Students write book about Syrian refugee

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Students in teacher Nick Stabler’s Grade 5 class at Muriel Clayton Middle School last year had a special assignment – write a book and self-publish it. Stabler and five of those students presented information about what that assignment taught them to the Board of Trustees of Rocky View Schools (RVS) Oct. 5.

The book, entitled One Way There, No Way Back, is about a Syrian refugee who comes to Canada with the help of a Canadian soldier, eventually re-uniting with the rest of his family.

“It took us about five months to do. We started the day we got back from February break and we finished basically on the last day of school,” Stabler said.

“They did this project almost entirely on their own. I acted as sort of editor…and that was about it. This was all their doing with a little bit of jingling in the background.”

According to student Josh Erickson, the students took part in a program called the Writers’ Workshop.

“We learned many styles of writing. The workshop format taught us not only what to do but, more importantly, how to do it. When it came time to learn to write a book, we used a movie as inspiration to learn about the hero setting and characterization,” he said.

The students also learned how to edit their own work and created five to 10 drafts before completing the 100-page novel. They used software to layout the book pages and said they learned a lot about design in the process.

Each student in the class created a one-of-a-kind handbound book before sending it off to be commercially printed.

Trustee Sylvia Eggerer asked Stabler what prompted him to have the kids write and publish their own book.

“What these guys told me last year…is that in past years with writing instruction, they’d sort of been told what to do – put a sentence starter or put a better opener, something like that. And now it’s more we’re showing them what to do,” Stabler said.

“In the Writers’ Workshop, each lesson is about 10 minutes long, and in that the teacher does a little modeling, a little bit of explanation of the strategy. Then we brainstorm as a class…and work together and collaborate. That’s been really wonderful.”

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