Friday, March 13, 2015

                   Hosting a Poet at Your School
Steven Layne writes in Chapter 9 of his book, Igniting a Passion for Reading:   "Author visits are exciting!  Hosting an author can expose students to the wonders of reading and writing in a unique way, one they may have never considered before.  When authors come to speak to young people, they often inspire them to want to read great books and to write with more consideration for their audience.  There's no denying that preparing for author visits is a lot of work, but in my experience, the benefits have always been worth the effort."

I agree with Steven Layne!  Writing a grant and planning for an author visit can be daunting but a visiting author experience provides children with an important and influential event, one that will be felt for years.   Layne continues in chapter 9 to describe the process of arranging an author visit, preparing students, ordering and autographing books, publicizing and creating excitement, providing hospitality and many extra helpful tips. Make sure to read this chapter if you find yourself in charge of planning an author visit.

I was fortunate to hear Steven Layne speak last summer at the Michigan Reading Association Children's Literature Conference on Mackinac Island.  I paid particular attention to his words about hosting an author as I had written a grant for our school to host poet, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater in February 2015.  I was excited and churning with anticipation but after listening to Steven Layne, I realized in order for students to feel this same level excitement, there were some things that would need to be done.   By helping students make a connection to our author and her work, long before the visit, we were more apt to feel the excitement and magic during her time with us.  
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

When school began in the fall I introduced Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at a staff meeting by sharing her website,"The Poem Farm," a video of her reading, and her book, Forest Has a Song.  Teachers were encouraged to read poems from her site and to allow older students time to explore the site on their own.  I challenged my third graders to choose their favorite poems after spending time reading on her site. They loved sharing these with the class and making recommendations for friends, based on their special interests. When we met with our Kindergarten Reading Buddies we often brought our Chrome books to read poetry from "The Poem Farm."  Brothers talked to sisters, children talked to parents, and teachers began talking to one another, all sparked by Amy's poems.  

By November interest was building and for those who had not tried writing poetry with their students, it was time to begin.  At a staff meeting I shared an easy method of writing free verse poetry, Poet Laura Salas offers on her website called, "15 Words of Less" (or 15 W.O.L.) in which you write from a photo image.  I think teachers were amazed at what they created and were excited to try the process with their students.  

Each grade level team was given a copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong to inspire ideas on sharing and writing poetry with their students.  A basket full of some of the most beautiful poetry books, recently written, was shared and made available for circulation.  Some of these books were anthologies which contained Amy's poems.  How, some of you may be wondering, were these books funded?  A generous P.T.O. and a dynamic principal who is always willing to find funds for a worthwhile endeavor.

In January, a few weeks before Amy's visit was to take place, my very enthusiastic principal jumped in wholeheartedly by producing a video each day for teachers to share with their students.  He called it, "The Poetry Parade" and chose three poems each time to read to the students. He offered that they might want to write in response to a poem they had heard, visit the Poem Farm to read, or send him suggestions of poems they felt should be read in future Poetry Parade episodes.  Later he invited guest readers to come and read some of their own poems.  The building was  abuzz and poetry was the topic!  

At this same time, I worked closely with our brilliant art teacher to create projects connecting to some of Amy's poems.  Students at each grade level worked on a special piece of art to hang in a hallway display with one of Amy's poems.  I chose the poems and she designed the projects.  Below are samples of our displays.
                                              Kindergarten Display

                  What Will You Be?
     You know what I'll be when I grow up?
     The one who puts sprinkles on cookies and cakes.
     I'll be the one with jars full of rainbows.
     I'll be the one who sings as he shakes.
     I can't wait to sprinkle each leaf and each heart.
     I'll turn sugar rain into small works of art.
     And people will travel by air and by sea
     to nibble wee cookies- sprinkled by me!
                 By Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

                                                      First Grade Display


Second Grade Display                                                              

    "Steady Stripes"
Illustrated by two students


Fourth Grade Display

We also created a large piece to display as a welcome for Amy, highlighting one of her poems. Each child contributed a word to make a "word blanket" imagined from her poem by the same title.  You can imagine how excited children were to find their  word on the "word blanket."  All we needed now was the poet.  And she did arrive one snowy morning.


Amy's visit consisted of large group presentations, tailored to the various needs of each age group.  We combined grades  K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 for these sessions.  They were held in our school library. 

Over the three days, time was also scheduled for Amy to teach a mini-lesson during a writing workshop for grades one through 5.  The three classrooms at each grade level were split into two groups to make this possible.   A highlight for most of the children was having the opportunity not only to confer with Amy but  also to read aloud their work during a share time.

Steven Layne recommends that every visiting author have a guide for the day. 

 He says, "The most hospitable thing that you can do is to have one person, someone who knows the school well, serving as host/hostess for the day." 

My principal served as host, touring the building and directing our guest to classroom visits. Our school has three floors and this was important not only to help Amy feel more comfortable but also to keep to a tight time schedule.  

Another thing to consider is making sure meals are in place for your author.  Coffee, bottled water, and lunches should be available for your guest. Make sure to inquire as to any food concerns beforehand.   Hosting a lunch for the author to spend time with  the staff is also something Steven Layne suggests.  On the first day of Amy's visit. our PTO set up a table with delicious salads and sandwich choices.  

On the second day, Amy was the guest of honor at Poetry Club. I offer Poetry Club once at week at lunch time, for third and fourth grade students to come and read and write poetry.  We had  a pizza lunch with Amy and students had a chance to talk with her as a group and also individually.  My principal also scheduled a half hour time period for the club to meet with Amy.  Club members had decided earlier that what they really wanted to do with this special time with Amy, was to each have the opportunity to read her one of their poems.  This is what we did.  Amy allowed them to ask questions and offered tips for revision work.  It was an incredible experience.

We offered two opportunities for students to purchase Amy's book and some of the anthology collections containing her work.  I arranged for a local independent book seller to provide preordered books for purchase as well as an after school sales table.  On the second day of her visit children and their families were able to meet Amy and have their books signed.  

Steven Layne advises," It is a fact that several students will fail to preorder books. Then, they will get very excited the day of the visit and come asking to order books now.  You should anticipate this and congratulate yourself.  What this really means is that a student who thought having an author come would not be a big deal now thinks that it is a big deal and wants to read!"  

It is important to offer both opportunities for this reason.

Throughout the experience I posted our events on Twitter and Facebook.  I would suggest doing this not only for the school community but also for the author, and education in general.  Everyone has the chance to glimpse the wonderful work that is happening in schools.  Posting on social media offers potential ideas for other schools who may not realize the influence and inspiration hosting an author will have for students.         (More this topic)

Steven Layne leaves this chapter with...  

The Day After
"Have a discussion about the event.  Ask for feedback.  How could it have been better?  What did you learn? Start planning your next visit! "

This is exactly what we are doing!

Here we are with Amy and the Word Blanket  students made for her.
   A parent made the quilt square in the center and also made a second one
which was framed and given to Amy on the last day of her visit.


1 comment:

  1. Oh, Kim! My visit to Wealthy was nothing short of an author fairy tale, magic provided by you, your colleagues, and the children. Thank you for inviting me, for creating such beauty, and for this written how-to/memory...I will revisit it again and again. Big hugs to all...I miss you! xo, a.