What Makes a Strong Author's Visit—a Teacher's Perspective

For all of us writing for kids, the Author Visit holds equal amounts of terror and excitement. Being there at ground zero, in the classroom or gym, up close with our audience...it's adrenaline charging! But then the doubt and fear creep in: What if they don't like me? What if the kids start to fidget from boredom? What if the teacher grows stone-faced because what I'm covering isn't what she expected?

Author visits are a great time to encourage the love of reading and to enjoy interaction with our audience, so getting caught up in the mental worries is something we need to avoid. When I found out Jillian Terry was a retired teacher interested on blogging about her classroom experience, I asked her for tips to ensure both the audience and author walk away with a bounce in their step.  So please, read on, because this is Author Visit GOLD!

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THE AUTHOR VISIT

via Labpluto123
It's not uncommon for professionals from all types of backgrounds to visit classrooms to give students some perspective on their area of expertise. It's a nice opportunity for educators to break from the strictures of a daily curriculum so that students can hear firsthand from those who have benefited from a great education. A research scientist might visit a biology class to lecture students on current breakthroughs in the field, or perhaps an entrepreneur will visit students to explain how they started their business.

Along these lines, I thought it might be useful to reflect on what wisdom an author could impart upon a classroom. I never had an author visit my classroom during my time as an educator, but I think that a visit from a professional writer could have had a profound impact on my students. Let's take a look at some of the ways how an author could make their visit to a classroom benefit students.  

Share childhood stories about reading

I'm thinking about the phrase "leading by example" with this point. Perhaps one of the best ways that an author could begin their time with a classroom might be to share what they read as a child. Doing so could form an instant bond with the classroom—perhaps some of the author's favorite books are favorites among kids in the class. Sharing childhood experiences will put the entire classroom at ease and will help to put students and the author on the same level. What's more, hearing an author talk about their reading habits as a child might encourage some students to read more.

Explain and demystify the life of the writer 

Via Wikimedia Commons
We all have that imagine of the stereotypical writer in our minds, the one perpetuated by all forms of media and entertainment: someone chained to a desk with a typewriter, empty cups of coffee, and endless balls of papers strewn about. A visiting author could do the classroom a favor by demystifying the idea of the writer by explaining just what they do on a day to day basis. The author could talk about writing schedules, dealing with publishers and agents, or what they do in their spare time. Sharing this type of information helps students learn to humanize a profession that might seem too abstract or lofty for them to attain.

Affirm that everyone has trouble writing occasionally 

Writing can be one of the most difficult areas to teach students, especially if they aren’t too keen on reading. Part of the difficulty stems from students feeling like they aren’t "smart enough" to write or the misconception that they lack any thoughts worth sharing. Authors can dispel this insecurity by sharing their own struggles with writing. If an author were to share their stories of writer's block, or explain how they, too, have bad days when they feel like they can't write anything, perhaps it will make students feel more at ease about their own writing anxieties. Again, it's all about humanizing the profession and making it less intimidating than it seems, and writing can take all the humanization it can get.

Inspire students to work towards their dreams 

Above all, professionals do these visits to inspire students to do great things in their own lives. The takeaway from nearly every one of these career day-style visits is, "If I can make it, so can you. Stay in school, study hard and anything is possible." An author could add their voice to that chorus by explaining how their passion for reading and writing led them to their vocation and giving hope to kids who share the same interests. Students could hear firsthand from someone who makes a living by writing about what they want to write about; and if that won't inspire some students, then I don't know what will.

via Audrey
Jillian Terry is a former educator turned freelancer who writes about higher education, the college experience, US history, and much more for teachingdegree.org among other sites. Feel free to send any comments her way! 

WOW! A BIG thank you to Jillian for so kindly sharing all of this with us. I have been in the classroom a few times, but I plan on applying these lessons to make sure I take every opportunity to make it a hit!  Have you spent time in the classroom? What did you find worked well to keep the audience engaged? Please share your experience in the comments! 

**A small note: I'm guest posting over at The Write Now! Coach blog. I hope you'll swing on by for my advice on  What Makes Characters Stand Out To Readers. 
  

 

25 comments:

Al Diaz said...

I don't write for children but I make up stories for my nephew and boy, he does have questions. This is good advice. :)

Wendy's Writing said...

A thank you for this great post from across the pond. I write short stories for magazines so am not 'well known' enough to do school visits but I was an English teacher in a small primary school for 10 years before starting writing myself, and before that, a general class teacher. The point that stands out the most for me is: 'Affirm that everyone has trouble writing occasionally'. Many childen have wonderful imaginations but may have difficulty with spelling or handwritng - I tried to help my children realise that although these things are importsnt, their imagination is their greatest tool (it's the part of writing that can't be learnt).

Karen Lange said...

Thanks, Angela and Becca for hosting and introducing me to Jillian. Great to meet you, Jillian! Thanks so much for your tips and insight.

cleemckenzie said...

Great post. I loved those pictures of the children. I spent about twenty-five years in classrooms from K through college, so when I do a presentation at a school it's like going home. Love talking to the students.

LTM said...

This is possibly the greatest post ever, Angela and Jill! Thanks so much! I get asked to visit classrooms occasionally, and I'm always in a panic trying to figure out WHAT they want to know, WHAT to do, WHAT the teacher expects...

Bookmarking this one! THANKS!!! <3

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks Jillian for the tips. School visits kind of terrify me and you've given me some of ideas of how they might be useful to kids and less scary to me as a potential author.

Melissa Marsh said...

Terrific tips! Thank you for sharing!

Linda Maendel said...

We've had a number of children's authors come to our school over the years. We usually do that for 'I Love to read' month and try to get someone whose books we have in school. Last year we had Sigmund Brouwer and he was a big hit. He does an excellent presentation! I posted about that last Feb. if you're interested in how that went.

Angela Ackerman said...

I love it when we can bounce our stories off of kids--their questions make us see the book in a whole new light, Al!

@Wendy, so glad this is helpful!

@Karen, I am so glad we are able to have Jillian today--this is really great stuff to keep in mind on a visit!

@Lee, I can see how you would feel this way--and I bet your presentations are great!

LTM, WOW! That is great that this is good info for you. I was so excited that Jillian was going to post on this, because you don't see much on the topic coming from the teacher's perspective!

Natalie, I was so freaked out at my first one, and it was so successful and addictive, I went on to do a bunch more. The kids are great, and for me, the classroom setting is just right.

Thanks Melissa!

Hi Linda, send me a link and I'll check it out--thanks!

Susanne Drazic said...

Great post. When my son was in elementary school, I remember his school having author visits each year. One year his classroom got to go on a field trip to the local book store for a book signing. I was lucky enough to be a parent chaperone. : )

Mirka Breen said...

I'm marking this good post. Thank you. Better believe I'll be taking notes.

Becca Puglisi said...

I love the point about speaking about your own reading habits as a kid. I can totally see how this would create a bond, and possibly spur on the reluctant readers in the audience. Thanks so much for sharing this, Jillian!

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

How timely. I have done only one school visit and I have two more coming up this month. Thanks for the excellent advice.

Miranda A. Uyeh said...

Loved this post! It had more impact on me than I thought it would. I guess professionals of every kind have the power to encourage kids to become great. I often wonder what it would have been like if I'd had a talk with a writer when I was much younger. Perhaps I would have been convinced of my talent much earlier.

Fiona Ingram said...

I write MG adventure and my first book (The Secret of the Sacred Scarab) was inspired by an actual trip to Egypt. When I talk to kids about writing and inspiration, I use this as a great example; and how my two young nephews who accompanied me were the blueprints for my heroes. From there we talk about creating plots (I used our actual trip) and characters (I used many people on our trip as inspiration). Then I always prime the teacher beforehand that there will be a quiz on Egypt. The class gets divided into team A and team B and it's wonderful pandemonium as the teams compete. By the end of the session I am not sure if they know exactly what I do but they learn a lot about Egypt! I also hand out bookmarks and postcards with story synopses to highlight how easy it is to write a book (ahem, in theory that is!) The teachers always ask when the next book is coming out so I must be doing something right.

Matthew MacNish said...

Pure gold.

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Martha Ramirez said...

What a great post. I was once invited (several years ago) to Literary Night at an elementary for a booking signing. I thought maybe I was going to do a little reading to some kids, you know a relaxed atmosphere just me and them but needless to say when they had arranged for me to go to the podium in the multi-purpose room and do a reading in front of all the staff, parents, and kids my hear wouldn't stop pounding.

That def was one of the hardest things I had to do. Unexpected hardest things. Dozens of eyes on me, parents, kids and faculty.

Michelle said...

Excellent post. Thank you :)

Traci Kenworth said...

I fear the day I meet up with an audience. Lol. I'm quite shy, so it will be a nightmare for me.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great post. When I student taught, we had three guest authors at the high school through a program called Writers In the Schools. Each author had a different way of handling the classroom, some shared their stories and favorite books, some shared the ups and downs of writing and publishing, and some had the students do writing exercises. Most did a combination of those three, and the students loved it.
We did have one guest author who never appeared, and the students were really disappointed.
So, I think the most important step is showing up, and showing interest.

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genevievepetrillo said...

I love this post! You have lots of original suggestions that differ from other posts on the same topic. ....Lots of things I need to add to my own author visit PowerPoint. Thanks!

Christie Wright Wild said...

So in a nutshell:
1. Share childhood experiences and/or relate to books they know about.
2. Writers are human too.
3. It's hard for us too.
4. Follow your own dreams.
Got it!
One of these years, I'll be out there doing just that! Thanks for inspiring us writers!

Janet K Brown said...

Wonderful post, Jillian. Thanks for the inspiration.

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