We looked at magazines for design ideas, and it really helped us get an idea of what they want their book to look like.

We got more done in three hours at a Barnes & Noble than we could ever manage in an entire week at school.  Towards the end, one of them said, “We should do this more often.”  I’m excited they’re so passionate, but part of me thought, “well, we’re supposed to be doing this every day–in class.  That’s what my classroom’s for.”

I’ve got this classroom with plenty of desks and computers.  It’s a useful room, in theory.  But it’s school, and school sucks.  It’s nice to get some work done at some place that doesn’t suck.  I used to be puzzled by the people who held a meeting at Starbucks or Atlanta Bread Company.  Now I get it.  It’s some other place–not that hell hole that you’re forced to go to every day.

My yearbook staff’s one thing.  If we need a day away from the classroom, we can do that on a weekend or an evening.  My freshmen, who hate writing, who look at books like they’re a plate of liver, don’t have much of a choice.  I couldn’t take them to Barnes & Noble 32 at a time even if I wanted.  So here’s the challenge, gentle reader: how do I make the classroom feel like Barnes & Noble or Starbucks?  How do I give my classroom that “At least I’m not at that other place” kind of feeling?

Making It Harder

We’ve organized the yearbook staff differently this year.  Last year, a staff member would be assigned a page, and all aspects of that page–photography, reporting, copy, layout, etc.–were the responsibility of that kid.  A section editor made revisions, then the head editor and I checked them over before submitting to the plant.

We made a yearbook, but it wasn’t the best way to structure the class.  It required all students to know every aspect of production.  Every student had to be a great reporter, photographer, graphic designer, etc. This is fine goal for a beginner’s Journalism course (which I’m teaching this year), but it’s not how you’d operate a business, and the yearbook is most certainly a business.  It resulted in mediocre skills in everything instead of superior skills in just one or two things.  Again, it’s no way to run a business.  It’s like asking your construction workers to each build a house (frame, plumbing, electricity, everything) by themselves.

So we’ve structured the process by skill set this year.  My experienced staffers have jobs like copy editor, photo editor, and layout editor.  They’ll oversee every page of the yearbook, communicating all the way with the rest of the staff–the reporters–on what the pages need.  This lets my best writer have a look at every piece of copy in the book without requiring her to take a single crappy picture.  I teach one girl the elements of good design, and she’ll execute it on every page.  I even have a business manager this year whose grade is based solely on how many books and ads she sells.

This system allows each kid to be great at one thing.  That’s how a workplace operates.  I’ll have to be careful to make sure everyone still understands how crucial they are to the workflow.  It requires everyone working as hard as they can on their speciality, all with the final goal in mind.  Communication will be a priority (and if students need anything, it’s the skill of communicating), and I’ll have to hold them accountable every week for producing quality work instead of waiting on a final deadline for assessment.  The advantage is that my editors will have way more photos/quotes/stories to make each spread great.

Grading’s going to be a nightmare.  I’m writing up the goals/requirements of each role, and I can refine those as the year passes and use them next year.  It’s for the best, though.  Our school has a great career-tech department (auto, cosmetology, food services, marketing), but none of those classes resemble a real workplace like Yearbook, and this setup makes my class even more like having a real job.