While studying the “bedtime stories” genre of children’s literature, first graders from the Riverton Elementary School in Portland, ME discovered a problem faced by children, living on the other side of the world. Their teachers, Ms. Squire and Ms. Baker, read a newspaper article, explaining that many children living in Uganda, Africa, did not have bedtime stories to read. They learned about an organization called “Books of Hope” that sent books to families in need. Exploring the different themes, outcomes, and messages of bedtime stories, the students discovered the enormous positive impact that these tales can have on the children who read them. Through discussion, they concluded that Ugandan children needed more bedtime stories to make them happier. The students in Ms. Baker and Ms. Squire’s classes immediately related to those they sought to help, because they were the same age. Building a knowledge base inspired the students to compose stories of their own. To begin this project, teachers defined service-learning to their students very simply: using what you know (knowledge) or what you know how to do (skills) to help someone in need.
In order to create the books, the students invented an action plan; listing ideas, making a story web or map, drafting, editing, illustrating, and publishing. Students worked in pairs and each pair was mentored by a “book buddy,” a fourth grader who helped the first-grade students stay on track with their project plan. By defining their goal as publication of the books that they created, students took ownership of the process and affirmed each other’s creativity. Students were partnered with teachers, according to personal strengths and challenges. Once the students identified a publisher, they sent in their writings and illustrations, the final step in formalizing their bedtime stories. Highlighting the writing and literacy achievements of the class, students completed peer to peer evaluations, before mailing the books to the Ugandan children. The principal wrote a feature article about the project in the school’s newspaper to inform the school community about the impressive and wide reaching empathy of the first-graders at his school. At the conclusion of the bedtime story unit, once all of the story drafts had been submitted, the class celebrated with a pajama party!