Photo by: Corinne McErlain
Breathing new life into the yearbook spring supplement
Written by Scott Chelli
As I head into my 23rd year in education – my fifth as middle school yearbook teacher, I feel more confident than ever in my abilities. Of course, being a somewhat obsessive reflective educator, that road of reflection brings me back to those items I feel need improvement. That reflective little devil on my shoulder (Or is it an angel?) constantly nags at me, “Yeah, it’s good, but how it can be even better?” One “it” that still stumps me about wrapping up the yearbook each year is the infamous spring supplement.
I know many yearbook teachers have a love/hate relationship with the spring supplement. On one hand, it is an exclamation mark on the end of a productive and creative year of storytelling – a curtain call to a stellar performance. On the other, it is a struggle to get tired kids motivated to cover yet one more game, to gather photos of spring sports and performances that match the quality and enthusiasm of those taken months before when engagement was high.
At the middle school level, this struggle is real. So real. In my district, middle school yearbook is a course with no pre-requisites, and most of the staff changes each quarter. That is right. Each quarter. That, in itself, presents challenges, but I have learned to work around those. However, I am always challenged the most with my quarter four classes. By the time those students arrive, the yearbook has been put to bed, pre-sales are complete, and the handful of staff that does return is worn out. So is their teacher, but that is another story! The challenge, should I choose to accept it, and I do because I like to get paid, is to create excitement and engagement for something that the students see as a null and void proposition. To them, the supplement is an afterthought, a series of copies or a flier that is briefly perused, then discarded. In essence, in the eyes of a middle school (or I suspect even high school) staff member, the supplement does not matter.
Of course it matters. As the facilitator, I know that coverage of the spring sports and activities is important and that we owe it to our customers and ourselves to plug on and provide coverage for said events. That fact is a hard sell to middle school kids at the end of the school year.
However, I do believe that the kids are on the right track. Even when I was a kid, the supplement was a sort of “meh” part of the book that was tossed aside. It really was not PART of the book. One of my first big goals five years ago was to change that. How? I went to the source. The kids. What did THEY want to do to make the supplement important and to feel like it was a truly organic part of the book?
It all boiled down to three points:
Do not be afraid to try something new. Ask the students what they want the spring supplement to be. Meet them where they are at. What format do they see as the best? To help them with this task, provide multiple examples of ways to present spring content. My students see print, video, digital and social media examples of how to cover the stories and then come to a consensus on how we will format the supplement.
In our building, we have forgone the paper supplement and gone digital. In the past, we have created websites that were a visual and contextual extension of the hard copy book. Students were then free to create content in many mediums for me to upload to the site. A QR code on a special page in the hard copy of the book led the reader from the printed page into our digital realm. This past year, the students decided to use our existing Instagram as the format. I required them to debate the pros and cons of such a move. Excitement grew by leaps and bounds when the students realized that they could craft posts, videos and polls all to be posted on an already existing platform that most of the school was familiar with. A page in the back of the hard copy was dedicated to simple directions to go to our Instagram pages for coverage of spring events and more.
After much debate, I was able to get them to see that we should include our Twitter feed as well. After all, the old folks wanted to see their content too! We included directions for how to view the feeds in a browser so that those who are not old enough, or do not have the apps, could still view the content. The students then developed promotional materials that made it clear that the book did not end on the printed page, it lived on in their social media feeds. Again, we met them where they were at. Take note that I am the one who does all of the posting. My students do not have access to our social media accounts. They simply create the content and the editors and I decide what is posted.
Stray from the traditional! Students are hungry to do something different, so encourage them to do so. Of course, stay the course when it comes to sports, music, etc., but encourage the kids to add other content as well. I started the process by facilitating some action research projects that required them to scout and identify quality Instagram posts.
From CNN to ESPN, Food Network, Good Morning America and Entertainment Weekly, students discovered new ways to share the stories of the spring months at our school. That research led to guided projects such as “Real News or Not?” videos using Apple Clips. The best of the best of those were posted. Students then crafted teacher appreciation posts. Those could be crafted using a design program or app of their choice. Students then were directed to develop “Surviving Middle School Tips” with an emphasis on the fact that THEY were the experts. Next up were “Me in A Minute Podcasts” and “Summer Book Tsunami Posts”.
With each project, students were allowed more and more freedom. Finally, they took the notes, interviews and photos from our sports, music and major events and turned them into engaging and high quality news bits for our spring supplement. Before we knew it, we had great content that could be posted not only at the end of the school year, but all throughout the summer!
Summer – The Cherry on Top
An unexpected side hustle that our spring supplement/Instagram serves is to keep kids reading and engaged with school. My background as an elementary teacher and as a middle school language arts teacher has conditioned me to always be on the lookout for ways to help my yearbook, newspaper and digital media students to be better readers and writers.
I also have a passion for helping my middle schoolers develop and foster their empathy skills. I was surprised when I saw how engaged the kids were with the feed and how my 6th and 7th graders were already thinking ahead to the next year! Our informal feedback from the student body also boded well for the success of our “Insta” as the kids call it.
How could we keep up that enthusiasm? Through conversations with my students, we came up with the idea of selecting content that could be posted throughout the summer months. I let the kids comb through our podcasts, book reviews and middle school tips to use as our “Summer Series” events. Those went into folders in my Google Drive for easy access while I am poolside. The kids also created polls and poll ideas for me to post as well. While the polls take a little extra time on my part, the posts do not.
I also comb the feeds for news that can be circularly reported/reposted. For instance, the premiere of Toy Story 4 and the NBA Draft have been featured. I can see through their likes, views and participation in the polls that hundreds of kids from my school are engaging.
I am happy to report that my little reflective devil is somewhat satisfied with the fact that I was able to pull off a 1-2-3 punch with the idea to meet my kids where they were at when it comes to the spring supplement. One, the kids were very engaged at the end of the year. Two, the content stayed the course but was also splendiferously different than anything we had done in the past. Third and my favorite, my kids are actively engaged away from school during the summer! I have them reading and viewing their own content, reviewing mentor texts and submitting positive messages all while scrolling through their feeds. Talk about meeting them where they are at! Now, how can I make it even better?