Friday, April 27, 2012

Lessons Learned - Author Presentations

This week, I was schooled by a third grader.

I’m in the middle of an art lesson. Bryson says loudly, “No, dude. The planet.” I stop and look over at him. Then, I get the joke. They got me. All the boys are on the floor laughing. I’ve lost them, again.

Thanks to my magazine articles and an upcoming nonfiction book, I’ve been getting requests to talk to local classrooms. What am I going to say? How can I keep them interested in all the knowledge that I want to share? Is there any thing I can do to prevent losing them?

I’ve created and presented Art Appreciation lessons for over 12 years. I’ve created and taught several After School Enrichment classes for the past 6 years. Most cases, the teacher or a mom helper has been in the room. I’ve taught for an after-school Art program for almost two years - teaching at several schools each week and subbing all around the western Chicago suburbs. In those classes, it’s just me. I’ve had my share of challenges. After one class, a teacher walked by as I was putting up the artwork and said, “That must be Michael’s.” I said, “Yes, it is. Are you his teacher?” She responded, “Yup, and good luck with that.” The class was full of Michaels. 

This week, I discovered several websites and blogs filled with information on how to give classroom presentations. Children’s book authors and illustrators are so giving of their time and expertise. The town I live in has hosted several Author festivals. I was fortunate to be able to sit in on many classroom presentations; even made a few author friends through the years, too. When possible, I watched presentations in my own child’s class - my own personal focus group. (One very popular author totally “bombed” according to my son, an eight grade student at the time. The author’s talk was geared for elementary school students not middle schoolers... or, at least, we thought third graders might have laughed at the jokes.) I’ve been a guest at several career days, talking to several eight-grade classes at a time - always an attentive and engaging audience.

Other lessons I have learned:
  • When the power goes out in the building, the whole class screams. (I thought turning the lights out quieted them.) 
  • When one student has to sharpen a pencil, the whole class does, too. (Yes, my pencil box has all sharpened pencils.)
  • When one student has to go to the bathroom, the whole class does, too. 
  • When one student asks to hand out papers, the whole class does, too. 
  • When Gracie jumps up and down and shouts “Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Lewis”, she’s going to say, “I like pumpkin pie... and lemon pie... and strawberry pie...” 
  • If there is any way they can glimpse at your lesson, they will see it - and tell the class what you are going to teach before you start. 
  • If one child asks to erase the board, they’re all going to drop everything and race up to help. 
  • And, finally, there’s always one child who you think is going to be handful who winds up totally surprising you - and that makes you smile all the way home. 
Would love to hear from other seasoned veterans of author presentations. Any interesting stories or humorous antidotes that you would like to share? I need help. I need to be prepared for the Brysons, Michaels, and Gracies.

While telling a friend about my trying day, I said, “The entire class was driving me nuts.” Argh. Another word to delete out of my brain. Wish me luck.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I'm LOL, Anna. Great observations! As a seasoned presenter I make my show (make no mistake; it is a show) very interactive. All children hold a large index card with their first names in BIG BLACK letters. Instead of raising their hands they raise their cards so I can call them by name. This creates an intimacy right away, as if I really know them. I seat the first row on the floor in a horseshoe shape around me so they are as close to me as possible. That shape serves as a template to seat the others behind them. I ask them lots of questions and tell them to just say what they think without raising their hands so that they stay with the conversation. I use choral responses for a direct instruction segment(telling them first that it's going to be hard,(Are they up to it? You bet!) My biggest problem is that the kids get so excited they have trouble getting it together for my next thing. So I ring a bell to remind them. (Most of the time I don't need it, however.) I give them activities they all can do in their seats and do demonstrations with volunteers. I levitate ping-pong balls, make a teabag fly and blow up toilet paper. I produce intense engagement 100% of the time. by the time I'm finished the kids are on their knees moving towards me.Kids that need to act out quickly learn that no one is interested in them so they shape up. It's incredibly hard work, I love it, yet I worry that I'm running out of steam.

One other strategy I learned from Peter Catalanatto: When you're talking to K-1 have the first graders sit in front of the kindergartners. That way they see how to behave from the older kids.

Unknown said...

Yet another thing. Invest in a good wireless lavaliere microphone that can plug into all PA systems.

Anna M. Lewis said...

Thanks so much, Vicki. That was exactly the great info I was looking for.
Think I saved a listserv discussion (somewhere) on what equipment to purchase.
I was surprised after I reviewed several days worth of author presentations. Everyone's technique, delivery, and style was different but they all worked. Very cool!

Anna M. Lewis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Albee said...

Great post, Anna.
I finally invested in my own projector, rather than relying on the school's equipment, which has greatly reduced my stress level. I can't relax until I know my technology is working! I LOVE Vicki's idea about names on index cards. I'm totes borrowing that idea from now on!
I think we NF writers have it sooo much easier than fiction writers, but maybe I'm a bit biased.

Unknown said...

Yet another thing. Invest in a good wireless lavaliere microphone that can plug into all PA systems.

kristin said...

I don't do presentations, but I LOVE Vicki's index card suggestion! In the lunchroom we love the first two weeks of school when the Kindergarteners and 1st Graders are wearing their name tags...sure wish they would carry index cards with them! Thanks for the chuckle Anna!

Steve Sheinkin said...

three words of wisdom: tell gross stories

Alexis said...

Great post Anna! The dynamics of large assembly presentations are different from workshop presentations such as the ones you describe here. Workshops can be challenging for all the reasons you outline. I think half the battle (challenge?) is finding out what “doesn’t” work and then being prepared for it as you have done through your years of teaching art. Here are some examples: 1) If I have to turn out all the lights, I tell the kids when I’m about to do it. They will still make “oooo” noises, but at least the little ones aren’t surprised and scared. 2) In a one-hour workshop, I’ve never had a kid ask to go to the restroom or sharpen pencils, but if I anticipate that it might be a problem, I set the ground rules up front. It also helps to have another adult in the room to help special requests if they arise. (And actually, if you are not an employee of a school, a staff member is required to be with you at all times.) 3) At the start of the lesson, I appoint kids to be my supply-hander-outers and board-erasers. 4) In terms of kids “spilling the beans” about the content of my workshop, I swear them to secrecy at the start of the lesson. But if they do leak the information, I just go, “Oh well” and go on. I’m happy that they like what we’re engaged in!

Anonymous said...

My fourth graders are so excited about your upcoming classroom visit! Your creativity, insight and humor will surely be an inspiration to our young writers.