Every time I read about Project-Based Learning, it makes me think of my yearbook journalism class because the description of PBL resembles how my students function in this unique class. My yearbook journalism class is like non-other in the school. I tell my students at the beginning of the year that their final is the distribution of a 176-page book in which every student, teacher, and community member will grade, by making comments about its accuracy and appearance. And if they don’t like it, they don’t have to buy it. This is in a sense a business. We need to break even every year between the sale of the books, and the ads that are sold or it would be difficult for the school to continue to allow us to have a yearbook if it didn’t support itself. Not only do they have to satisfy their teacher to earn a grade, the students need to produce a product that all the students, faculty, staff, and community in their school can enjoy and love. Our staff needs to sell as many books as possible to break even on the printing costs.

Yearbook journalism is project-based learning exemplified – if it’s done well. Students learn how to collaborate together, and develop communication skills, while producing a book that will be publicly shared as the culminating product at the end of the year. What better example of a Project-Based Learning approach than yearbook journalism–and it’s been around longer than the term Project-Based Learning. So what can yearbook journalism staffs teach us about PBL?

I have been a yearbook advisor for eleven years. And in that amount of time, I have learned that before you can let the students go, and begin making a project, you have to lay down the foundations for success. I first like to find out about each individual and what are their strengths and weaknesses to be able to organize a team that can function well within their abilities.

The yearbook roles can be divided up into layout designers, info graphic designers, writers, copy editors, reporters, and photographers. When I first taught the class, I assigned each student pages that they were responsible for, but over the years I have discovered that few students are good in all areas of finishing one spread.

Rather than one individual finishing the whole spread, I soon learned it was more efficient to assign roles to individuals based upon their personalities and gifts. As a writer, a person might be writing editorial or feature articles on a number of spreads with some more urgent than others. They would be responsible for interviewing students or staff members to get the most accurate information and then writing the best story that he or she could from the information gathered from first-hand eye witnesses and participants.

A designer might only make the initial layout a first, choose the dominant photo, then pull colors from that dominant photo for colors to be chosen for the rest of the spread. The designer has to work closely with the writers, info graphic designers, and reporters for secondary alternative copy to ensure a space for three-levels of entry for a reader from the following possibilities: feature story, alternative side story, survey results, he said/ she said debate, question and answer, individual collection of quotes, as well as captions for every photo on the spread that include quotes from people who are in the photos.

Finishing even one spread in the yearbook takes a lot of collaboration and communication between not only the members in the yearbook staff, but also the collaboration of the community of students who want to assist in making their yearbook the best that the staff can make by cooperating when asked for quotes or clarification for a photo caption.

Creating a strong voice throughout a yearbook requires a theme and critical thinking skills in deciding how to solidify that theme throughout the book, so that every reader will understand through the use of visual imagery through pictures and text. Having background knowledge of the elements of design is essential for students to be able to produce a yearbook that is visually appealing to the reader. Strong visual design encourages the reader want to stay on the page and draw them into the story.

Surprisingly it is difficult to find information about yearbook journalism and its strong tie in with Project-Based Learning. I have tried to find other articles that link the two together and I have found a few references, but nothing really written that I could quote from for this posting. I hope this post will encourage others to see the strong relationship between the two.

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