Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 6
Teacher Melissa Guerrette,
left, and 5th graders at Oxford
Elementary School in Oxford,
Maine, talk via Skype with
children's book author
to be around kids," said Barbara O'Connor, an
Asheville, N.C.-based author, who does about
four or five free Skype sessions per month.
"My son is all grown up, and I don't have access unless I make the effort to travel. But I
can Skype with kids in Georgia or Hawaii."
Sarah Rice for Education Week
Social Media Connects Students to Authors
Skype visits keep writers
close to young readers
are real people. For teachers, they give insight
into the kinds of questions students have
about being a writer.
And for authors, these conversations are both
a boon for marketing and a source of authentic
feedback from the students they're writing for.
"I find that when I get too caught up stressing about the business aspect of children's
books, talking to these young readers helps
ground me, reminding me of the joy and why
I do this," Debbie Ridpath Ohi, the Toronto-
grumpy?" one asked). With steering from the
teacher, the conversation turned to revision.
"When I was your age, I thought authors sat
down and wrote the words and they were done,
and illustrators would sit down and draw the
pictures and they were done," Falatko said. "That
By Liana Loewus
is so totally not how it works."
Among the current generation of teachers,
She waved an early draft of the original
many spent their childhoods seeing authors as
Snappsy for the students to see. "Version 18-
out of reach-otherworldly even. Sending a fan
that's a low version number for me. Generally, it
letter was often a symbolic gesture more than
takes me about 30 drafts on average to get the
anything, since responses were
story right," said Falatko.
unexpected and rare.
The book continued to change,
But now, some of those educashe said, up until it was pubtors, particularly at the elemenlished-more than three years
tary and middle school levels, are
after she had started writing it.
trying to change that dynamic
"Do you work on more than
by connecting students and writone piece of writing at a time?"
ers-and they're using technology
asked the teacher, Melissa
tools like Twitter, Skype, and even
Google Docs to do so.
"I do. ... I find I'm much bet"It's kind of changing the way
ter at revising if I forget about
we bring literacy to kids," said
it for a bit," Falatko said. "I can
Stacey Riedmiller, a 4th grade
look at it with fresh eyes alEnglish/language arts teacher
most as if I didn't write it."
in Reading, Ohio. When these
Guerrette reiterated that point
students grow up, "I'd not be
for her students. "Do any of you
surprised if we saw a huge insometimes need to take a break
flux of authors and illustrators."
from what you're working on?"
Teachers often say they use soYeses were heard all around.
Author Falatko appears in the bottom of the computer screen as she
cial media as an entry point for
The discussions students have
shares her new book with students at Oxford Elementary School.
making those connections. They
about revision can be illuminatmight reach out to a writer who
ing, Guerrette, who has been
has an active Twitter handle and let him or her based author and illustrator of Where Are My Skyping with writers for about five years, said.
know their students enjoyed the book. Many au- Books?, wrote in an email.
At times, students open up to authors in ways
thors respond to those sorts of messages, and at
they don't with their teachers.
times, a conversation begins online.
For instance, they might tell an author
'Not How It Works'
These days, more authors are also doing virthat they struggle with revision because they
tual school visits-using Skype, Google HangAuthor Julie Falatko last month kicked off a "don't want to feel like they did all that writout, or Facetime. While in-person visits can cost Skype call with 5th graders at Oxford Elemen- ing for nothing," Guerrette said.
a school as much as a couple thousand dollars tary School in Oxford, Maine, by introducing
Hearing the questions students ask can also
in author fees and travel costs, these short her pet dog to break the ice.
be a method of formative assessment. Through
video-chat sessions are generally free if the stuShe then gave the class a preview of the sec- Skype sessions, Guerrette said she's learned
dents have read the author's book.
ond book in her Snappsy the Alligator series, "what [students] knew about being a reader,
"My kids don't look at the classroom any- which doesn't come out until this fall. "There's the way they value books, what some of their
more as having four walls," said Rayna Freed- a little bit of a secret in the book, so you need preferences were, what they thought of themman, a 5th grade teacher and instructional- to keep the secret," Falatko, Skyping from her selves as writers, and their interpretation of
technology specialist in Mansfield, Mass., home about an hour away, told the group.
what writers do."
"because they can now reach out to anybody."
After reading the book-pausing every so
Authors do these chats for various reasons-
Such virtual interactions, many say, can be often to point out the illustrator Tim Mill- to promote books, to help with the creative
beneficial for students, educators, and writ- er's good work ("Look at all that pizza, you process, to stay connected to the age range
ers alike. For students, they offer a behind- guys!")-the writer took student questions.
they're writing for, to make a sometimesthe-curtain look at the writing, revising, and
Students were curious about her inspirations isolating profession a bit less so.
publishing processes and convey that authors and narrative choices ("Why is Snappsy so
"If you're going to write for kids, you have
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 22, 2017 | www.edweek.org
Recently, Freedman, the Massachusetts
teacher, reached out to O'Connor on Twitter
with a link to a shared document. Freedman's
class had read O'Connor's book Wish, and each
student had written comments for the author.
"I tweeted out around 12:55, and by 1 p.m.,
she'd already responded on Twitter," Freedman said. "Mind you, I've never met her."
O'Connor asked for access to edit the Google
Doc, so that she could respond to each individual
student-which she did within the hour. "The
look on their faces when they were like, 'The
author actually responded to my comment ... ,' "
Freedman recalled. "This was amazing."
Social-media interactions can be effective forms of advertisement, said Tracy van
Straaten, the vice president for publicity and
education/library marketing at Scholastic, "like
word-of-mouth amplified." But it's not something her company pushes on writers. "Some of
the authors are super engaged on social media
and some aren't, and that's OK," she said.
Tracey Baptiste, the author of The Jumbies,
who spent her early career as a teacher, tends
to use her personal Facebook page to connect
with teachers and librarians. "With Facebook,
I can come back three hours later and participate in the conversation, and somebody else
can pick it up two weeks from now," she said.
As the technology has improved, more authors have been interested in doing virtual
visits, according to van Straaten.
Erin Downing, the author of The Quirks, is
a big fan of classroom Skype visits-she does
about 30 to 40 a year. "I hear from teachers
sometimes that they think they're bothering
you to reach out," said the Minneapolis-based
writer. "If I was overwhelmed, I'd stop. ... This is
an industry that's filled with so much self-doubt
and worry. To get that positive affirmation every
once in a while is really lovely."
With a day job as a software engineer, Josh
Funk, author of Lady Pancake & Sir French
Toast, can't actually go to schools often, so he
spends his Friday lunch breaks Skyping with
classes. For World Read Aloud Day in February,
he took the day off and did 21 virtual visits.
While reaching out to authors can be intimidating, a single interaction can snowball
quickly, teachers say. The online children's
literature sphere is active, engaged, and supportive of one another.
"I think the kid-lit community, it feels large
until you're kind of in it," said Riedmiller, the
Ohio teacher. "But everyone knows everyone."
Authors introduce teachers to other authors.
Teachers pass on the names of authors who
Several online hubs for children's book aficionados have fed those relationships. The Nerdy
Book Club, a website devoted to discussing children's and young adult titles, was started by
four teachers in 2011 and now has more than
60,000 people on its RSS feed.
Delving into these online communities has
another benefit, some teachers and authors
say: the formation of close friendships across
"To get to know these people who like the same
kinds of books that I do and care about kids the
way I do, you have a ton in common," said Downing. "It's the best part of both of our jobs."
Visit the CURRICULUM MATTERS blog, which tracks
news and trends on this issue.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 22, 2017
Education Week - March 22, 2017
The Hard Work of Making School ‘For Everybody’
Parents See Benefits in Spec. Ed. Vouchers But No Silver Bullet
Trump Education Dept. Has Yet to Hit the Gas
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
News in Brief
Social Media Connects Students to Authors
Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
ESSA Rules’ Rollback Complicates States’ Planning Process
Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Chris Doyle: Fake News Isn’t New
Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 7
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 11
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 12
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 13
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 14
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 15
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 18
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 19
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 20
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 21
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 22
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 23
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Readers React
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 29
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 30
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 31
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW4