Have I mentioned how much I love the way Skype allows me to teach my own 7th grade students all day and still have time for a virtual author visit with kids halfway across the country before I make dinner?
Today’s crew of 6th graders, Mrs. Duff’s class in Oelwein, Iowa, read The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. this fall and prepared some great questions for our virtual visit. Here’s a quick sampling: What was the inspiration for GIANNA Z? My students and their mandatory 7th grade leaf project.
How many drafts did you have to write before it was published? 18. Then we did copy edits. Are you going to write a sequel? Yes. I already did. Zig is the main character in that one. If you’d like to read it some day, please write a nice letter to my publisher to let them know!
What’s the last movie you saw?Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, which was fun because I’d just been to the Smithsonian for research last spring. What’s your favorite book? It’s so hard to choose, but I have to say Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And I loved When You Reach Me, too.
Hey! We’re reading that book now. Will you play $20,000 Pyramid with us? Sure!
Ready? Sleds. Shovels. Angels. Toboggans... THINGS YOU DO IN THE SNOW!!!!!!! **cheers and dances**
Turns out I didn’t actually win $20,000 but that’s okay. Chatting with such a fun, interesting group of kids was priceless. Thanks, 6th graders and Mrs. Duff!
A few weeks ago in the advanced creative writing class that and I co-teach, one of our 7th grade girls had a question about writing novels in verse that stumped us. "Is it better for me to just write these poems as they come to me, do you think? Or should I have an outline first?" Having never written a novel in verse, I wasn’t sure how most people approach the process, but never fear… a talented author and Skype came to the rescue!
Lisa Schroeder, the author of I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, FAR FROM YOU, and the soon-to-be-released CHASING BROOKLYN, woke up bright and early on the West Coast to join us for a 9AM class in Northern New York.
Since Skype is already installed on my desktop computer, we didn’t need to do anything special to prepare. When Lisa called us at the appointed time, we projected her onto the big screen, and the kids came up to the computer one at a time to ask their questions.
Lisa chatted about her writing with my 7th grade writers with a genuine thoughtfulness and warmth that stayed with the kids long after their Q and A session was over. (In fact, I saw the girl from this photo in the library later on. "That Skype chat was awesome!" she said. "I was thinking about it all through math class.")
Some highlights? Lisa shared her process for writing novels in verse, including the fact that music plays a role. She mentioned bands like Lifehouse and Evanescence that help to inspire her words. She encouraged our young writers to read and read and read some more and shared some of her favorite authors, too — like John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Sarah Dessen. I saw a couple of our kids smile great big smiles when Lisa admitted that she doesn’t always know all the answers when she starts writing a book. It felt like she was giving them permission to do that "discovery draft" as well, to figure things out along the way and then go back to revise.
After our Skype session, our students tweeted what they felt were some of the key points on our class Twitter account (@MessnerEnglish), so that schools that haven’t tried Skype chats could get a sense of how valuable (and fun!) they can be. Thank you so much, Lisa, for sharing your time and talent with our kids!
If you’re a teacher, librarian, or author looking for more resources on how all this works, here are a few links to check out:
Welcome to the Authors Who Skype with Classes & Book Clubs List! I’m Kate Messner, the children’s author and educator who maintains this site. I started it because I’ve found that virtual author visits are a great way to connect authors and readers, and I realize that many schools facing budget troubles don’t have the option of paid author visits. With that in mind, this is a list of authors who offer free 15-20-minute Q and A sessions with classes and book clubs that have finished reading one of their books. As an author, I offer Skype chats for all of my titles – check out the “Books” tab above for a list!
Authors Who Skype With Classes & Book Clubs (for free!)
The following authors offer free 15-20-minute Skype chats with book clubs and classes that have read one of their books! (Many also offer more in-depth virtual visits for a fee.) To arrange a virtual visit, check out the authors’ websites for book choices and contact information. Then ask for their books at your favorite bookstore or visit IndieBound to find a store near you!
For Authors & Illustrators: If you’re an author or illustrator of a traditionally published book who would like to be added, please email me (katemessner books at gmail dot com) with your name, website, and publisher, and whether you write picture books, MG, YA, or adult. For the sake of being clear, traditionally published means published in print by a widely recognized children’s book publisher. I recognize that e-books and self-published titles are also part of the publishing world, but a list that encompasses all of those would simply be too overwhelming for me to maintain. If someone would like to start a list of ebook and self-published authors who Skype, I think that would be great, and I’ll happily link to it here. So again…this is a list of traditionally published authors who offer FREE 15-20 minute Skype chats with classrooms & book clubs that have read one of their books.
If you’re a bookseller or book club member, teacher, or librarian, thanks for stopping by – and feel free to comment with any questions!
Children’s author Mona Kerby and school library media specialist Sarah Chauncey have teamed up to create the Skype an Author Network, an terrific online resource to help authors who offer virtual visits connect with teachers and librarians. If you’re interested in offering this kind of virtual visit, they’d love to have you click on this link to learn more about joining. Sarah has also asked me to pass along a request for patience…since it will take a while to get everyone added. (Thanks to edulemba for passing along this link to me!)
As a teacher, I’m so very fortunate to work in a school district that supports creative technology integration in the classroom. The kind of technology that let my kids chat with Laurie Halse Anderson via Skype last week. The kind that lets them participate in Harvard University’s River City research project about how science-based virtual reality games can promote authentic scientific inquiry. It’s a school district that just gave me permission to visit other teachers’ classrooms from my desk during my lunch hour, to talk with their kids about my books and writing. I’m thankful for all of that.
I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have that kind of technology or the kind of leadership that recognizes how it can help kids explore and learn. Sometimes, there’s fear of what’s "out there." My own district has blocking software that used to filter out all of LiveJournal, but a discussion with our technology boss about the author blogs that my kids read and love prompted some tweaks to let your blogs through. I truly believe that teachers and administrators AND students need to have those kinds of talks. If you’re interested in how kids are taught in schools, you’ll want to check out this video of Peggy Sheehy’s student keynote for the Net Generation Project (thanks to coolcatteacher for the link!). It’s a wonderful way to begin the conversation.
There’s been a lot of online chatter lately about virtual author visits, and as someone who wears two hats, I’ve been paying special attention. Because I’m a middle school English teacher as well as an author, my ability to travel for school visits is somewhat limited, so I’ll be using Skype videoconferencing software to offer virtual visits to classrooms and book clubs when THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z is released in September.
I also love the idea of my own students having more opportunities to talk with authors, and today my 7th graders had a virtual visit with the amazing Laurie Halse Anderson. We read CHAINS this winter and were swept away, so the kids had lots of questions about how Laurie researched the novel and brought her characters to life. Laurie is planning to offer virtual visits for schools starting in the fall, and we were thrilled to be her guinea pigs. Our kids piled into the auditorium at 9:45 this morning and waited for my laptop to ring with Laurie’s 10am call on Skype.
And then there she was!
Laurie and I agreed to double team an online review of our virtual visit – I’m providing a teacher’s perspective, and she’s blogging about the experience from the author’s point of view over at halseanderson . So here are my thoughts on virtual visits: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the awesome…
~Laurie is not only an incredibly talented author but also a friendly, generous, down-to-earth person, and that came through on the big screen, too. Our 7th graders loved her before this visit; they love her more now.
~She gave answers that were just long enough but not too long. We had time for about 30 kids to ask questions in a 45-minute visit, and they were just thrilled. When the kids asked about her research, she held up her latest sources.
~Our plan to keep things organized worked. Students knew who was asking questions and when it was their turn. I gave each interviewer a rundown, along with an index card with the question her or she wrote.
Kids were on “standby” when the person before them on the list was talking with Laurie, and that kept things moving along.
~The setup for this virtual visit was pretty much painless.
~I brought in my laptop from home (a MacBook with a built-in camera), connected it to the projector in our auditorium, hooked the computer into the school network, and patched it into our sound system.
~Skype worked like it was supposed to work 95% of the time. (See “the Ugly” for the other 5%)
The Bad: (What we’d do differently next time)
~Sometimes, it was hard for our auditorium audience to hear the questions being asked. Our interviewers were facing Laurie on the laptop, rather than the other students. Next time we do a virtual author visit, I’ll remind the kids about the need to speak up, try to get a microphone set up, or perhaps ask if our author might be willing to repeat questions before answering.
~Skype is wonderful and magical and free. It is also subject to the whims of all sorts of Internet bandwidth, firewall, and other technology issues that I don’t entirely understand. As a result, four or five times during our virtual visit, we simply lost the connection. Laurie’s face would freeze mid-sentence, and we had to hang up and call her back. Usually, that all happened within a few seconds, but once I had to quit Skype and re-launch the application before we could get our connection back, and that took an extra minute. Overall, the interruptions were annoying but manageable.
~Kids who I never dreamed would stand and share a question were so excited to talk with Laurie. She treated each student like his or her question was the most important one in the world. I watched their faces as they listened. They glowed.
~My class was watching the ALA video-conference from Denver last month and cheered when Laurie was announced as the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement. We cheered again today and loved that she could hear us this time!
~We also got to listen to Laurie read the first few pages of FORGE, the sequel to CHAINS, told from the point of view of Isabel’s friend, Curzon. It is so full of promise that I don’t know how I’m going to wait until 2010 to read the rest.
Thanks, Laurie, for such a wonderful morning with our kids!
1. Download Skype at home and try it out with someone you know. Figure out how it works. It’s pretty simple, but you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable before you set up a visit.
2. Contact your technology coordinator to see if you can use Skype at school. Some will say yes. Some will say no. And some will wave magic wands and adjust bandwidth restrictions and unblock things so you can pull it off. Send them chocolate later.
3. Contact the author with whom you’d like to have a virtual visit. Find out about availability, technology needs, and fees. Also be aware that video chats aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so if an author says no thanks, respect that.
4. Once you’ve set up a date and time (morning may be best to avoid high usage Internet times), reserve the space where you’ll be having your virtual visit. Make sure the equipment you’ll need is available and working. If you’re not good with technology, enlist the help of a co-worker who is. Send that person chocolate later, too.
5. Make a plan for your virtual visit. How long will it last? (30-45 minutes seems to be perfect.) Who will ask questions? Where will they stand? Where do they go when they’re done? If you figure it out ahead of time, you won’t have to interrupt your visit to deal with questions.
6. Talk to your students about etiquette for a virtual author visit. In many ways, it’s just like having a guest speaker in your auditorium or classroom in person, and kids need to know that all the same rules about courteous behavior apply. It will also be important for them to know that technical issues are a possibility and that their quiet cooperation will help you get things fixed more quickly.
7. Test Skype at school. It doesn’t matter if you’ve tested it at home; things are different on school networks, and you don’t want to discover a problem when it’s time for your virtual visit.
8. On the day of your virtual visit, launch Skype and either call the author or wait for him/her to call you – whatever you agreed upon in advance. Know that there may be technical problems, but you’ll be able to fix them. You may want to have kids bring books for silent reading in case there’s an extended period of lost contact. Planning and flexibility (and a sense of humor!) will go a long way toward making your virtual author visit a great experience!
One more thing….
9. After your virtual visit, would you stop back here and let me know how it goes? I can’t wait to hear more about kids & authors coming together through technology!