|By Doug Wilson and Jody Cohan|
"It's about sports!"
"We can talk about media literacy!"
"We can do montage contests! I can post lessons on ItsLearning."
The Principal was enthused, our parents were on board, and I was one happy CRL. It was January; we had four months to pull this off.
Though I am far from an expert on the subject, I figured I'd share some tips for those of you planning your own Author Visit.
|Leading a reporters workshop|
Before we talk about balloons and faculty meetings and books and classroom connections, let's figure this out first.
I consider us bonded, dear reader, so let me be totally honest with you: it ain't easy to find a good visiting author; actually, it's difficult to find a visiting author, period!
If you want to know why such a wonderful initiative causes this CRL many a sleepless night each year, here are some of the avenues I have tried...only to come up completely and utterly empty:
- publishing houses (in Boston and New York)
- teachers in other districts
- an open letter on Twitter in which I tagged dozens of local and not-so-local authors with an invitation; it received zero responses.
- voicemail, email, snail mail
- author websites
- local newspapers
- International Reading Association
|Steve Krasner 2012|
So here's the secret - talk to people. You don't have to run into Doug Wilson and Dick Button at the US Figure Skating Championships, but if you do, talk to them! As much as it pains me to admit that my father is correct, let me declare on my little blog that - in this case - he is: It's not what you know, it's who you know.
|Visiting Author book signing|
He wasn't Veronica Roth, but most of our students - if they want a career in writing - will find his story much more applicable.
The following authors are CRL-certified (yep, just made that up):
|Christopher Golden - 2013|
If you decide to work with any one of these fine gentlemen,we'd be happy to help guide you!
2. Plan ahead
- As much as you are able, force yourself to make decisions ahead of time.
- Inform people as early as possible but only when final decisions are made. The Wilsons and I threw around several dates before settling on May 20. Only then did I announce the visit to staff, parents, and students.
- Contact your local media: it doesn't always work, but it is worth a shot. We've arranged newspaper coverage for two out of three visits. Everyone loves a story about kids having fun at school!
- Small considerations, like scheduling the 8th grade assembly later in the day due to testing, working around existing lunch schedules, or allowing the chorus to rehearse without changing locations are little courtesies that go a long way.
|Front hallway: decked out and ready|
By far, the biggest challenge I faced was to make this ABC Sports producer real for children who had never seen a single broadcast. Sure, I knew the Wide World of Sports theme song and was familiar with the moments featured in the opening montage, but we teach the ESPN generation.
This is where loving out loud pays off - my excitement about the visit inspired me to pour every ounce of energy I had into making this experience meaningful for my students and valuable for Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. Failure was not an option.
- books were purchased for every member of the staff (due to one colorful word and one reference to, um, another physical activity, we felt we were unable to distribute the book to students)
- I generated a page of "Classroom Connection" ideas and tucked it inside each book
- several videos were shown on the morning news broadcast, introducing the student body to Mr. Wilson and his work, teasing them with some splat-tastic highlights
It goes without saying that the kids who are prepared are more excited, more engaged, ask better questions, are better behaved, and get more out of the experience. Since we know the benefits, don't be afraid to require work out of your students beforehand. This will look different depending on your author's area of expertise. For Doug Wilson, I encouraged my students to watch the broadcast moments chronicled in his book. This man was an audio/visual expert, so I let them learn by watching.
|An Art Club creation|
For Mr. Krasner the sportswriter, I ran off dozens of sports articles and sent an email that linked to a new one each day. The kids were encouraged to read his articles as well as non-fiction books of their choice.
For Mr. Golden the novelist, each student was required to read at least one book he had written. In addition to directing kids to local libraries and bookstores, we bought multiple copies of his books and sold them to our students at the school store.
|Deck the halls!|
Let's be honest: most of us are simply too busy to remember something we heard once. If you want faculty buy-in and well-prepared kiddos, you need to provide a lot of support on a very regular basis. Do you want teachers to assign YouTube viewing for homework? Then type it out, include the link, and send it to them. One teacher even invited me into her classroom to write it on the board. If you can take something off teachers' plates, do it. And don't be afraid to repeat yourself!
|My favorite poster|
This isn't a great tip for those trying to de-stress but if you, like me, are a bit of a control freak, don't be afraid to make things happen. If you are worried about things getting done, do it yourself. Check and double check. Make phone calls. Confirm. Follow your gut. If you're worried lunch isn't going to arrive on time, you are probably right. Call your Principal and
I can fit 28 balloons in my car. In fact, after several book reveal assemblies, summer reading celebrations, and international literacy days, I can now strut into that store and state my mylar needs with confidence.
We Crazy Reading Ladies know a thing or two about spectacle, and it works. When you make something feel like a big deal, it is.
- Balloons, posters, student-made signage...do it all! Mr. and Mrs. Wilson even picked up on my color scheme.
- Display a welcome banner signed by students and staff.
- If you are welcoming a novelist, create a graph or poster that features different book covers and have the kids sign what they read, owning their accomplishment.
- Have a book signing.
- Contests/small group workshops: we've rallied our kiddos to create non-fiction, short stories, and video montages depending on our author du jour.
- Food: if your school allows it, have it. Everything is better with food.
- Invite the kids to dress up or dress according to a theme (sports jerseys, ABC sports colors, etc.)
- Deck the halls - the art club was invited to create posters featuring "the thrill of victory" and "the agony of defeat." Last year, they made super snazzy book cover replicas. More than anything, I think this is what Mr. and Mrs. Wilson appreciated most. It was the warm welcome they so deserved.
|Doug Wilson - 2014|
We had a complete dry run (with technology) the afternoon before and made some final decisions about content and timing. The result was a day of positively seamless presentations. He spoke about The Power of Words; it was outstanding.
9. Accept help
- parents offered to buy lunch
- colleagues covered my classes
- the Art Club moderator led two after-school sessions for poster making
- Mary took over Writing Club duties
- students served as a welcoming committee, escorting the Wilsons upon arrival
- a parking lot buddy made sure every balloon made it inside
- Mrs. Wilson and the Principal manned the controls at the back
|Emmy-award winning Asst. Principal|
10. Say "Thank You"
When all is said and done, and you are basking in your post-Author Visit bliss, people are going to tell you how much they enjoyed the day. The kids are going to tell you it was the best day ever, that it really wasn't boring, or that it was the coolest thing they'd ever done. One 7th grade boy, after meeting Doug Wilson, said, "I think I found my place now."
Encourage the students and staff to write their thoughts down and send along their words of appreciation. Once again, I used the online course and created a gratitude thread. Over two hundred kids responded. The pages were printed and sent off to New York along with photos from the day's events.
|"To Michelle Kwan, who brought us together."|
Is it August? Yes.
Am I already nervous about how I'm going to find another fabulous author for next year? Ohh yes. But in the last three years I have had three Author Visits that have looked completely different, and I know that is okay. Next year, it will come together the way it is supposed to, and our cherished tradition will continue.
In Part 3, we'll talk about how we made this Author Visit a two-day affair; arranging our Skype session with co-author Jody Cohan!