Who's in the Burrow?

"Respectable Doctor or Body Snatcher?"

Injun Joe accusing Muff Potter of murder
What was a respectable town doctor doing with two miscreants in a graveyard the night of his murder?

Was Muff Potter framed? Did Injun Joe do it? 

Bringing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer back to life earlier this year in high-tech, journalistic fashion, Ambrose Tuscano's eighth-grade English class wrote, designed and published a sensational edition of The St. Petersburg Herald, featuring opinion pieces and complete news coverage of the circumstances surrounding the murder of Dr. Robinson and the disappearance of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Joe Harper.  

Ambrose supplied the following overview of the class project: 

The point of the paper was to get kids to think hard about the important plot elements of the story, and they also had to place themselves in the setting so as to distinguish between things a reader would know and things a resident of St. Petersburg would know. I think that their reading comprehension was better than it would have been if we'd just been reading the book and not writing the paper simultaneously. 

Basically the kids applied for jobs at a made-up newspaper in St. Petersburg (setting of Twain's story) during the time when ATS takes place. We had several types of editors, graphic designers, photographers, and columnists, and I tried to give each student one of his/her first choices of job. 

Each student wrote two pieces for the paper, though some jobs required additional writing. The kids really enjoyed Tom Sawyer, and I like to think they learned something about what it takes to produce a finished, published piece of writing in the process. 
The "printing press" that our graphic designers were working on is actually Adobe InDesign, a state-of-the-art piece of software that is used for designing professional print media of all stripes. It's a rather complicated program to master, but it does allow users to put anything they can imagine onto the page. 

Students assigned to graphic designer jobs had to work hard to learn how to create and manipulate text, photos, and graphic objects. For this particular project, our aim was to recreate the look of a mid-19th century publication, so digital color photos had to be processed with Adobe Photoshop to become black and white and look more like something that could have been taken with early film cameras. All told, the kids learned some valuable real-world skills and gained respect for the work that goes into producing real daily newspapers.

The process of determining which stories would be written was one of the most important for this project. Each time we finished a significant chunk of reading we would have a "staff meeting" in which all newspaper employees would brainstorm possible story ideas from the reading. This process helped students focus in on the major events of the story, but also made them think about it through the prism of what residents of St. Petersburg would have known about Tom Sawyer's Adventures. Not all of his exploits were public knowledge, for instance, which forced students to think about what information they could include in newspaper stories and what they couldn't. Where good information was not provided in the story, students did have to creatively extend the story to create names for unnamed minor characters, create backstory where none was provided, and envision events that readers did not witness. All in all, a positive experience with some great learning opportunities.

Thanks, Ambrose, for the copy and for the great teaching! Clicking on any of the newspaper thumbnails below will allow you to view pages of The St. Petersburg Herald in full(er) size.