Student newsletter at Farmington River Elementary School transformed into literary journal

Sunday February 3, 2013

SHEFFIELD -- Laptop keys still busily clatter on most Thursdays in the Dragontales newsroom, but an editorial overhaul at the publication produced by Farmington River Elementary School students has the staff typing a different style of story.

During a recent after-school meeting in the library, fourth-graders Cole Margraf is contemplating a thrilling first-person account about his "epic weekend" sledding with his older brother, Joey Beardsley is planning an in-depth feature on Groundhog Day, and after writing a feature on apple picking, Jessica Kopiec was still mulling over what would be her next article.

Over the last two editions, editor June Meyers, a reading instructor, has led a transformation of Dragontales, which reflects the newly adopted statewide education curriculum Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Meyers said the student publication, which is produced three times a year, now more closely resembles a "literary journal" rather than a newsletter.

The Common Core was implemented in statewide classrooms this year and the emphasis is on teaching children the skills they will need in college and upon entering the workforce.

"[The changes are] more about adding length, more thoughtful articles and articles that are more supported by facts," Meyers said.

According to fifth-grade teacher Chris Keller, his class is focused on, "writing that is still creative but done in an organized, valid and well thought out way. We are asking kids to really get in the shoes of the audience and write to the audience, and to write critically while also focusing on narrative and personal flair."

In other words, the type of writing done in a literary journal instead of news writing.

The original newsletter had included short column-style articles about school events, but now the students are producing longer articles with an emphasis on narrative writing and a thorough editing process, Meyers said.

Two years ago, Meyers revived the publication -- which has started and ceased publication mulitple times. There are students from third through sixth grade on the staff.

The last edition incorporated first-hand stories about student vacations, and included a debate forum (there was a pro-con section about whether elementary students should be allowed to use Facebook).

Before digging deep into research for his article on Groundhog Day, Joey Beardsley, 10, said he will focus on his "thesis."

He will start the process by writing the thesis and then choose three valid arguments he'll develop through research. Then he will back his arguments up with additional facts from research.

Similar to the other staff members, he enjoys writing -- even if it's on his free time -- and enjoys being around friends.

"I am going to work on the thesis right now," Beardsley said. "I won't have to do my research yet. But when I get my three ideas [that back up the thesis] I'll have to do more research."

Fourth-grader Cole Margraf, 9, who joined the staff in January, said his fourth-grade teacher has helped prepare him for the newsroom. There's an emphasis in the classroom on flashier writing that includes similes, alliteration, metaphors, hyperbole, and onomatopoeia.

"My stories were plain and then they would become juicer and juicer and juicer and more concise and more concise and more concise," Margraf said.

To reach John Sakata:
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