You know, picture book authors and teachers have oodles in common. We all love kids, we’re often underpaid, and we deal with constant parent criticism. Really, we could be twins. Except teachers must get groomed and dressed every morning while we authors get to lounge around in jammies all day. (Sorry, it’s one of the professional perks.)
That’s why I was surprised when I spoke to a group of 50 teachers last week and not a single one had ever used Skype in the classroom. We’re not so twinsy after all?
I connect with a lot of teachers online, so I mistakenly assumed that a majority already took advantage of this technology. But I learned that lack of time and resources—plus occasional lack of the internet—means Skype doesn’t get utilized. Some schools even have privacy concerns and other rules preventing its use.
But that’s too bad! Why should it be? If schools can’t afford to bring an author in to speak, Skype provides a free next-best-thing alternative. Author Kate Messner maintains a list of authors who offer free 15-minute Skypes, and a searchable database of Skype-able authors is available at skypeanauthor.wikifoundry.com. With World Read Aloud Day approaching on March 5, think of how excited students will be to hear an author read their own book. It’s magical. Kids consider authors the “rock stars” of the written word.
Just ask Shannon McClintock Miller’s students. She’s District Teacher Librarian at Van Meter Community School in Van Meter, Iowa and has invited authors/illustrators into her library via Skype for the last six years!
I asked Shannon a few questions to help other teachers get started with their own Skype program…
Shannon, what can a teacher do if their administration is skeptical about Skype?
If the administration is resistant, teachers need to show examples, show the importance, show the impact it can have on the students. They also need to reassure them that the kids are safe, that they know what they are doing…that they understand the “digital citizenship” impact.
When we started out, we practiced Skyping into each others’ rooms. I would read from my library office to the kids down the hall over Skype. We were then able to teach them about Skype, how to behave, that it was just an “extension” of their classroom. All those silly behaviors that we see at first when kids are put in front of a camera can be talked about and addressed. Make sure your administraion knows this.
The impact of bringing in not just authors, but other experts and professionals, takes the library or classroom outside of the four walls and into the world. It brings the children experiences that they might not have otherwise.
What is your Skype set-up like?
We have a computer with a camera and that is what I use. I have it connected to a projector so the kids can see the author or visitor. You don’t have to have a fancy set up to make this work. It can be simple. And kids can also gather around the laptop on the table, which is what we usually do because they like to be close to the author. Also, it’s very important to have speakers set up. Have the kids be able to come up easily and ask questions, too.
I love how mobile my set-up makes me. I can go anywhere with my laptop…and make connections happen naturally. I also use my phone and iPad with Skype, too. Last year took my phone to our pasture for a class of Kindergarteners to see our horse. It works—the connection, the relationships are what is important.
Also, it’s important to have the author’s book available. We have even read the book along on our iPad if the book is an eBook, too. Or I have printed off papers from the Skype visitors to have for the kids.
We are renovating our library and this is a very important part of the new design. But I want people to know—you can have it be very simple, too.
What have been some of your most memorable Skype author/illustrator experiences?
We have had so many wonderful Skype visits.
- Mercer Mayer was very special because being one of the favorite of all kids (and teachers)… And my cousin (with whom I teach) asked me for her kindergarteners.
- Michael Buckley led an hour-long discussion as a culminating event with our 5th graders and also had fun with us on the last day of school last year.
- Tom Angelberger has Skyped with us several times to create Origami Yodas.
- Robert Forbes and Mrs. P read poetry together for our Poetry Summit with five other schools around the world.
- Peter Reynolds Skyped from his home studio. Being an artist and friend of Peter’s, this was very special.
- Loren Long Skyped for Read Across America Day
- This fall we have been Skyping with Capstone Publishing Art Studio. And LOVED this one…
- I know I am leaving out so many of my favorite friends and visits…I could go on and on.
How do you feel these visits have impacted your students?
I feel that these visits bring great experiences and connections to our students. By Skyping with authors, they can discuss writing, publishing, reading, brainstorming, etc. By Skyping with illustrators, they can discuss being an artist for books, for authors, how they got involved and the process.
A lot of times the authors talk about writing when they were younger—how they went to school, where they trained and how they got better at writing.
We have Skyped with publishers to understand the process of writing and publishing a book.
We get to bring the world to our children through these virtual visits.
Thank you, Shannon! It’s interesting to hear from a school system that has been utilizing Skype to its full advantage!
So, how about YOU?
Are you a teacher, educator or librarian eager to try Skype? I’m offering free 15-minute Skype sessions for World Read Aloud Day on March 5th!
I will read my book THE MONSTORE, tell students a SECRET about the book and then answer their questions. (I also perform a magic trick made possible only by this amazing technology and the warping of the space-time continuum.)
Just email me at tarawrites (at) yahoo (dot you-know-what-else) and we can set up a time slot!
Happy Skyping to all!