alamazoo College

Developmental Psychology (PSYC 210)

Idea: College students learn about child development by co-writing a book with an elementary school student. This is an original project designed by Dr. Siu-Lan Tan at Kalamazoo College, first implemented in Fall 1998. Each year, approximately 150 "K" College students enrolled in Dr. Tan's Developmental Psychology course and about 150 elementary school students at the Woodward School for Technology and Research (WSTaR) participate in the project.  Thus far over 750 books have been created by college students and elementary school children, through the Co-Authorship Project!
Procedure: Each college student is paired off with an elementary school student.  (Co-authors are matched on the basis of shared likes and dislikes, and career interests).  Their assignment is to co-write a children's book together on a topic of their own choosing. First, each child writes up to a few lines or a paragraph to begin a story.  The children may write about anything they choose.  Then, the college students continue their partners' story by about 500-800 words, leaving the ending of the story open. On "Co-Authorship Day," the co-authors meet and finish writing the story together.  The co-authors also illustrate the book and design the front cover together.  Finally, each college student binds the completed book, and proudly presents the co-authored book to his or her elementary school co-author as a gift! The experience culminates in a term paper that the "K" College students write to describe their observations of the elementary school co-authors, and discuss their experience in the context of Vygotsky's sociocultural theory, Piaget's theory of cognitive development, language development (speech, reading, writing), and development of drawing skills.
The Books: The co-authors write about anything they choose, so we have a very wide variety of stories.  Here are a few titles of the books "K" College students and children in Kindergarten through 6th grade have written together through the Co-Authorship Project:
Katerina and the Nose-Stealing Robbers
The Reindeer That Didn't Like Anything
Bubba, the Alligator Wrestler
The Boy Who Hated Math
Sharks: The Nice Guys
It Makes You Wonder
The Doom Ghost
I am a Mermaid
Jimmy, Who Grew Up
The Loonsbury Heist
The King and the Talking Flowers
A Day with a Dinosaur
My Dog Loves Sports
Mommy, I Lost My Shoe
Tara and the Giant Soda-Can Creature
What WSTaR Elementary School Students say about the Co-Authorship Project:
"I learned what it is like to co-author a book: you have different ideas, and you have to agree."

"You can make the beginning of a story into a lot of different things."

"I learned how to brainstorm and how to work with another person."

"I learned that I have a creative mind, which I did not know before."

"I learned that people who think they can't draw can draw."

"Working together helped me a lot, because I usually get distracted."

"I learned that writing with somebody can help you learn and help you get a good understanding."

"I learned to respect people." 

What "K" College students say about the Co-Authorship Project:
"Not only was this GREAT fun - but I can think of no better way to learn the material from lecture and text, and see how it applies in real life."

"Learning about stages of drawing development was interesting, but watching a child actually creating types of pictures we had studied - tadpole figures, x-ray drawings, and airgap pictures - was really fascinating."

"As much as I facilitated T.M.'s understanding of new concepts and ability to accomplish a new task , she fostered my understanding of children's development.  Before observing Vygotsky's views in action, I found his theory difficult to grasp.  I understood that Vygotsky believed that social interaction provides an essential context for learning, but I did not understand exactly HOW until I actually had to guide T.M. [through various means of scaffolding]."

"I saw firsthand the multidimensionality and multidirectionality of development, especially in J.W.'s cognitive development and drawings.  Especially, I understood what we have discussed in class regarding how both gain and loss is often shown at the same time... such as in a more mature understanding of pictorial representation going hand in hand with a drop in confidence in drawing ability."

"I LOVED this project! I not only saw many examples of concepts we learned about in class, but I learned how to respect the views of someone much younger than me."

What Woodward School Principal says about the Co-Authorship Project:
"The Co-Authorship project has by far been the most rewarding literacy partnership between students (K & WSTaR) to date.  The WSTaR students have made meaningful connections with people outside of our building, and have demonstrated understanding through the power of writing for a purpose.  All WSTaR students were excited to write.  They were motivated and wanted to respond to the letters from their K-pals.  They eagerly anticipated their visit and were delighted to put their names to faces.  This project made the WSTaR children feel extremely special and proud of what they accomplished.  Parents and students alike have marveled at the creativity in the final books and many have said that they will treasure them for years in a special place at home.  One student shared that they kept their book at home and read it every day.  Many students talk about one day going to K College and getting their degrees, which helps to facilitate students as life-long learners!"  
Beth Yankee, Principal of Woodward School for Technology and Research 
Acknowledgmments: Dr. Tan would like to thank "K" College students Sarah Rupp and Rachelle Tomac for all their hard work as her partners on the Co-Authorship Project.  We are grateful to everyone who has made this project possible, especially: Alison Geist, Teresa Denton, Sherria Alexander, Barbara Gallagher, former Principal Christie Enstrom-West, Principal Beth Yankee, and all the wonderful teachers at WSTaR.  Also, a special thank you to all the "K" College students and WSTaR School students for their dedication to this project, and for putting their hearts and souls into their co-authored books!

Photographs by Professor Paul W. Jeffries, Teresa Denton, and Sherria Alexander

Co-Authorship Project
Psychology Department
Kalamazoo College
1200 Academy Street
Kalamazoo MI 49006
Phone: (269) 337-7331

Web site designed by Paul W. Jeffries
This site was last updated April 20, 2004