Monday, June 24, 2013

Author Visits: Virtual vs. Live

Since the debut of INK, I have used my June post to reflect on one or more of my school visits during the previous school year.  I hereby continue the tradition.



This picture came via email from a class at Colegio Americano de Guatemala, the American School of Guatemala. I spent a week there in March. A day after seeing one of my presentations, the 3rd grade class of Ms. Katie Jones-Vis presented me with “Big David,” a cut-out meant to resemble me in height  — 5’ 10”. This prop was a take-off on “Little Davie” a 4’6” cut-out they saw me use to demonstrate the proportionality concept in my book If You Hopped Like a Frog. I had told them the story of how, as a child I noticed that a 3-inch frog could hop 5 feet, which is 20 times its own height. I wondered how far I could go if I hopped proportionally, meaning 20 times my height (at the time, 4’ 6”). A little arithmetic revealed a trajectory of 90 feet (4.5 feet X 20), which I quickly equated with the distance between the bases on a major league baseball “diamond” (square, really, but that matter is in a different book!). Years later, this childhood revelation became the basis for If You Hopped Like a Frog, which opens, “If you hopped like a frog…you could jump from home plate to first base in one mighty leap.” Other examples compare human abilities to those of animals by imagining the comic results of human performance matching that of certain animals proportionally.

Having seen me walk “Little Davie” through 20 iterations to show how far I could have hopped if, as a 4’6” boy, I’d been able to hop 20 times my height, Ms. Jones-Vis’s class decided they wanted to see what would happen if “Big David” could do the same. Good math, good literature connection, but what pleased me most was what the teacher wrote in her email to me: “Thank you again for your workshop. The students were so excited to go back to math class.”

I have been in discussions with some of my iNK Authors on Call colleagues about live author visits vs. videoconferencing, and specifically our program “Class Acts,” in which one or more authors work both with teachers, coaching them in the use of our books to meet classroom objectives, and with students who “meet” us in a videoconference and ask questions and share their own work inspired by the author’s. There can be two or more sessions of each. (See, for example, Andrea Warren’s fabulous post on Aprill 22 about her videoconference sessions with 5th graders exploring family history: http://inkrethink.blogspot.com/2013/04/guest-blogger-andrea-warren-on-using.html.)

We iNKers are of diverse opinion on the pros and cons of virtual vs. live, and some of us have argued that the intimacy of interactive videoconferencing in multiple sessions across weeks or months puts the author into a mentoring role giving truly long-term benefits, while live visits are something of a flash in the pan: “He (or she) came, he spoke, he left.”

Live author visits are more like performances than conversations. From my highly unscientific study (sample size one author), here is further unscientifically collected anecdotal evidence, which came in an email last month, referring to a school visit I made in Ithaca, NY, several weeks earlier: “Everyone here is still talking about your visit...” Or this from a parent after seeing my program for the primary grades at a school in Seattle: “Our family will never look at math in the same way.” Or this from a 5th grade teacher near Philadelphia: “You put the kids into high-power math mode for days.” Maybe there can be lasting benefits of live author assemblies, especially when teachers give the kids opportunities to process what the author had to say, not just wave good-bye as he drives down the bus lane and back to the airport.

So, performances on the one hand and conversations on the other. Can’t both be valuable, inspirational, educational and entertaining? I certainly wouldn’t want to say that one is has more curricular value or benefits with a longer half-life than the other. I’m thrilled to be able to participate in both.

Happy summer, everybody!




1 comment:

Vicki Cobb said...

I see our conversation reflected in this blog. I do think there is room for both approaches. I, too, do a highly entertaining presentation which totally exhausts me. So the idea of having a more direct influence on student work from the comfort of my well-upholstered office chair has great appeal as I get older. My guess is that one form of presentation will definitely create a market for the other.