Thursday, December 20, 2012
Guest Blogger Jillian Terry: Author Visits: How to Make Sure You and Your Students Get the Most Out of The Experience
I'd like to welcome Jillian Terry to the blog today, to chat with us about making the most of school visits. But here's the twist...with her teacher background, I wanted to know what teachers do to prepare for an author visit. If authors have a sense of what a teacher looks for, they'll be able to better position themselves to be the perfect author choice for that classroom visit.
Jillian is a retired teacher and freelance writer who likes to help students improve their reading and writing skills. Jillian also actively contributes to a blog on teachingdegree.org. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to Jillian.
Take it away Jillian...
As a long-time advocate of literacy, I am always looking for new, inventive ways to get the younger generations enthusiastically involved in the cause. Just four years ago, 7 million Americans were declared illiterate—that's a staggering percentage of the population. What's more is that 30 million people couldn't read a simple sentence in its entirety—talk about having definite room for improvement.
These statistics, coupled with my own innate love of all things reading and writing, ignite my need to DO SOMETHING about this disappointing epidemic. To help nip this problem in the bud, we need to get the students of today EXCITED about reading. From my experience in the classroom, I know firsthand that this can be a daunting challenge. It's never been easy motivating students to stop what they're doing and read, and with the digital age putting more and more gadgets and games in their hands, it's all-the-more-challenging.
However, one method that has always proven effective for me is to incorporate somewhat regular author visits into your class's curriculum and instruction. By doing this, you give them a glimpse of how reading and writing fit into the "real world" and you make it much more of a concrete concept for them.
Now, don't get me wrong, if executed incorrectly, this can be a wasted effort, but as long as you remain mindful of the tips I outline below, you should be fine. Obviously, there are no guarantees because every experience is unique and unpredictable, but going in with a game plan is better than approaching the situation blindly and unprepared. So, to increase your chances of having a successful author visit, incorporate some or all of the tips below into the process. I personally used these throughout my career and almost always enjoyed success.
Consult the Students Before Choosing an Author
Before you or the school coordinate a visit, it's a good idea to consult the student body via a poll or survey to get a feel for what sort of authors they would even be interested in seeing. Now, I'm not trying to isolate writers or divide the literary world, but obviously certain individuals are better suited for certain grade levels and ages.
Now, obviously factors like budget, availability and scheduling have to be considered, so the students won't have the last say. But, by becoming more aware of their current interests, you increase the chances you'll book someone they are actually excited about hearing from. For them to get the most out of the experience, they need to be engaged and enthusiastic about it, and that's only going to happen if the author in question piques their interests.
Discuss the Upcoming Visit In Class
Unlike the surprise "movie day," an author visit isn't something you should just spring on your students. Begin having a conversation about the writer and his or her specific genre and works. Get them familiar with the author's library of work and even tell them what to expect. They will likely have several questions about the "dos" and "don'ts" of the situation, so go over that with them to help proactively prevent any hiccups the day of the visit.
The better-prepared they are as a collective, the smoother the event will go—trust me.
Get them Reading
In case they aren't already familiar with the author's books, assign some titles for your students to read before the big day. Maybe give them a choice between two or three titles so that everyone's on the "same page" so to speak. This will also help keep any discussions with the author focused and something everyone can relate to. If all of the students are left to choose their own books, you risk the chance that students will reference and question titles other students haven't even heard of, which might cause them to tune out and possibly become disruptive.
Follow-up With Your Students
Following the visit, have a class-wide discussion or assign an activity that encourages your students to reflect on the experience and share what they gathered from it. This will help them further relate it to their lives and what they do in and outside of the classroom—increasing the effectiveness of the whole events as a whole. You don't want them to just hear the writer out, then go about their day like nothing happened—that's not the goal.
Revisit the Experience Later
It’s easy for students to quickly forget about the impact such an experience can have, so to keep it fresh in their minds bring it up throughout the school year. Maybe have them read another one of the author's books, or track what the author is up to now. This will give them a better understanding of the big picture. Plus, for those really interested in writing, they will get an idea of what the life of a novelist is really like.
Plus, this is a fun way to break up the monotony of any regular classroom material you would have covered otherwise.
The purpose of these visits is to get your students excited and engaged in the literary process. Sure, they don't have to aspire to be English teachers, writers, etc., but if it inspires them to pick up a book every once in a while instead of play their video games, you can call this a success.