Teacher creates student publishing company

Published December 14, 2008 5:11 pm
Web site »Utah schools use site to encourage writing
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Principal Karen Thomson proudly shows off two gray, chest-high bookshelves near the center of Falcon Ridge Elementary School's library.

They're nearly empty now, but they won't be for long.

"This whole area will be filled by the end of the year," Thomson said. The shelves will hold books written and published by students with the help of a new business created by a Provo teacher: mightyauthors.com.

More than 200 Utah schools, including Falcon Ridge, now use the Web site, which allows students to create and then print out their own books either on loose paper for free or as soft- or hard-cover books for a fee, said Chris Wilcox, the company's founder.

Wilcox, a fifth-grade teacher at Provo's Lakeview Elementary School, said he decided to create the site after attending an online book publishing presentation a couple years ago. He saw the potential online book publishing had to motivate students, but the prices some companies quoted were too high for practical classroom use, he said.

Wilcox's idea was to create a site that could be used to help teach writing in the classroom.

"[Kids] want to see a finished product," Wilcox said.

Wilcox talked the idea over with his brother, Brad Wilcox, a literacy consultant, author and associate professor of teacher education at Brigham Young University, and the brothers agreed it was an idea worth trying. Wilcox decided to take a one-year leave from teaching and got his entire family, most of whom are also educators, involved in the site's creation.

The site launched in January, and it really started to take off this summer, Wilcox said.

"We just tried to create this so it could be a practical, useful thing," he said. "We're teachers at heart and we feel like it can motivate some good things."

Now, Wilcox is back in the classroom using the site to help his own students create books. For Halloween, his students wrote a class book called Eerie Epitaphs and they recently completed a mystery chapter book.

Teachers at schools across the state are following his lead.

Sandy Lloyd, a fifth-grade teacher at Crescent Elementary School in Sandy, started using the site with her class last school year. They authored a book called, No, But My Dad Does! The book is now in Lloyd's classroom library, and she said about a dozen of her students this year already have checked it out.

"When it's actually published and they see it in color, they take a lot of ownership of it," Lloyd said. "It gives them confidence to say, 'If I can do that, then I can do more.' "

Students at Willow Springs Elementary School in Draper used the site to make about 160 books for needy students in Peru this school year, principal Sharyle Karren said. Everyone in the school, from preschoolers to sixth-graders, wrote and illustrated the books. Parents then helped translate them into Spanish and students worked to raise money to publish them.

Karren brought the books to the Peruvian school last month. The school also got copies for its own library, and some parents are ordering their own copies.

"Being able to see your own product is a great experience," Karren said. "In order to publish you have to go through the complete writing process. A lot of thought goes into it."

Falcon Ridge students are also working toward filling their library -- in particular, those two bookshelves -- with self-penned books.

On a recent school day, teacher Joan McLaughlin's sixth-grade class worked on computers, each creating the illustrations and words for a page of the class' current project: a book about Christmas tree memories.

"They get so excited, and the more excited they are, the more effort they put into it," McLaughlin said.

Falcon Ridge sixth-grader Zac Wallace said he didn't like writing much before, but now he looks forward to it.

"It's cool," Wallace said as he designed his page. "When you make a book you can get it published and pass it around to other people so they can read it."

Sixth-grader Courtney Heaps said she's saving her baby-sitting money to buy a bound copy of a scary-story book she plans to write later this school year. She's eager to own a real book she wrote herself.

"I'll probably read it to my brother and sister," she said.

How mightyauthors.com works:

Mightyauthors.com is Web site through which people can self-publish books. Pictures can be scanned or imported to the Web site and text can be typed into the site or copied to it from word processors. Teachers can pay a one-time enrollment fee of $50 or schools can pay a one-time enrollment fee of $350 to give students, parents and teachers access to the site and educational prices, which are lower than those for the general public. For enrolled students, parents and teachers books range in price from $7.95 to $22.95 depending on the book's size, binding and cover. Teachers, students and parents, however, can also print out the books on loose paper pages for free.

Many teachers say they give the free printouts to students and leave it up to parents whether to buy the book in other forms.

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