Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This Blog, iNK Think Tank, and You

It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought -- that is to be educated. -Edith Hamilton, educator and writer (1867-1963)

When Linda Salzman founded this blog in January of 2008 (almost 5 years ago!) her mission was to introduce extraordinary books about the real world, available for the education of children, through the voices of their authors.  Linda’s vision was simple:  turn the spotlight on nonfiction literature and its authors as a resource for educators.  I became a charter member of I.N.K., because Linda’s mission was in perfect alignment with the educator in me.  I teach science through my books, which contain my best thinking for doing so.

About a year and a half later (July of 2009) I woke up one morning with a vision of my own.  Educators needed more than a blog to learn about children’s nonfiction; they needed a tool to find books that fit into their curriculum.  And we authors needed an organization to promote our genre and our expertise in a variety of ways.  iNK Think Tank emerged from the community of I.N.K. bloggers and made a splash in October of 2009 with the launch of our website and free online database.

There is no other organization out there quite like iNK Think Tank, LLC.  I call us the “United Artists” of children’s nonfiction and we are establishing a brand for excellence.  Membership is by invitation only.  Each iNK member has a body of work and has won numerous awards and critical acclaim.  Today, when anyone can publish with the click of a mouse, we believe that the public wants to know where to go to find excellence.  We are a classy boutique in an infinite yard sale.  And there are signs that the brand of iNK is taking hold.  The number of registered users of our database has been growing steadily, day by day and is now in the many thousands. We are receiving many favorable press notices.  Last year, a number of iNK authors were featured in Spotlight webinars by the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration, and many of our authors wereinterviewed by Neil Haley on his Total Education Hour (recordings of these events can be accessed on our website.) Neil has recently been in contact with me and wants to give us a regular slot.

We are also designed to serve the needs of educators and students.  The Common Core State Standards focus attention on the processes of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and using language effectively in a variety of content areas.  The CCSS want students to be able to use language to report, persuade, interpret, and craft their own thoughts.  The standards encourage the development of critical thinking about what the students read. These are skills that we authors have mastered.  We are in a unique position to help students learn these skills through the passions we have for our own disciplines.  One of my epiphanies three years ago was the realization that it is our books that are excerpted on the state-wide assessment tests, yet the classroom reading used to prepare students for these tests doesn’t necessarily include anything remotely resembling our books.

All of us do school visits, which generate tremendous excitement for students and may have a residual effect in school libraries for years.  Yet, the impact of these visits is ephemeral.  If our books are not integrated into classroom work, where the rubber meets the road for genuine learning, they and our visits are doomed to be relegated to the role of “enrichment.” Teachers fear that if they substitute our books for prescribed reading they may not “cover the material.” Often the correlation between a wonderful nonfiction book and the prescribed curriculum content is not verbatim or obvious so teachers default to using pedestrian, formulaic, and packaged “instructional” material that can kill two beautiful birds with one stone: the desire to read and the desire to learn.  ELA instruction always includes fictional literature; why not use high quality nonfiction to teach science, geography, history, civics, and math?

I believe that a school’s job for the twenty-first century is to develop a child’s passion for learning.  Lifelong learners know their own idiosyncratic learning styles.  They are not easily thrown by the inevitable mistakes and difficulties that come with attacking a new skill or subject. They know how to persist.  iNK’s nonfiction authors are masterful lifelong learners.  So, why not bring us, along with our books, into your classroom? Why not have your students learn directly from us how we do it?

A group of iNK members, Authors on Call, is a team prepared to work with teachers and students via interactive videoconferencing to facilitate real learning.  Last year we piloted a program with an elementary school in New Jersey, and this year we’re starting to catch on.  In the interest of full disclosure, videoconferencing provides us authors with a revenue stream, essential if we are to keep writing. (Remember, most of us don’t have a day job.)   But videoconferencing also makes the fees very affordable (no travel expenses) and sessions (which are not one-shots but delivered over a period of weeks) can be timed to a teacher’s schedule.  A school can tap into the wisdom and knowledge of a group of authors as related directly to their curriculum needs for about the cost of an author’s school visit. Authors on Call, and its Class ACTS (Authors Collaborating with Teachers and Students) programs, create and fulfill teachable moments that deliver terrific professional development for teachers and the excitement of a school visit for kids.
iNK Think Tank authors  know the meaning of Edith Hamilton’s quote at the beginning of this post.  Now our mission is to help children, through their teachers, discover it. 

Note:  the current iNK Think Tank website is in the process of being updated.  It will go live shortly.  Registered users of the database will be notified when this happens and will also get advanced notice of upcoming publications. If you wish to receive iNK notifications, please use a personal email address as many schools have filters that prevent us from reaching you.


Dorothy Patent said...

Nice, thoughtful piece, Vicki--a great way to begin a new blogging season for I.N.K. Knowing how to incorporate new knowledge has become vital in our rapidly changing world--if Rip had slept only 10 years he would be completely bamboozled by the world he faced!

Myra Zarnowski said...

I enjoyed the iNK update. But most importantly, I am eager to see where we are going. My biggest hope is that iNK will be able to ignite a true love of learning among children and teachers. That is, authors will share how and why they continue to learn.It would be good to see the passion authors have for learning. At the same time--to be honest--we need to see the "sweat" involved as well.

Anna Catherine said...

Nice and informative post! thanks for sharing the blog.I wish you to post the new updates regularly.

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