Wednesday, January 4, 2012

“What We’re Doing Isn’t Ordinary.”

Happy New Year, everyone!

As many of you know, Authors on Call, the interactive videoconferencing (ivc) group of Ink Think Tank, is doing a pilot program with an elementary school in Upper Saddle River, NJ. Eight authors and several consultants are participating. We are hoping to answer the following questions, (among others):
  • What happens to the learning environment of a school when teachers and a team of award- winning children’s nonfiction authors collaborate in a large-scale, school-wide project where everyone is involved in sharing knowledge and skills?

  • Is this a way to create inspiration, motivation and the love of learning?

Our first results are starting to come in and they are very encouraging. A little background: Each Ink author suggested titles of his/her own books to fit into the Bogert scope and sequence. The teachers then selected the titles they wished to teach. The plan is to have teachers meet with the author of the book they’ve selected via ivc to brainstorm and plan how to teach the book. Together they plan projects and assignments based on the readings and schedule ivcs for the author to meet with their students to strengthen the personal connection between them. Since the devil is in the details, I’m going to quote some excerpts from the first participants in the project as entered on our wiki , which is the record of the pilot as it unfolds. Chis Kostenko and Jason Parkhurst, are two fifth grade teachers, who selected Dorothy Hinshaw Patent’s book Shaping the Earth.

Jason and Chris first met with Dorothy via Skype, which is the only ivc technology we have available at this school. (The photo at left shows the brainstorming session. Dorothy is on the laptop.) Dorothy later said: “As we talked, we quickly agreed that a major problem is getting students engaged with learning. Jason and Chris both said that even when they ask their students what in their own lives interests them the most, what inspires their curiosity, many of them can't come up with an answer. It seems they are detached even from their own lives. I had come into the session with that same question in a general sense--when we introduce a subject in the curriculum that the children need to learn about, how do we get them to relate to it personally?”

Dorothy then wrote about their plan: “Jason and Chris suggested that by listening to me talk about my own life, how my passion for the natural world drove me then as it does now, might help inspire their students to think about their own lives and spark their own interests. We decided that I would do two half hour Skype sessions with the students, one soon after Thanksgiving, in which I would talk about what drove me when I was a child, how I found my own writing voice that allows me to communicate clearly with my readers, how I write so that people want to read what I've written, and the more practical matter of how I find reliable information and how I choose which information to pass on to readers. Then, after the students have developed their own projects using my book, we would have a second Skype session together. We left the focus of that one somewhat up in the air for now, as we want to see how the project evolves.”

The first ivc with the students took place on Wednesday, December 9. Dave Kaplan, the principal, observed:

“From the general learning perspective, it was awesome. Truly awesome. Students were excited, taking notes, responding, etc. The two classes sat on the floor facing the smart board and there was a chair on which one student speaker could sit front and center. The camera faced the class and seemingly captured everyone. There was a real hum coming from the students as they related to Dorothy's experiences and laughed at some of her stories it was interesting to hear. There was energy in the room. For this first meeting, it was a get-to-know you. I loved that; relationship building = credibility for the kids. Next step is to dig into the learning-content area, writing, reading, etc. I am already talking to the teachers about possibilities and directions. The goal is to get the students more involved. In this introductory meeting, the kids generally listened, though they did come prepared with (great) questions for Dorothy."

Chris Kostenko polled his class the next day, “The class spoke about Dorothy as someone they knew. Here are some of their comments:

"It wasn’t just about books, science, or being an author. We got to learn a lot about you.’‘

"I enjoyed that story about when you and your friend set off the firecracker and set the grass on fire. I would feel embarrassed just like you did. Who wouldn’t?’‘

"I realized that nature is a very important and fun thing to explore. You’ve also inspired me to do my best and to work hard.’‘

"I can’t wait to talk to you again."

"Now when we read your book, we can hear your voice say every little word—no matter who is reading.’‘

"It seemed like you were right in the room with us."

’‘It’s exciting to know an author who can give us tips…I can’t wait to get tips from a real pro.’”

Chris’s conclusion: “What we’re doing isn’t ordinary. We’re playing with something that has extraordinary potential. Wow.”

This week we’re adding two more consultants to help teachers plan, we’re meeting (in person) with the Bogert faculty and curriculum people, and we’re adding some metrics to the program to measure our effectiveness, thanks to a couple of professors from the University of Kentucky. All the interest from the academic community only reinforces that we are on to something.

It looks like 2012 is going to be a very interesting year.

1 comment:

Peggy T said...

Hi Vicki,

What you're doing is awesome. I love the idea that students can hear Dorothy's voice now when they read her books. It becomes more personal. And that is what is missing from the curriculum these days. Teachers are forced to use impersonal material, often scripted, that they did not choose or may not even like. The only way to teach is person to person. Let me know if you need anymore guinea pigs for the project. I'd be more than happy to help.

Peggy Thomas
For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson
Farmer George Plants A Nation
Anatomy of Nonfiction with co-author Margery Facklam