For many years, author visits inspired our high school English and choral music students. This year, when our own book, Go, Gwen, Go: A Family’s Journey to Olympic Gold, was released, we became the authors sharing firsthand writing knowledge in the classroom.
In both scenarios—as teachers hosting writers and writers presenting to classrooms—we found that students were inspired to analyze, create, and perform. Hosting authors can be useful for any grade level or subject matter and can inspire creativity, teach writing, and inform content.
CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITIES
Several resources can facilitate an author visit. Before scheduling an author visit, make a plan. Decide on the length of visit, the desired topic, and the format: in-person or virtual; lecture, Q&A, or both. Determine whether you want the author to offer insights on the writing process or particular content.
In selecting an author, consider a speaker from local colleges, universities, or writers’ associations. Local book festivals and writers’ workshops are also resources for finding possible authors.
Connect with bookstore owners and reference librarians. They usually organize a shelf dedicated to local authors and may facilitate connections between authors and schools.
State or regional poets laureate often make educational appearances. No locale is too small to sponsor such a position. The tiny town of Wales, Wisconsin (population 2,577), has been sponsoring a poet laureate since 2016. Research your own local and state poet laureate commissions.
Journalists are another helpful resource. When students worked on feature pieces, we used journalist Crocker Stephenson’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel column as a model. Prompted by students’ questions, we reached out to Stephenson, who offered to answer questions face-to-face. Students asked questions about his language choices, paragraph sizes, and writing process. After hearing Stephenson, students said they were inspired to pay closer attention to detail and to evoke more emotion in their stories. Students said his author talk triggered compassion, tears, joy, sadness, and laughter.
When sharing exemplar texts or studying current events, consider inviting journalists to your classroom. The Pulitzer Center’s website offers online sessions with a journalist.
Consider expanding the range of professionals beyond traditional authors. Composers Robert Ray, James Machan, and Keith Hampton directed students in singing their gospel, spiritual, and contemporary compositions in our high school choir classroom.
Determine if the writer is self-published or traditionally published, with its credibility and vetting. Ensure that the author’s content is appropriate for grade level, curriculum, and established school values. Thoroughly research those who will interact with students, and ask an administrator to assist with a background check.
MAKE THE REQUEST
Send a request indicating that you are familiar with the author, admire his or her work, and if (or how) you use his or her work in the curriculum. Include a brief summary of your proposed project. Send the request with enough lead time. Be specific about dates and start and end times that work with your classroom schedule. If negotiating an online visit, be familiar with time zones.
Many authors volunteer their time in the classroom; some accept a standard honorarium, and others may charge considerable fees. Be honest about your budget, even if you are not able to offer compensation.
PLAN THE VISIT
Consider asking students to formulate questions for the author in advance. Students can brainstorm through individual written questions or classroom discussions. Ask students to submit questions via a Google form that’s shared with the author prior to his or her visit.
When English teacher Becca McCann invited The College Success Cheat Sheet author Jonathan Davidson for a virtual visit, she set up a video camera at the front of the classroom. Before connecting by Skype, student questions were sent to Davidson. During the session, students used these to drive the Q&A. Students engage more deeply when their own interests determine the conversation.
Do a test run, and coordinate with your school’s media and technology resources to avoid technological challenges.
If a face-to-face experience is not possible, consider prerecorded messages. When some of our (Elizabeth’s) students wrote about a favourite educator, we shared the TED Talk Why Lunch Ladies Are Heroes, by Jarrett Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady graphic novel series. After studying Linda Sue Park’s poems, one of us (Elizabeth) shared her TED Talk, Can a Children’s Book Change the World? Consider looking for related online talks or videos when a visit is not possible.
AFTER THE VISIT
Encourage students to write a thank-you note. This could be done collaboratively—in groups or as a whole class—or independently. Include your own note of thanks to the presenter. Not only does it express gratitude for their time, but it helps maintain the relationship for possible future visits.
After our own appearance as authors, one parent told us that her daughter said, “I found out today the Olympian Gwen Jorgensen sat in the same desk as me and her dreams came true, and if I work hard, my dreams can come true too.” Students are inspired not only by subject matter but also by the process of writing and publishing.
By Elizabeth Jorgensen, Nancy Jorgensen