Friday, March 22, 2013

Hosting a Successful Author Visit in a Junior High

This week we hosted author Susan Campbell Bartoletti. It was my first time working with a big-name author, and between three months of maternity leave and teachers prepping for upcoming state testing, I felt a little frazzled pulling off the event.

Happily, some advance made the day a success, even though I'd never done this kind of event before. Here are my top tips for planning a successful author visit at the junior high level.

Susan eats lunch with our students.

Ask your classroom teachers what authors they're interested in (or give them a short list to choose from). It's so much easier to pull off an author visit if you have teacher buy-in. They're under tons of pressure to perform on state exams and adjust to new curriculum standards, so they are going to be reluctant to give up class time for an activity they don't value. When they have a stake in the event everyone is much happier.

Select authors that match your curriculum. When I prepared my short-list for the teachers, I gave them two options. Both authors wrote non-fiction, so their books aligned well with the Common Core. The content of their recent works also aligned to the 8th grade Social Studies and ELA curriculum. By choosing authors that are a good academic fit, it's easier for teachers to give up class time.

Check reviews. It's much less nerve racking to  host an author you've met in advance. I put Susan on my short list because I saw her speak at a school library conference. Not all authors are equally good speakers, and it's not easy to handle an audience of 250 8th graders. Choose those with experience presenting to your age level. Susan was an easy choice because she taught 8th grade English for almost 20 years. I've found that former teachers usually make great speakers.

Get the kids to actually read the book. This isn't an easy feat at the junior high level. When you're working with picture book authors, it takes thirty minutes to read through a book -- in contrast, Susan's Hitler Youth is over 150 pages. Because I had teacher buy-in (see first bullet), I was able to ask my social studies teachers to work with the text in their classroom. I bought 30 copies of the book, and each teacher got the set for one week. If I hadn't been on maternity leave, I would have collaborated with the teachers to develop engaging activities based on the book. Since teachers were left to their own devices, the students had different levels of exposure, but they all had at least SOME level of familiarity.

Get the kids excited about the author. I struggled with this step. It's so much easier to think of elementary activities for author visits. We did bulletin boards and a library display, but I wanted MORE. I talked to a wise colleague who's sooo smart about this stuff, and she had great ideas. One suggestion was to hold daily trivia contests. Students who correctly answered the questions got entered into a drawing. They could either win lunch with the author or the opportunity to sit in the "VIP section" (a front row of comfy chairs we dragged down from the library) during the assembly. Both options were really popular and got kids excited.

Plan different settings for kids to interact with the author. During Susan's visit, she did two large group assemblies (250 kids each), ate lunch with about 15 students, and then held a writing workshop with about 40 kids.These different settings allowed them to interact with her in both formal and informal ways.

Take care of the author. Presenting all day takes so much energy. Keeping the author well fed and happy helps ensure a high quality program. Ask your author what they like to eat and drink and if they have any dietary restrictions. Schedule breaks between events. Give the author time to use the bathroom, have a snack, check their e-mail and relax.

Our day with Susan Campbell Bartoletti was awesome! I can't stop raving about her!

What are your tips for a successful author visit?

3 comments:

  1. Great tips Lindsey! I've done several author visits over the years, and you're right, getting the kids excited about the author can be a tough one, especially if the author is not as well known as others. I love the trivia contest idea! I will definitely try that one for my next author visit.

    Carolyn

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  2. Lindsay, you can attribute our successful day to your hard work and to the students and faculty. An inspired audience doesn't happen by itself. I was impressed with your students, your colleagues, and your principal. Thank you for the opportunity to visit your school. -Susan Campbell Bartoletti

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