January 24, 2024
Rutherford County Schools
What project will grab the attention of gifted students?
It has to be innovative. It has to be intense. It has to be creative, and it has to be collaborative. Writing and illustrating a narrative checks all the boxes. And what better way to collaborate than to ask younger students to help?
Susan Townsend, gifted facilitator at Whitworth-Buchanan Middle, contacted Virginia Mason, a fifth-grade English/Language Arts teacher at Buchanan Elementary, and they partnered with Studentreasures Publishing group to combine the writing and illustrating talents of their students in a shared narrative project.
Townsend’s sixth- and seventh-grade gifted students used a plot triangle on poster paper and crafted a story line with believable characters and actions in a fall-themed narrative. The seventh graders titled their story, “‘Fall’ing Together,” while sixth-grade group chose the title of “Carter and the Corn Catastrophe.” They researched how to “chunk” a story and balanced the number of pages with text versus illustration. Groups also had to determine how many words and pages could be dedicated to each section of a story.
Students worked together in small and large groups, writing as a collective narrator and as individual characters. They determined a moral of the story and used what they knew about well-written stories during the editing and revision process. Though it was a challenge, they kept their audience in mind at all times.
During the project, WBMS students developed time management, executive functioning, and leadership skills. The middle schoolers were excited to share their skills and efforts with Mason’s fifth-graders, who served as illustrators.
Mason said her 70 students were “more than thrilled” to participate.
“We knew our immediate goals as illustrators were to expand and compliment the texts. We continuously reminded ourselves that these stories were the results of hard work by our partner authors, and we had been given the amazing task of providing visual representation of the plots, characters, and settings,” she said.
The illustration process involved brainstorming, creating rough drafts and choosing colors, all while keeping the pages cohesive and working within a dedicated timeline.
“Our greatest lessons learned were about the importance of teamwork: making sure everyone had a role, being respectful of others' ideas, and communicating effectively. We had a blast, and we're so grateful to our WBMS partners for including us in this project,” Mason said.
Both books have been selected as semifinalists in the National Book Challenge, sponsored by Studentreasures Publishing, Townsend said. Up to $5,000 in grants could be awarded if both books are chosen as winners.