Guest Post: A First Year Teacher Reflects on Using Zines in His ELA Classroom

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Today’s post is special! I always love having guests write on the blog, and it simply does not happen enough. Today’s guest is Jason Smith. Jason is a first year language arts teacher, instructing 10th and 12th grade language arts in Cherokee County. I met Jason during his time in his MAT cohort, and this past semester he asked how I did zine work with my students. After giving him some guidance, Jason took off and did something very special with his students. See his reflection on zine making in his classroom inside!

by Jason Smith

I was first introduced to zine culture when Kyle did a video conference with my graduate class I was taking, sometime during 2015. We had been discussing participatory culture, and getting students involved with work that had meaning to them beyond “traditional” school work. The idea of a self-published student zine had intrigued me, so when I had the opportunity my first year of teaching to experiment with it, I jumped at the opportunity. I teach sophomore and seniors, and there were mixed reactions when I proposed this new project to both grade levels. I found my sophomores much more eager to create meaningful pieces for the zine, while my seniors for the most part, put in as little effort as possible. I expressed my concerns regarding my seniors to Kyle in an email, and he told me what I had suspected from the beginning; that seniors feel they are close to the end and have no need to explore their personal identities any longer. But I pressed my seniors on. I consider myself fairly laid back, so I had little difficulty of letting go of the reigns, so to speak, and gave my students the opportunity to work on their zine every Friday. I found that I did have to reinforce the deadlines that they established in the beginning, but other than that, all I did was provide them with the materials they needed to produce their zine.

One sophomore class tackled the subject of social groups in high school and they wanted to share it with their peers. I believe they all are aware that social groups exist at school, but it was interesting watching different groups collaborate on their zine. It was also interesting for me as a teacher, to watch students who I might have labeled as one group, write about how they saw themselves as part of another group.

poem

The above poem was one student’s contribution to the zine that I was particularly proud of. This student had a knack for always doing as little work as possible, and dragging their feet as I attempted to carry them across the finish line with every assignment we did in class. When the class started working on the zine, I don’t recall this student doing much work at first. But the following week, after seeing what their peers had done, they came to class, having created a wonderful poem comparing social groups to the seasons. It really came to me as quite a surprise, and after reading their self-reflection, they wrote how the zine gave them a chance to express feelings about school that usually fell on deaf ears.

As a teacher, it was strange at first to let go of the reins and allow the students to take control of their work. I think for students, like the one above, this gave them a chance to take ownership of their work and express themselves in a way that was unique to them. I questioned at first the validity of not counting off for grammar or punctuation, but I don’t think I would have received the same raw and passionate work that they put into their first zine.

My students were so proud of their work, that when it came time to distribute it to their peers, they didn’t even want to. They wanted to hold on to it, because they were proud of their work. This was quite different compared to the usual assignment or project that I hand back that usually ends in the trash can.So, we had to make more copies of their zine; some for them to hold onto and some to give to their peers.

We are currently working on our next zine 🙂

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