Budding novelists
Second-grade students at Thomas Page Academy enjoyed writing personal novels about urban, suburban or rural life
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By Natalie Gray  March 7, 2014 12:00 am

Teresa Peterson’s second grade class at Thomas Page Academy might seem to be an unusual one to the untrained eye. First, they do not hesitate in pulling out a reading book, and they take turns correcting each other’s grammar.

Peterson admitted they never seem too bothered when she tells them to work on their class reading work. Perhaps the most obvious thing that could be pointed out as expected would be the groans when she does tell them to pull out their math books.

“I hate math,” a few murmur, while reluctantly flipping their workbooks to the appropriate pages. Peterson mocks offense and she tells them, “We love math!” Only a few seem convinced.


Proud of their work

The most unusual thing about this class, though, and undoubtedly something they all can agree on without the attitude suggestion from their teacher, is each one of them has researched, written and illustrated their own book and they are pretty proud of that fact.

“I think they all did a nice job,” said Peterson of her students’ latest completed projects. “They’re really engaged (in the work) when it is theirs. They’re so curious and I want to keep feeding that.”

According to Peterson, it is scheduled in her curriculum that she teach her students how to read and write, as well as introduce them to the social aspects of suburban, rural and urban lifestyles. Inspired by a post she discovered on New York City’s education webpage, Peterson found a way to blend the two requirements: she had her students write their own books on the social subjects. 

“I try to make it so it’s interesting,” said Peterson.


More preparation than first thought

She admitted that preparation for the project took longer than anticipated. First, she had her students research their topics from books she had carefully selected for them. 

The books were of every reading level, so no student would have an advantage over another, and were made easy to understand with every chunk of writing having an accompanying picture.

Peterson worked with her class to make an example booklet on the topic of urban cities and helped her students compile a list of sights, sounds, pros and cons of each environment. For their final projects, the children could only choose between suburban living or rural areas, so as not to copy the class example. The notes stayed on the board in front of the class, featuring words like “neighborhood” under suburban and “open space” under rural.

Next, the children had to write “sloppy copy” rough drafts, final drafts and accompanying pictures of their own for their booklet, constructed in a way that would tell a reader all about their chosen living domain.

“I like it because when people read our books…it teaches them something,” said student Amelia Laird. She also added that she likes the idea of one day writing books of her own, only she would make her stories on the topic of mystery and magic.

“At this age they’re learning to read and write,” said Peterson, “and they’re so excited about that…(sometimes) I’ll say ‘Let’s take a break,’ and they’ll say ‘No!’”

Some students claimed to have chosen the topic of rural because they like animals, while others said they chose suburban because they enjoyed visiting parks and large groups of friends. 

Though their reasons for writing might have been similar, Peterson said no two books were alike among the class, and that each student really proved to have their own voice.

The class seems excited about sharing those voices, too, and eagerly wave their booklets and offer to share them.


15 years with CRPUSD

Peterson has been teaching for the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District for 15 years and has been at Thomas Page for five. 

She has taught mostly second grade, but has spent time instructing all grades between first and fifth.

While her class is finishing up their booklets, Peterson has planned a new science project on the subject of ants. She has already ordered a class ant farm and plans to have her students write daily logs with observations and drawn pictures on the development of the colony. 

She predicts her students will love this project-based learning exercise as much as the booklets, and if the enthusiasm from the booklets is any gauge, she might just be right (so long as there is no math involved).

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