This eBook was created by second grade students at Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston, Massachusetts as part of a learning expedition (long-term interdisciplinary study) of snakes. The learning expedition included hands-on research with live snakes in the classroom, field research at Harvard University, support from professional herpetologists, and in-depth research in the classroom using non-fiction resources.
Initial research and work centered on a case study of the corn snake, and the class had a pet corn snake they observed daily. Through studying this snake in depth, the class learned research and reading strategies with common texts. After the case study was completed and students were equipped with individual skills in non-fiction reading, research and writing, each student was allowed to research a snake of their choice from around the world, using text resources gathered by CLCS teachers.
The format for the final product for this study was inspired by an audio eBook students read about Box Turtles, written by Susan Korman for the Smithsonian’s Backyard Series. Students followed the format of this book to create a realistic day-in-the-life of their snake as a non-fiction written narrative. Writing went through multiple drafts, with peer and teacher critique between drafts. Students also created accurate and beautiful scientific illustrations for their snake by analyzing models of snake drawings from students in previous years and working through multiple drafts with critique. Rubrics were created for small steps in the writing and drawing process to guide student self-evaluation and peer evaluation on small, discrete, concrete areas for improvement. The writing and drawing process lasted for weeks: the goal was quality, not speed.
When the writing and illustrations were complete, students practiced their speaking voices and worked in a recording studio to narrate their stories as an audio track. They also layered audio tracks of sound effects and classical music into the audio version of each story. The music was chosen by each student for his or her piece, drawn from a bank of musical pieces chosen by the school’s orchestra director; all music was performed by students in the school.
How This Project Can Be Useful
- Extraordinary quality of student writing and illustration can set a high bar for students in primary grades and even students in upper elementary and middle grades
- The format of an audio eBook, with writing, artwork, spoken narration and music, is a powerful format that can be used at any grade level
- The process behind the creation of this product is fully documented in a linked set of six videos, shot over many months, that can be found in the Resources Collection of the Center for Student Work
- The product, combined with the videos of the process of creation, highlight effective use of:
- Literacy strategies for non-fiction reading and writing
- Research structures for young students
- Critique lessons and descriptive feedback
- Multiple drafts of work with clear improvement among drafts
- Smart use of short, concrete rubrics for quality
- The power of a project of usual quality in student motivation