–By Elisia Brodeur–

During one of their Professional Learning Team meetings, our PreK 4 teachers—Ms. Kyleigh and Ms. Callie—were discussing student goals with Dr. Tenille, the ES Reading Specialist. Dr. Tenille saw a connection between the team’s inquiry-based lessons and Ms. Robin’s approach to teaching art, so she proposed the idea of them collaborating on an integrated art and ELA (English Language Arts) project. 

The teachers decided to make a class book and planned the project together, mapping out each step. Both classes then followed the same process to create their class books. Ms. Robin talked to the PreK 4 children about the different features of a book, such as the cover and the title page, and helped with the illustrations while the PreK 4 teachers focused on the words, settings, and plot for their stories. 

They began by determining which authors and books the children are most interested in. The classes had done an author study of Mo Willems and decided they wanted to create their books in a similar style, featuring Willems’ signature speech/thought bubbles. The children had also been exploring different places around campus, which tied into the concept of setting. Each class then made storyboards of books they already knew and used that same process to create the outline of their class story. 

First, the children had to decide who their main character would be, and then they brainstormed ideas about what their character would look like. Ms. Robin worked with the children on the visual creation of the characters, which they made with brass fasteners so they could move the characters throughout their stories. Next, they talked about what the backgrounds of their stories would look like and what materials they could use.

In the story that Ms. Kyleigh’s class created, the main character, Jonny, finds a magic marker and whatever he draws becomes reality. So the students used markers to draw their backgrounds. Then they started putting Jonny on the different pages they drew and took photos.

For their backgrounds, Ms. Callie’s class created a 3D spooky farm and used Legos to build a Legoland. Then they took photos of their hand-drawn characters—Mr. Bear, a vampire dog, and aliens—on their different backgrounds.

As a whole group, the classes then reviewed their work and added more details, as well as dialogue in speech bubbles. Ms. Robin collected the final pictures and words, then Ms. Kyleigh and Ms. Callie had the books printed, laminated, and bound.

Making a class book is not a new concept for PreK students, but the difference here was that it was a truly collaborative process and was structured more like an investigation, so it was developmentally appropriate for each child in the room, no matter where they are in their learning. The teachers are aiming to empower them rather than telling them what to do. The children also have a sense of ownership because the books contain their words and their artwork. By using the children’s voice, they build autonomy and begin to see themselves as competent creators. 

According to Dr. Tenille, this project was essentially a text analysis at the PreK level. The children also learned about the structure of a book and analyzed text features, reflected on their experience as illustrators and authors, and developed their general phonemic awareness. They also made text-to-text and text-to-the world connections, as evidenced by the fact that they have started using speech bubbles in their other work and writing activities. 

Beyond that, this project also ties into their social-emotional development. The children are now making books in class to help them process their emotions and real-life issues and situations that happen in the classroom. They’re also reading books that are technically above-level. But the ultimate result is that their confidence has grown and they now consider themselves as both readers and writers.