Friday, March 25, 2016

Tips for a Great Author-Visit to Your School

Spring at last, and with it, many teachers begin to think about inviting an author to their classrooms. They know how a visit from a "real live" author can both excite and inspire students. It can stimulate a desire to read in even the most reluctant kids, and provide an opportunity to build other skills as well - letter writing, creative thinking, research. The possibilities are limitless!

Hooray! It's Spring!
I've done hundreds of school presentations in the course of my career, and seen time and time again how teacher preparation makes all the difference. No matter how polished or perfect my presentation is,  I can't actually make it great alone. A bit of advance planning on the part of my school partners turns a ho-hum hour into a learning extravaganza.

So if you are thinking of bringing in an author to your school or library, here are some tips I've gathered over the years for making the event terrific. And in tight budgetary times, don't you want to get the most out of the dollars you spend? Of course you do!



TEACHER-TIPS FOR
MAKING 
YOUR AUTHOR VISIT
AWESOME


  • Send home a letter to parents announcing the upcoming visit. 

The letter can include a list of books by the author and a book list and/or order form. If the parents are informed and excited about the author, the child will be too.

(Side note:  When I book a school visit, I  provide a confirmation letter with the date, price and other particulars spelled out, as well as a parent's letter template that teachers can easily adapt.)
  • Consider whether or not you wish to give students the opportunity to purchase books either through advance order or on the day of the event. 

While this may not be appropriate for your school, keep in mind that if students go home with a book after they've met the author, you've just  set up the ideal conditions for creating an enthusiastic reader. If you will be allowing kids to buy books, leave 15 minutes between presentations for kids to get their books and have them signed.

  •  Ensure that teachers or parent volunteers will be available to remain in the room and to be active participants during the entire event.

One of the hardest situations for visiting authors is when they are expected to give a bang up presentation and maintain class discipline at the same time. I think I can safely say that I'm a 'pro' at doing school presentations - I've been doing school and library presentations, now, for 15+ years.  I've learned during that time how to both read and 'manage' an audience, whether it is composed of restless kindies or rambunctious grade 8s.

Yet even so, there are times when even the best performance techniques, by the most experienced presenters, don't work. Usually it's because the adults in the room are not performing their roles effectively.

It's painfully obvious to the author when teachers consider our sessions to be "break" time.
  It's obvious to the kids too. If they see their teachers talking, grading papers, or working on a lap top during the presentation, they are getting the not-so-subtle message that the author is not worth listening to. No wonder the kids act up.

That puts the author in the difficult situation of having to stop the presentation until order is restored, or calling out misbehaving students. Now, the whole aim of the presentation - making books and literacy fun! - is undermined, and replaced with a squiggly feeling in the pit of the stomach (and not just in the author's!). 

If we work together, though, we can achieve much more positive results. Make sure all the adults who will be present - teachers and parents - know what they will be responsible for. They are expected to: maintain class discipline, focus and stimulate student questions, and model appropriate active listening behavior.  


  •   Make sure there are several copies of the most appropriate titles for your school in the library. 
Your teacher-librarian should show the books to the students ahead of time, and encourage them to take them out since they will be meeting the author. 


  • A 'Countdown to Author Day' over the PA system is also a good way to build excitement (and build number and calendar skills to boot!)


  •   Teachers whose classes are attending the presentation should take the time to familiarize themselves with the author's work in advance

Imagine how the author feels when a teacher comes up to them, after a presentation, and says, "What's your name again? I should probably look up your books."  (Yes, this happens.) Now imagine how much opportunity the kids in that teacher's class have lost. 
Kids dressed up like characters from my books
A mural of Loons Canoing in the office!


  •  Use some of the author's books to do some cross-curricular activities with their class.
Doing research in class? Have students research the author on line. Learning about haiku or punctuation? Read some poetry or the first chapters of a novel and see how it relates to classroom activities. For PE or science lessons, play a game or do a science experiment related to the book. The possibilities are endless. (You will find some lesson ideas related to my books on the Teacher’s Page of my website at www.helainebecker.com.) 


  •  Encourage kids to develop their own writing skills by writing their own letters of introduction to the author.

To stimulate critical thinking skills, have kids also craft questions which they may ask during the presentation.

Follow up by the presentation by having kids write thank you letters or their own stories or poems (or illustrations of favorite scenes or poems). 

These can be emailed to me at 
Helaine@helainebecker.com. 



  • Younger kids can get involved by drawing pictures of what they think "the famous author" will look like! 
I've seen some fabulous crafts readied in advance of my visits: Carmen Miranda's fruit hats, choreographed dances to Mama Likes to Mambo, handmade books, rumbling, bumbling bees on springs, welcome banners, board games based on Boredom Blasters and more. 

Kids who engage in exciting, relevant book-related activities ahead of time are the ones who get the most out of my visit. They are more focused during the presentation, ask better questions, and elicit the most enthusiastic, and energized performances from the visiting authors.

Teachers, too enjoy the presentations more and wind up with a great 'hook' to hang other class activities on.  A successful author visit is a win-win for everybody. 


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