Zine making with Middle School students

For the past three days I taught a six hour intensive (2 hrs. a day) zine-making workshop for  students from grades 6th-8th for our Middle School Arts Week.  I was nervous going in to see how they would react to such a venture, since most were unfamiliar with the medium.  On the first day I shared with them the history of zines and particularly the common traits of most zines*:

  1. Self-published and the publisher doesn’t answer to anyone
  2. Small, self-distributed print run
  3. Motivated by desire to express oneself rather than to make money
  4. Outside the mainstream
  5. Low budget

*By Jenna Freedman, Coordinator of Reference Services and Zine Librarian, Barnard College

They seemed to really resonate with number one: not answering to anyone.  It seemed to excite them. They had lots of questions about what was an appropriate topic for a zine.  I told them that anything was up for grabs but that they need to keep in mind that they will be distributed at school and their names will be attached to the work.  Some students started immediately, working with feverish dedication.  Others struggled to come up with a topic.  One 6th grader was really struggling and eventually settled on “How to be lazy in 6 easy steps”.  It took him the full hour to write the six steps.  I borrowed a typewriter from the school librarian and got to see their amazement at the antiquated technology.  “Why use the typewriter”, someone asked.  I told them that it was “old skool” and part of the “punk rock, DIY aesthetic” and that isn’t it fun to see their writing appear on the pages.  After some thought on the topic, most agreed.

As they struggled with the machine I found the opportunity to talk about patience and focus.  When it came time to fold the zines some students wanted to take a shortcut and fold them in large stacks.  I explained, over and over again, that while it may seem to cut down on the time, these stacked folds actually needed to be refolded and created very messy looking zines.  A few students took my advice and diligently folded each one individually and were proud of their work.  For others, just the thought of folding each one of their twenty copies was debilitating.  I told them to consider the reader and to put some care into folding each one.  The recurring question that resounded around the room was, “Can I…(write this, draw this, etc.)” and my answer was always “YES!”  I began to see patterns emerging.  The class was split between those that wanted to write sarcastic, biting, ironic zines (How to– not be– a nice person, Pet Peeves (Instagram Edition), and Advice to My Teachers), those that wanted to write from pure earnest love of a topic (DOGs, How to Eat Pie, The Office Characters, Top NBA Players of All Time), and those that preferred the silly (Eggs).

After two days of making zines, I reflected on what was produced (so many focused on violent video games!) and decided to try and steer them towards other topics.  I devised the Ultimate Zine Challenge and listed some topics for them to choose:

  1. SPICES (Quaker Principles)
  2. Interview a Friend
  3. The Adventures of Gideon Frost (the founder of our school)
  4. Top Pet Peeves
  5. Advice to My Teachers
  6. How to…

I even wrote that extra points would be given for those who incorporate the Quaker testimonies somehow.  It feels a bit like trickery but I was just hoping to create a space to reinforce our school’s Quaker principles.  It worked.  A few of the students who were stumped the day before, chose to illustrate the SPICES (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship)  In doing so, they got to define these terms and find ways to illustrate them.  “Advice to My Teachers” seemed to hit a nerve with a few students who were very passionate about airing their grievances.  I found one zine particularly helpful and telling:

Advice to My Teachers:

  1. Treat Everyone EQUALLY or in other words, don’t pick on certain kids!   Some teachers act so nice to other kids and then hate me.  That’s clearly unfair.  Would you like to be the kid getting picked on?

2. Have Feelings for other people’s thoughts. Some teachers don’t care AT ALL about kids though if a kid has to go to the bathroom let them go! Is peeing really a crime?

3. Have patience.  Kids will take some time to answer.  Don’t interrupt by saying the way to do it…trust me, it’s so annoying. Chill.

4. Don’t show your anger! Some teachers turn bright red and storm out of the room.  Kids will laugh and make fun of you.  When you’re mad take a deep breath!

5. Don’t talk behind the kids back…They know what you’re saying. Some kids’ parents will e-mail you.

6. Make class FUN!  Don’t be that teacher who makes us do textbook exercise. Make it fun!

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