Monday, December 10, 2012

Ingredients for a Great School Visit

I had another I.N.K. post just about finished when Kelly Milner Halls' plea for school librarians and a package pushed me in another direction.

The mailer came from Carol Sweny, the Henniker Community School librarian, in Henniker, NH, where I had recently talked to kids, K-8.  The disc of photos recording my two days there included all the ingredients of a great school visit and reminded me how often a school librarian is at its core.

In the school visit's section of my web site, I have a version of what most authors say on theirs: I find that when kids are prepared for a school visit, they get more out of it. So I ask that students have access to some of my books beforehand, and read (or are read) at least one of them.  I also have downloadable pictures of me and book covers to make a poster for your hallway.  These efforts alone will invoke kids’ interest and enthusiasm, making the visit more memorable for them.

Remember you can click on all these pictures to make them larger.

This statement isn't an ego thing or a plea to buy more of my books beforehand.  When kids know I'm coming, when they have read or heard some of my books, they are psyched to see me.  They have had time to think and wonder about things, they listen more attentively, they ask more questions.  They get more out of the experience.  It's not that I can't grab an uniformed class or auditorium's attention; I can.  But time after time, I notice that prepared kids have a better experience. 

Like Kelly, I know that classroom teachers and principals are overloaded.  Some may not even know an author is coming in time to prepare.  Besides they are trying to get through their curriculum and whatever enrichments they have planned, let alone teaching to whatever state test is coming up next. PTO parents work hard to raise money for author visits, but their role doesn't usually extend to the classroom or library.  The school librarian is the perfect person to rally the troops: to prepare the kids in library class, to suggest and facilitate related classroom exercises, to organize book order forms, to generate excitement.

The Henniker has one author come each year, and Carol Sweny makes the most of it. I'm not suggesting that every school or school librarian wants or needs to put in the time and effort she did.  Perhaps showing how she rallied her school, however, will remind people how important it is to have school librarians and how much their efforts, with school visits and everything else, help kids learn and grow.

Here is part of the flyer Carol made to pass around to the teachers.


As you saw, grades K through 4 saw a presentation based on my book On This Spot, which takes New York City back in time to when it was home to forests, glaciers, dinosaurs, towering mountains, even a tropical sea.  This presentation included, among other things, kids taking many different objects and sorting themselves into a timeline.

Carol asked the teachers to have their classes use timelines to supplement normal learning.  They did so in different and wonderful ways. The school's corridors were festooned with examples of this interesting way to think about time and history.


The kindergarteners made timelines of their days.   

First graders created a timeline that would record a whole year of learning month by month.

The 2nd graders made illustrated lifelines.
Third graders did their lifelines too.
 
Here's a new way for a 4th grade class to think about the making of the Statue of Library. 

The 5th grade concentrated on learning new computer skills while doing their personal timelines.

The 6th grades' timeline of our presidents was perfectly timed since my visit occurred shortly after the election in November.


The 7th graders learned research and computer skills creating a timeline of Henniker's history that took up an entire hallway.
 
The 8th grade's timeline cascading down the stairway brought their study of the Harlem Renaissance to life.


As Kelly so wisely said, school librarians (any librarians) are teachers. They build relationships, spark imagination.  We should fight for them.

I would fight for Carol Sweny.  Besides a great school visit, she gave me a moment of feeling like a rock star.  Check out what greeted me when I pulled into the school parking lot.

5 comments:

Vicki Cobb said...

Thanks, Susan. This demonstrates the power of a book and an author and how they can profoundly influence the thinking of children. iNK is working on a plan to scale up this kind of author-visit impact so that it is more affordable than on once-a-year author school visit, while being just as impactful.

Vicki Cobb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa Stewart said...

Wow, Susan. It looks like you had a blast--and so did the kids. I agree when schools prepare in advance for a visit, everyone has a much more valuable experience. And, you're right,my best visits have always had a hard-working school librarian at their core.

matt jacob said...

Well thought out post and a must read for authors who do school visits. And kudus to all the hard working librarians.

Sue Macy said...

I got one of those cones at a school visit last year, and I took a picture, too! Having just spent part of last week preparing lesson suggestions for three of my books for an upcoming school visit, I really appreciate your post.