Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 29, 2012

School Visits – Teachers Talk

This August illustration was submitted by Rachel Bollman, a children’s writer illustrator with a fashion design background.

Faculty Feeback

by Christine Brower-Cohen

Planning a school visit?  Many authors have written articles sharing their tips for a successful school visit, but what do teachers and school librarians really look for in an author visit?  More importantly, what do they look for in authors or illustrators whom they invite back again and again?

Author, Ruth Minsky Sender has been invited back to the Patchogue-Medford Senior High School on Long Island, NY, eighteen times!  Teacher, Jen Bleicher recalls, “Her presentation was so moving, that many students and teachers were in tears and hugging her as they got her autograph.” 

During my career as a public school teacher, I have experienced countless author visits.  Some have been fabulous.  Others have been merely ok, and one was, dare I say it, absolutely abysmal.

So what is the magic formula for a great school visit that leaves students and teachers wanting more?  To find out, I polled hundreds of teachers.  Amazingly, certain comments kept coming up again and again in their responses.

Size Matters; Smaller is Better.    Almost every teacher responded that they prefer authors who present to smaller groups, as this results in more student interaction with the author.  Now if you’re thinking that you have no control over how many people they pack into the auditorium, try discussing a limit with the district contact person.  It could pay huge dividends in future invites. 

Age Matters.     Tweak your presentation for each age group you work with.  That is not to say that you can’t visit a middle school or high school if you are a picture book writer.  On the contrary, picture books make great mentor texts for young adult writers.  Use your picture book to model a particular writing skill that you have employed successfully; similes, alliteration, etc.  Then give students a chance to try it out for themselves.

Similarly, if you primarily write for the adult market and have just crossed over into YA or children’s, remember your audience is very different.  The abysmal presentation that I remember was given by a brilliant author.  It would have been an interesting discussion on Book TV, but was too esoteric for young students.

Open up Your Bag of Tricks.   Teacher, D. Mahler, shares, “Poets who used music, rhyme or rhythm held the kids’ interest more.” 

Sue Bastidas, a reading teacher, recalls Bernard Waber visiting her school, “and what stands out in my memory is how much the kids enjoyed seeing him draw the character (Lyle the Crocodile).”   

So get those creative juices flowingIs there a song that you could tie into your presentation?  Even if you are not the illustrator, can you get copies of some of the early sketches to share with students? 

 Help Teachers to Help You.  Teachers are truly excited to have you there, but they want this to be a valuable educational experience, not just a time filler.  If you send some background information or a link to your website, teachers will prepare the students so this can be an interactive and rewarding experience for all.

It is also a good idea if you contact one of the teachers directly, so you can get a feel for what the students are currently learning.  It will not only give you something very specific to say to your audience, but it could save you from an embarrassing gaffe.

One year, a well-known author was speaking at my school and commenting on the number of dogs who die in children’s books.  He said, “And take Where the Red Fern Grows, both dogs die.”  A collective gasp arose from the packed auditorium, as the students were in the middle of this required text. 

Come Bearing Gifts.   Most school librarians are going to arrange for students to preorder an autographed copy of your book.  However, not every child can afford to purchase the book, and not every parent is going to remember to send the order in on time.  Please, think of these children leaving empty-handed.  Please come prepared with promotional postcards or bookmarks for them.  Who knows, some of these children may bring the bookmark home and hound their parents to take them to Barnes and Noble to buy your book later.  

Get the Lay of The Land.  Ascertain the physical limitations of the space in which you will be presenting.  “One author came prepared with a slide show and couldn’t do it because our gym windows didn’t have blinds,” says Debora Mahler.   

            This, of course leads to…

Have a Back-up Plan.  On any day, any aspect of a school’s technology could be down; the sound system, the projector, etc.  In these tough economic times, there may be funds to repair these items promptly, or there may not.  So if your entire presentation is on Powerpoint, have a Plan-B.

Many of the teachers who participated in this poll stated that they rely on recommendations when selecting an author.  It seems, teachers talk. 

So follow these tips, and teachers are sure to talk you up to colleagues.  Of course, our comments may be a little stilted, “Is a pleasure to have in class,”  “Works well with a group,” but the sentiment they represent will be sincere.   

About Christine Brower-Cohen

Christine Brower-Cohen has a B.A. in Social Science and an M.S. in Elementary Education.  She writes the Literacy Connections blog at   https://sites.google.com/a/wbschools.org/literacylink/secondary/grade-6 and is always looking for authors to write guest posts or arrange visits at her school.  A member of S.C.B.W.I., she has previously been published in Sprouts Magazine, and has a picture book under contract.


Responses

  1. What a wonderful post, Kathy and Christine. Thank you! And the illustration is adorable 🙂

    Like

  2. Thank you, Kathy!

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  3. Excellent post. Still wondering if there’s a “consultant” out there who can help me put together a winning school visit. I’ve got some ideas but I need somebody to help me tweak it. Will pay and/or barter editing/proofreading for consultation!

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    • Denise,
      Thanks for your comment. Email me at the address on my blog. (Link above.)

      Like

    • Hi Denise, I’m a children’s author, past librarian and teacher, and a creativity coach. One of my specialties is working with authors who want to develop school visit presentations. You can find me at deb (at) deblund.com.

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  4. Thanks for this! I’m still working on the whole “getting published” aspect, but this is something I should learn about.

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  5. Great post! I love doing school visits and appreciate exploring ways to make them even better. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Christine, I loved your post, and I’ve found similar reactions from librarians in my surveys with them as well. As another educator and writer, I’d love to chat with you about this and other topics—I have a fun project I’m considering, and it would take a few more like minds to make it happen. Maybe after the school year gets going! ; ) Oh, and I jumped in and made the comment to Denise before I noticed your note, or I wouldn’t have sent it… Thanks for helping to bridge that school-visit gap!

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    • Deb, Thank you for such great comments. I’d love to hear more about your project idea!

      Like

  7. Interesting that you polled teachers to find the magic formula. Your tips are helpful and intersting.

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