Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Outside-the-Box Proposal

Welcome back, I.N.K. readers.... Another school year begins and one where we're gaining strength and a real voice. Our Ink Think Tank Website has been updated with many new features. But that's not what I want to discuss today.

For the past two years, I’ve been working on a very innovative project, and it has taken me a while to find a way to get others to share my vision. I’ve been on a very steep learning curve, but learn I have! I think I’ve finally figured out how to present my idea so others get it. I’m going to make it very specific and concrete. So this is an experiment; I’m going to share my outside-the-box thinking with you.

Here are the questions I’m asking:

* What would happen to the learning environment of your school if your teachers and a team of award- winning children’s nonfiction authors collaborated in a large-scale, school-wide project where everyone was involved in sharing knowledge and skills?

* Is the love of learning—the passion that drives us children’s nonfiction authors--contagious? Can you catch it from us? Because lifelong learning is who we are and what we do

* What happens to student literacy when the core reading material is children’s nonfiction literature? Our books are normally considered “enrichment” and relegated to a secondary role in student learning, if not completely ignored in most classrooms, although they more than meet national educational standards. Suppose that they become the intellectual meal rather than a sometime dessert? Can you imagine it?

* How could personal contact with the award-winning authors of the books enhance the professional development of your teachers in both literacy skills (writing) and knowledge of content?

* How can these questions be addressed in a way that is affordable for a school and yet compensates authors (who have no salary or benefits) for their time and expertise?

Ink Think Tank has a group, Authors on Call of nine award-winning nonfiction authors and two consultants, one in literacy and one in children’s nonfiction literature. .We are pioneering a way to work with schools via interactive videoconferencing (ivc). Let me describe how a partnership with an elementary K-5 school with about 500 students would work. Please note that this is just an example that can be modified to fit your school:

* Your school would select one title from each author that fits into your scope and sequence in science, social studies and math. The authors can help with the selection. They can also show how the selected books fit into the scope and sequence of your language arts program.
* The authors are as follows:
Vicki Cobb (hands-on science, biography, physical science, chemistry, biology)
Penny Colman (history, women’s history, history of unusual things)
Trish Marx (geography, multicultural issues)
Jim Murphy(history, disasters)
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (natural science, ecology, wildlife, western expansion history)
Rosalyn Schanzer] (author/illustrator history. science, and biography)
David M. Schwartz (math, animals, natural science)
Alexandra Siy (natural science, animals, technology)
Andrea Warren (history—major world events from the point of view of the children who lived through them)

(Check out the videos on our Authors on Call Page)

* Your school would order 100 books of each title, one for each author, about 3 classroom sets.
* Your school would assign the books to the appropriate teachers who would read the book (s).
* Just prior to teaching a book, the teachers would meet for an hour via interactive videoconferencing (ivc) with its author for a brain-storming session on classroom strategies for teaching that particular book including tips on researching and writing.
* INK would establish a wiki for the project with your school. Each author would have a page on a wiki to answer teacher questions on an on-going basis for the duration of the use of the book. Teachers could also use the wiki to blog about their experiences.
* After the students finish studying the book, they would meet face-to-face with the author via ivc for questions and answers. In order to keep the groups small, this would be three 20 minute periods or four 15 minute periods.
* In addition, the teachers would attend an ivc with Dr Myra Zarnowski, a professor of children’s literature at Queens College, CUNY author of Making Sense of History and one with Angela Maiers, author of The Passion-Driven Classroom.

To sum up, the package would include about three classroom sets for each of nine titles (900 books in all), eleven hours of just-in-time professional development, and 9 hours of interaction with children. The wiki created by the authors and teachers would be a permanent record of the insights developed during the course of the program. The total investment is $50 per child, no more than $25,000 for a school of 500 students, with the books and the knowledge available for years to come.

I believe that this program will generate unprecedented excitement and a culture of learning in your school. Teachers and students will love the writing projects that come out of interacting with real authors. We could be a catalyst to rev up learning and creativity throughout your school. I also believe that reading terrific nonfiction will have a significant effect on test scores. Don’t forget, it is our books that are excerpted on the assessment tests. There is grant money available in technology, literacy and professional development and now is not to soon to start thinking about next year. We are piloting this program starting in October and will know more in the next few months. Think about it. And contact me if you’re interested in knowing more. My email address is: I’d love to hear from you.

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