The World Is My Audience: Using iBooks Author and Book Creator to Change Student Writing

» 12 March 2015 » In Guest post, Literacy, Publishing, Reflection, Students » 4 Comments

The World is my AudienceBackstory: I've long been impressed with Jon Smith's exploration of student publishing. Recently I saw his post at the Ohio Resource Center and asked Jon if he would cross post on my blog. This is his second post on Copy/Paste. Here's his first guest post which features a video reflection by his students. 

Jon Smith is a technology integration specialist for Alliance City Schools. He was a special education teacher for 12 years and continues to have a desire to allow special education students to create wonderful content to enhance their learning. Jon's daily duties include teaching students about technology tools, helping them with projects, and giving professional development to teachers and district staff. He is also an instructor for the Communicate Institute. Jon teaches a graduate-level course to teachers on engaging the twenty-first-century learner with technology. You can contact Jon at his website. His student iBooks are available here ~ Peter Pappas

The Beginnings

I was teaching special education students in grades 5 and 6 in an inner-city school in Canton. Time was going by, and students continued to struggle with writing. I was determined to make a difference and change these students for the better. They were going to become great writers if it killed me. While my goals were commendable, they weren't being achieved to the degree I wanted. Then, two years ago, Apple introduced a software product called iBooks Author, and things would change for me forever.

For the first time, people were given the opportunity to self-publish in an easy manner. I saw this software as an opportunity for students to have a global audience for their writing. Blogs and other means of attracting a global audience have been around for a while, but this was something truly different, and I ran with it. Students were excited to be writing for someone other than their teacher. Engagement increased. Time on task increased, and the energy in the classroom changed to something you can normally only dream of.

Within three months we had written and published three iBooks in Apple's iBookstore. We were graphing the downloads in the hall on chart paper, estimating how many downloads we would have by the end of the year, and planning our next books. Comments from all over the globe came pouring in, and it meant a great deal to the students. For the first time in their lives, they had a real, authentic audience for their work.

I soon changed jobs and moved to Alliance City Schools. The iBook ideas continued, and my Alliance students soon published two iBooks using iBooks Author. Again, things were going smoothly until one day when I met Pam, a speech and language pathologist for one of the elementary schools in Alliance. This begins the journey of my use with the Book Creator app.

Working with Autistic Students

Pam was referred to me by our district network manager. She was in need of instruction on using iMovie on her iPad. I knew I could help her, and so we met to discuss using the iMovie app. She explained to me that she had a group of fourth grade autistic boys who needed some serious motivation and help. They weren't interested in doing any kind of work at all, and she thought iMovie would help. I asked her what they were struggling with, and she mentioned social skills. Immediately my mind went from iMovie mode into something else, something more powerful.

I explained to Pam that I had another idea. It was an app I recently learned about. I was looking for a group of guinea pigs, and this was the perfect opportunity for me to try Book Creator out with a group of students. Pam explained to me that this was a tough group of kids. She eyed me cautiously when I explained that we were going to write a book using the Book Creator app. And she looked at me like I was on drugs when I told her that we weren't only going to write a book but that we were also going to publish this book for the entire world to download.

listen-to-the-driverI began meeting with her and her students once a week. I explained to the students that they would soon be globally published authors. They were so excited about their book, it was contagious. We began using the Book Creator app to make videos of inappropriate social skills interactions (this wasn't difficult because this is what they did on a daily basis). We also made videos of appropriate interactions (great learning opportunity for the kids). Students started using Pam's iPad to write down information and create their stories and author bios. The students also realized they could record their voices using the app, and they did. They believed this would help them be better readers. Adding their own pictures was icing on the cake. After a month of work, the book was ready, and we published it in the iBookstore. The downloads started flying in, and this is where the real transformation occurred.

The students in Pam's group were thrilled about the downloads. They put a map in the hall and began to chart which countries had downloaded their book. This seems like such a small thing, but to these students it was spectacular. These students who were afraid of talking to others, had few friends, and were thought of as outcasts soon became the stars of the school. The students were talking to kids in the hall, explaining why there was a red pin in Japan and Norway and Canada. One student's parent, who never came to any IEP meetings, showed up for the first time. She was so excited to see what her son had done, that she came to the first meeting at the school in four years. The students couldn't stop writing and wanted to make more and more books. They had so much fun and learned so much while using this app, that they have started a series of social skills books. As of today, they have written and published three iBooks in the social skills series.


I plan on using the Book Creator app with more and more schools as the year goes on. I have teamed with other teachers in the district, and we have written and published iBooks using the Book Creator app with kindergarten students, first graders, and of course our fourth and fifth graders. The ideas are endless, and the Book Creator app is the simplest and most robust app for writing books hands down. I would also like to expand the use of the app to the high school, where I spend most of my days. We have a one-to-one iPad program with the freshman class, and this app is ideal for having kids demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of subjects. I would also like to see students become their own self-publishers by using the app.Song about Mississippi

What I've Learned

Throughout the process of writing and publishing books, I've learned a few things. I would like to share those with you now, because this is such a powerful app and because publishing student work is such a powerful idea that I want every teacher and student to have this opportunity.

  1. Apple is picky. But using the Book Creator app is so easy, it's nearly impossible not to pass Apple's strict publishing standards.
  2. Writing and publishing books has enormous potential to change the lives of students and the way they interact with the world around them.
  3. Marketing your book makes a huge difference. I am very active on Twitter, and if it weren't for all my followers, retweets, and mentions, we would not have had the successes we did. Twitter is a great place for free publicity.
  4. I've learned that people like to read what students create. We have had nearly 32,000 downloads of our class-written iBooks. This number keeps climbing daily, and it is very exciting to watch.
  5. I've also learned that writing and publishing books with your students is addicting. Currently we have 44 iBooks available in the iBookstore, and this number will continue to grow.

I would like to close this article with a few thoughts and a quote. I think students need to contribute more in the classroom. They need to be creating content as part of the learning experience. They need to show us what they know, and they need to be able to explain it. Using Book Creator has the potential to transform learning for you and your students. Students and teachers need to share what they do. This really makes a difference in the authenticity of the learning. I truly believe that students want to share what they do, and when they have a bigger audience, the work gets better.

When students create for the world they make it good. When students create only for their teachers, they make it good enough. —Rushton Hurley

Images supplied by Jon Smith

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Reflection and the Student Centered Classroom

» 27 April 2014 » In Presentations, Reflection, Students, Teachers » 2 Comments


The key to fostering reflection is scaffolding more choices for students to make about key elements of the lesson. Then students have more to think about and compare with their peers.
Content – what knowledge and skills will be studied?
Process – what materials, procedures, etc will be used?
Product – what will students produce to demonstrate their learning?
Evaluation – how will the learning be assessed?

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How to Teach Structured Academic Controversy

» 26 June 2013 » In History / DBQ's, How To, Literacy, Reflection, Strategies, Students » No Comments


Deliberating in a Democracy in the Americas (DDA), a valuable online resource for teachers interested in helping their students develop skills in discussing controversial topics. The DDA site has all the material teachers will need to support discussion in 15 interesting deliberation questions. It uses the Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) model to provide structure and focus to classroom discussions. Not all issues can be easily distilled to pro / con positions. SAC provides students with a framework for addressing complex issues in a productive manner that builds skills in reading, analyzing, listening, and discussion. And it’s ideal for supporting Common Core close reading skills.

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David Foster Wallace on Water and the Value of Education

» 16 May 2013 » In Commentary, Reflection » 1 Comment

This is water

Sadly, the world lost David Foster Wallace, in 2008. Fortunately, his writings live on. Recently his thoughtful 2005 Kenyon College commencement address was given new life in “This is Water” a video by The Glossary.

Wallace concludes: It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over. This is water.

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Podcast: Reflections on Teaching Strategies That Work

» 11 December 2012 » In Commentary, Ed Tech, Reflection, Teachers » No Comments


I had a great time recording a podcast with Mark Hofer and David Carpenter for their series Ed Tech Co-Op.

Mark led off by asking me to reflect back on my some of the driving themes in my career. I confessed that as a novice teacher, I mimicked my experience as a high school student and taught primarily via lecture mixed with an occasional “guess what the teacher is thinking” whole-group discussion.

But I recalled an “aha” moment after repeated visits to the art class in the classroom next door. I realized that if the art teacher taught art, the way I taught history, his students would be sitting there watching him paint.

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14 Provocative Questions for the Faculty

» 25 July 2012 » In Commentary, Ed Policy, Leadership, Reflection, Teachers » 3 Comments


It’s back to school time. Get ready for that opening day faculty meeting where you sit and listen, while wishing you could be getting some actual work done in your classroom. Here’s few disruptive questions you could pose to subvert the status quo in your school. Let’s begin with who’s learning, who’s not, and what are we doing about it?

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13 Subversive Questions for the Classroom

» 23 July 2012 » In Commentary, Reflection, Teachers » 16 Comments

Riot by Banksy-featured

As a teacher you get to reinvent yourselves every year, but if you want to change schools everything is conspiring against you. Here’s some reflective questions that will help you subvert the status quo in your classroom. Let’s begin with, If a question has a correct answer, is it worth asking?

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WebEx and LearningCatalytics Create a Virtual Keynote

» 18 July 2012 » In Events, PD, Presentations, Reflection » No Comments


I recently was asked to keynote at the MicroSociety annual conference in Philadelphia. While my schedule prevented me from appearing in person, I thought it was a great opportunity to see if I could scale my small group webinar model into a conference keynote.

I used WebEx as my platform and attendees brought their own web-enabled devices to access to respond to my questions and prompts via LearningCatalytics.

Here’s how it went.

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Flipped My Keynote

» 16 July 2012 » In Ed Tech, Events, How To, PD, Reflection, Strategies, Teachers » 2 Comments

keynote-flip featured

Keynoters typically show up, explain their model, answer questions, etc. If all goes well, folks leave with an understanding of the ideas you pitched to them. Transfer of content is easy in the digital age, it’s processing the learning that’s the challenge. So I elected to flip my keynote. Why not use one of the strategies I recommend to teachers?

Here’s how I used my two hours – not to present, but to put them through a variety of experiences to provoke their reflections. (With more on how to flip your class.)

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Reflections on Working with iBook Author

» 27 June 2012 » In Ed Tech, History / DBQ's, Publishing, Reflection » 18 Comments


At the core of the creative process is the willingness to step back, reflect on what you’ve accomplished, ask how it’s going and then get back to working on it some more. So after a few weeks of using iBooks Author (IBA), I thought it was time to practice what I preach. I’ll use this post to explore my initial reaction to working with IBA framed with by thoughts on the reflective process. As I took a closer look at IBA, I realized that while it presented some interesting opportunities, IBA had some notable shortcomings. On the plus side, it’s very easy to create an engaging mix of text, images, recordings, and videos. Perfect for my first IBA project – a document-based history iBook.

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