A Consideration of One Teacher’s Book Projects in Grade 3-5
By Andrew Boudon
For this project I discuss findings on DonorsChoose.org book projects in grades 3-5 by analyzing a single teacher’s history on the website. By investigating a single teacher’s projects I was able to consider her classroom needs over time and see whether her projects changed considerably in content, quality, or design during her experience with the organization. A moderately active user with a significant number of completed projects was intentionally chosen in order to see the ways that a successful member navigates and interacts with the site.
Mrs. F has completed fifteen projects through DonorsChoose.org with the help of sixty-five supporters, including several donation-match efforts like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and DonorsChoose.org's Best School Day initiative. She has been a more or less continuously active user since the summer of 2014, giving her two years of experience with the site. Her book projects fit into three chronological groups: a burst of projects in the summer of 2014; one project that began in the fall and was completed in the winter of 2014; and two projects this spring of 2015.
The first group included five projects, all begun in June and July; four of these were completed in those months, and one was completed in August. One project took only four days, another took two weeks, and the other three projects took approximately a month. Three of the projects were slightly under $200, while the other two were just above $400. The financial size of the project did not appear to have any connection with the amount of time to reach full funding. The number of donors varied between three and seven.
That same fall, Mrs. F opened a project toward the end of September, which took three months to complete. The cost was $254, which was provided in entirety by one donor at the end of December. Clearly the cost was not responsible for the delay, and the content of the project was not discernably different from the others. However, this project fits into a pattern that is visible throughout many book projects, at least in the lower grade levels: teachers will realize the literature they would like at the beginning of the year in September, and the project will receive funding in December. Although I do not know the reason, I suspect that traffic to the website dips in the fall. Site traffic picks up again in December, when people are feeling generous because of the holidays.
Although the teacher had no book projects during 2015, she did have ongoing projects in other categories. This year, Mrs. F began one project in February, which took a month to fund, and then another in April, which took ten days.
The content of Mrs. F’s book projects varies, but the design is almost always the same. She asks for twenty copies of a book or magazine subscription. Three of the projects were class sets for a single book; three were for subscriptions to one or multiple children’s magazines; one was for class sets of multiple books; and one was for five copies each of five books.
This teacher’s projects always follow certain guidelines. She asks for specific works, and her project descriptions always include planned activities for students. Sometimes the activity descriptions include standards/goals for the students. One commonly planned activity is a read-aloud, though some descriptions simply say that the books will be used as a class resource. Mrs. F’s project descriptions also capitalize on the income status of her school; she makes sure to note that many of her students have little access to literature outside the classroom, thus it is important to provide a wealth of resources for students during their time at school.
Mrs. F always posts photos of her children with the books after the completion of the projects. Donors seem to appreciate seeing the students interacting with the materials provided through the site. In her later projects, Mrs. F began responding to each individual donation to thank donors.
Mrs. F’s proposals are broadly typical of funded book projects in the lower grades, and provide sound guidelines for success on the site. Most proposals ask for between $150 and $450 in order to provide class sets. The works are occasionally geared toward specific subjects (e.g., civics and ESL aids are fairly common) but are usually intended to promote literacy and provide opportunities for engaged reading.
Another common project type asks for a few copies of a variety of works in order to furnish a school library. Many users highlight the socioeconomic status of their student populations, and successful projects usually indicate specific purposes and activities for the materials. Teachers new to the site would do well to keep the size of their projects small and to clearly state the materials needed for the project, objectives and rationale for the project, and the important role these resources will play in the classroom.
The trend of projects taking longer to fund in the fall semester is worthy of note. It stands to reason that there are more projects on DonorsChoose.org as the school year begins, so it makes sense for teachers to plan ahead and propose projects prior to the first weeks of school (i.e., late July or early August) or wait until later in the fall semester.