So you have always wished you could have a well-known author come to visit your students in your classroom. Then your dream is very similar to mine. How I wish I could visit every classroom!
While it is not always possible to have authors visit classrooms, every classroom can have a special connection with an author by making an Author’s Study and sharing it with the author, or even by creating a virtual visit using the author’s videos and tapes.
This suggested framework will help teachers carry out a successful Author’s Visit or Author’s Study. The goal is to provide many ideas that will enable the teacher to maximize the benefits from the Visit or Study. The quality of either, and its benefits, will be greatly enhanced by spending an appropriate amount of time preparing for the event.
Of course, one of the primary benefits of an Author’s Visit or Author’s Study is to arouse a child’s interest in literature. Children’s interest in reading is stimulated when they are made aware of the people behind the creation of the books: the authors, illustrators, and translators. An Author’s Visit or Author’s Study is one of the most effective ways to develop this awareness in children. If the author is a woman, the visit contributes to eliminating sex-role stereotypes. If the author is a minority person, it assists in eradicating prejudice and racism. Above all, the Author’s visit should bring to the children five very important messages:
- Good books are fun and can be great friends to everyone. All we need is to find those appropriate for each moment.
- Language belongs to all of us, and we can all use it creatively to enhance our lives.
- Stories, values, feelings, ideas, and information can be shared with many people via writing.
- All children have the potential and the right to become anything they want in life.
- Two languages are better than one. Developing the ability to translate can lead to a useful and rewarding profession.
Preparing for the Visit or Study
The quality of the visit or study, and its benefits, will be greatly enhanced by the advance preparations made by the teachers. An important aspect of preparing for the visit or study is to have the children become familiar with the author beforehand: The more familiar children are with the author, the more value they are likely to gain from the visit. The students will be more at ease and are apt to have a more provocative exchange with the author when they already know the rudimentary information about the author.
As an author, I welcome students’ letters and try to answer them. How much more significant they are when instead of asking about the few already known biographical data, they ask personal questions about the creative process or relate what they have read to their own lives! Following are some useful suggestions for the preparation:
Prepare an exhibit of the author’s books in the classroom, and/or the school library.
Create a bulletin board or wall display with book covers, photos of the author, quotes or sayings by the author, etc.
II. READING AND RESPONDING TO THE LITERATURE
Read the author’s books, or selections from the books, to the children for several days or weeks before the visit.
Have the children read the books. If possible, allow them to borrow the books and take them home.
Comment about the books with the children. Develop units using the books as a springboard. For useful ideas on using literature in the classroom you may want to refer to: Alma Flor Ada, A Magical Encounter: Latino Literature in the Classroom. Allyn and Bacon, 2004.
III. PLACING THE FOCUS ON THE CHILDREN
Make the Author’s Visit or Author’s Study become an opportunity for children to experience the visitor’s creative tasks firsthand. The benefits are multiple: The children will be exploring their creative talents; their exchange with the author, whether in person or through letters, can be on a plane where the creative process that both have experienced can be shared and discussed; and finally, the appreciation for books and the creative process they require will be enhanced.
Explain to the children that the author (or illustrator or translator) has made an effort to share her/his talent with them. Invite them to prepare their own creations as a response to the books they have read so that they can share them with the author either in person or by sending letters and photos. The responses from the children may take many forms:
Visual arts creations:
- dioramas of favorite moments in the story
- T-shirts painted with scenes from a book
- masks of characters
- readers’ theater
IV. FACILITATING INTERACTION
Prepare the children for dialogue with the author by having them prepare questions for the author. Learning to question is a very important aspect of learning to think and reflect. Encourage each child or each cooperative group to come up with different interesting questions.
Whether the author is physically visiting the school or not, encourage the children to assist in designing and creating banners or displays either to welcome the author to the school and/or classroom or to let others in the school know the class is studying an author.
Have the children create their own original nametags, with very visible letters. This way the author can refer to them by name.
V. BECOMING AUTHORS
Turn the Author’s Visit into a Meeting of Authors. Take advantage of this opportunity to encourage children to become authors. Have the children respond to some of the books they have read by creating individual and collective books.
Books which respond to a particular book by the author could be a continuation of the story or may have
- the same characters in a new story
- the same setting with different characters
- the same structure.
Children and teachers can create their own original books.
Some good resources that provide ideas for types of books which can be created in the classroom are:
- The 18-minute section “Becoming Authors,” Writing from the Heart, by Alma Flor Ada, video or DVD format
- The 21-minute section “Seamos autores: una invitación a escribir,” Escribiendo desde el corazón by Alma Flor Ada, video or DVD format
- The book Authors in the Classroom: A Transformative Education Process by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy
VI. MAKING THE VISIT OR STUDY A WHOLE-SCHOOL EVENT
If you are having an Author’s Visit, find out from the author what size group is most effective for her/his particular style of interaction and/or presentation. Keep the group to that preferred size.
Whether you are having an Author’s Visit or an Author’s Study, you can involve the whole school by having:
- An assembly where some of the children can show their own books or perform their response to the author’s books
- A Students’ Book Fair, where the original books of all the children in the school will be displayed
- An exhibit of children’s art done in response to the books read
- A treasure hunt, or a mystery game, posted along the school’s hallways. For example, some data from the author’s biography or from the author’s books can be used as clues. The hunt or game can culminate in the school library or one of the classrooms, where there may be a book exhibit.
VII. PURCHASING BOOKS AND AUTOGRAPHING
Whether you are having an author present in the school or you are doing an Author’s Study it is a good idea to help make it possible for children to purchase their own copies of the books. Usually, paperback editions are economical and more accessible. You may want to send home order forms before the Author’s Visit or Author’s Study.
If there is going to be an autographing session with the Author, make sure that all the children receive something that can be autographed, so that those who do not purchase books will still be able to ask for an autograph. Bookmarks are particularly nice. They can be created with an illustration from one of the books and/or a saying from the author.
Even better is to have the author write a comment on the books created by the children. You may prefer to spend the time with the author in a different way than having an autographing session, and yet have the books autographed. In that case, place a slip of paper with name(s) of the person(s) to whom the dedication should be addressed inside each book. The author may then sign the books during a break, at lunchtime, and even during the evening.
If you are doing an Author’s Study, you could have the children write a nice comment in each other’s books about what they especially like in that book.
Other adults can also be invited to participate in the Author’s Study and write their comments in either the books authored by the students or the ones they have purchased. Librarians, the Principal and Assistant Principal, other teachers or school staff, parents and volunteers can all enrich the Author’s Study with their presence.
Enjoy your Author’s Visit or your Author’s Study…and do share some of your highlights with me. I would love, in turn, to share them with others. Have a great time!
SOME EXCITING ACTIVITIES CARRIED ON IN REAL CLASSROOMS AS A RESPONSE TO LITERATURE
CHILDREN BECOME FLOWERS AND TREES
After listening to Como una flor, a song with lyrics by Alma Flor Ada and music by Suni Paz which appears both in the cassettes Aprender cantando and the cassette Como una flor, second graders learned to read the words. Dressed with construction paper petals and leaves they became the flower and tree of the inspirational song and acted out the song for a parents’ meeting. Teacher: Aida Molina, Galt, California
The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle’s Wedding has been a favorite story to enact. Children in Bakersfield, California, acted it out enthusiastically during their 1995 Author’s Fair, and children in Stockton were so proud of their acting that their teacher recorded their performance in a video.
BIOGRAPHIES / “AUTOBIOGRAPHIES”
It was a great surprise for the author to discover nuances of her life she never imagined she would ever find, in the biographies and autobiographies children from the Coral Way Elementary School in Miami, Florida had written. The children used information from the videos Escribiendo desde el corazón and Writing from the Heart and complemented this research by looking at the dedications of the author’s many books. They wove some of the names they found there into the “autobiographies” and then enjoyed impersonating the author.
AUTHORING THEIR OWN VERSION OF NO FUI YO / IT WASN’T ME
After reading the books No fui yo and It Wasn’t Me, boys and girls in first and second grade at Holt Union Elementary in Stockton, California, created wonderful collective book. They were each given a blank page with borders. The page had a short blank line in the upper left corner where they were instructed to write either “No fui yo” or “It Wasn’t Me”, and three longer lines along the bottom for writing their text and their signature.
The children’s words were wonderfully revealing. Here are some samples:
No fui yo…
quien aventó los marcadores
en el piso
It wasn’t me…
I didn’t shoot my Math beans
at my friend
No fui yo…
quien agarró las reglas
para jugar como espadas.
It wasn’t me
I didn’t run through the
AUTHORING A BOOK FOLLOWING THE PATTERN THE GOOD NEWS IS…
After reading The Kite — El papalote children used the book’s structure to create a wonderful collective book in preparation for the author’s visit.
Here are samples of some entries:
The good news is…
Alma Flor is coming to our school
Alma Flor writes good books.
Tomorrow we get to meet her.
She gets to read us a book.
She can translate.
The bad news is…
She’s only coming for one hour.
She doesn’t know how to illustrate.
We have to wait 24 hours.
We don’t know if it’s English or Spanish.
Holt School, Stockton, California, Facilitator: Dr. Nancy Jean Smith
AUTHORING A BOOK IN LETTER FORMAT REAR… QUERIDO…
As a response to Dear Peter Rabbit and Querido Pedrín, students from Salón 4 wrote a wonderful collection of books, which their teacher laminated and made into one book by spiral binding them together. Here is a sample:
Dear Snow White:
I am sorry because you had to eat that poisoned apple.
How could you stand cleaning the queens castle?
Which one is your favorite dwarf?
Do you still Love the prince.
P.S I am 8 years old
RESPONDING TO AMIGOS / FRIENDS
Inspired by the books Friends / Amigos / Zanmi, first-grade children in San Diego, California, illustrated with geometrical cutouts the favorite things that they like to do with other children. To present to the author the book formed by the collection of their individual pages, the teacher created a house with multiple square windows and in each of the windows pasted a small school picture of one child–-A magnificent gift!
After reading Me llamo María Isabel and My Name is María Isabel, third-grade students set up an exciting debate. The children were divided in two larger groups (one representing parents, the other teachers) and a small group (representing the School Board) which served as arbitrators and ruled on the merits of the arguments. The issue was whether teachers should change their students’ names or respect them. The reflections of the students’ showed their excellent reasoning ability as well as their perception of the world around them. Teacher: Ms. Claudia Del Toro-Anguiana, School: Valley Oaks, Galt, California
After reading The Gold Coin, a fifth-grade bilingual class created a bilingual script to read as readers’ theatre. Teacher: Araceli Flores, Galt, California
The same book, The Gold Coin, was presented by a group of Zapotec students in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, México, in the town plaza. The students analyzed the structure of the story and decided to follow its circular design. They constructed a cane hut and accompanied the movements of the two main characters with specific sound effects: a wooden drum for Juan, a rain stick for doña Josefa. Direction: Sylvia Dorta-Duque de Reyes, San Diego County Office of Education