Bring an Author to Your Library—Bring Your Library to an Author!

Book Links: April/May 2002 (v.11, no.5)

by Karen Kline and Kim Grimes

An author visit can help create many things in a school community-motivated readers, interclassroom collaboration, and a focused interest on writing techniques. It can also create a hefty invoice, sometimes so hefty that the visit is never even considered or planned. What is a good-intentioned school librarian to do, then? Fire up the ol' Web browser and make a connection through an online author chat! The good news is that most authors and publishers want to make valuable connections with young readers and teachers. The rest of the good news is that with an Internet connection and a willing author you will be ready to take your students on an online adventure that will connect them with literature, authors, and technology. A moderated online chat (by moderated, we mean a controlled chat whereby all questions are screened before being posted for others on the Internet to see) gives students, teachers, and authors a venue for sharing their questions and answers. And who better to moderate a literature discussion than a librarian? Here is our recipe for doing just that.

A General Strategy

by Karen Kline

There are many ways to find authors to chat with online. Be prepared when you meet an author to suggest a few dates and times that might be appropriate for a chat. There are Web sites where chat opportunities are advertised (see "Web Connections" sidebar on p.28). Some authors can be contacted via published e-mail addresses or their publishers. Local bookstores frequently have connections with authors who are local or who may be touring through your area. Be prepared to suggest a Web site with chat software that you have tested at your own location. Once you find an author you're interested in, log on and schedule a date and time.

Advertising the Upcoming Chat

Much like a face-to-face author visit, an online author chat is best received after publicizing it to your community. Depending on the school, it may take several months to do the necessary communicating, or it may take only a few weeks. Some things to consider include notifying the local library (the staff can be helpful in getting multiple copies of the author's works and in locating other schools that might want to participate in the chat), announcing the upcoming chat in PTA and school-district newsletters, and-of course-communicating with your administrators and teachers. Finally, do not forget that an interactive chat can include multiple school sites. Reach out to librarians and teachers in other schools, too.

Determining Learning Outcomes and Objectives

Rubrics, rubrics, rubrics! Making the chat meaningful and standards-oriented is not difficult. Online chats target a variety of state and national standards for students at all levels. Reading, writing, and communications standards are easily addressed before, during, and after the chat if a bit of collaborative Depending on the author and the related books, cross-curriculum lesson designs can form an entire unit of study lasting as long as the teacher has to spend on it.

Preparing Students for the Chats

We've found that three to four weeks of class preparation prior to an online author chat is optimal. Depending on whether the author has written picture books or longer works, preparation time may vary according to the time it takes to read and become familiar with the author's works. An ideal way to cut the actual class time required to prepare a class for chatting with an author of longer works is to offer one or more copies of the author's books to student readers a few weeks prior to the chat. Any student interested in reading the book then presents a booktalk to the class before the online chat. While this will never quite replace the experience of reading the books aloud together as a class, it will challenge your best readers while informing all levels of readers about the book. Another excellent method for introducing school-public library cooperation is to invite a public librarian to booktalk the author's works to the class. The public library is likely to have better access to more copies of the author's books as well, and this will help remind students and teachers of the value of visiting the public library for such projects. Don't forget to ask the public librarian to consider preparing an annotated bibliography of the titles that he or she would suggest for such a chat.

Practice Using the Chat Software

A practice chat is one of the most important steps in making an online chat successful. Invite the author to practice chatting with you online at least a few days prior to the chat. If this cannot be arranged, be sure to practice on your own using a couple of the computers you plan to use for the actual chat. You may find that you need to download a newer browser, update chat software, tinker with font sizes, or replace a burned-out bulb in your computer projector. A few minutes of invested time prior to the chat can head off a number of last-minute fiascoes.

Preparing for Possible Technology Problems

Discuss with teachers and students what you plan to do if there is a technology glitch that prevents the chat from happening on time. For instance, we like to set up a display of the author's books for use during the chat, but if there is some kind of network failure we have been known to invite "guest readers" up to an open microphone to read favorite selections from the author's books. You might consider having an author Web site bookmarked on nearby computers for small groups to browse and write reflections about while waiting for technical problems to be corrected. First and foremost, be sure to have necessary phone numbers close at hand. Have a list of any district or school technical support numbers, the author's number, and the numbers of the other schools or libraries that may be participating in the chat.

Using Best Practices to Conduct the Class Chat

Those of us who have studied and implemented cooperative learning models know the importance of giving students a role to play in classroom activities such as online chats. We suggest having the following student roles assigned prior to the chat. · · Orators use a microphone to read the ongoing chat aloud for all to hear. · · Questioners stay alert to the ongoing chat content and create comments and questions that follow up on threads of conversation that may not have been anticipated when creating questions prior to the live chat. · · Evaluators read and research information prior to the chat and use their expert knowledge to screen and edit student questions and comments for the most evocative ideas and questions. · · Runners collect question cards from student questioners and distribute them to the evaluators and teacher. · · Keyboarders type in questions and comments accurately for the chat moderator.

As the chat progresses, you may wish to rotate the roles to provide students new learning opportunities.

Sharing the Results of the Chat

Many Web sites with author chats preserve and archive the online chat text at the site for future reference. This is a powerful tool for showing parents, community, and administrators how you are using technology in the classroom to innovate pathways to curriculum integration. You can print the chat and send it home with students in their weekly folders. You can publish part of the chat in your newsletter. You can send the Web address to your local newspaper's education reporter to suggest a feature story about your library. You can e-mail the Web address to your congressperson to encourage him or her to maintain and enhance current funding levels for school technology. The list goes on.

What to Expect the First Time: Tips from a New User

by Kim Grimes

I decided to do a virtual chat using Classroom Connect's Web site in early September 2000. At this site authors are listed with the times and dates of appearance. Once you decide on an author, you need to contact the Webmaster to sign up. I discovered that Newbery Award-winning author Karen Cushman would be a guest author in mid-October and signed up immediately. I then contacted a fourth-/fifth-grade teacher who is keenly interested in using technology that is integrated into the curriculum. We decided that this would be a unique way to do a literature study on an author. We further concluded that we should have girls volunteer for this project. Why girls? We wanted to tackle the documented gap between females and the use of technology as well as provide an empowering connection with a female author.

Eight girls and I met for 30 minutes, twice a week, for five weeks. These sessions involved the students' selecting what books to read (five read The Midwife's Apprentice, two read The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, and one read both), familiarizing themselves with the Web site, locating biographical information on Karen Cushman, and discussing literary elements in the novels. Throughout this time, the students were continuously brainstorming ideas for questions to ask the author. Further, we discussed the protocol of an effective online chat question.

One week before the author chat we practiced chatting with a fifth-/sixth-grade class in Lake Washington school district near Seattle, Washington. This was a long-distance form of collaboration with a former colleague of mine who lives in Seattle. It is possible to arrange such collaborations through Classroom Connect's Web site. The students were very excited about chatting with peers and doing so live via the Internet. The purpose was twofold: first, the students could practice using the software, and, second, they would learn how to direct questions to a different audience (in this case, peers rather than the actual author). An added bonus was that students would be responding to questions as well.

Here is how it worked: One computer at my library in Tucson and one in Lake Washington were logged on to Classroom Connect's Web site as "invited guests." In Tucson I had a fifth-grader, Connie, in charge of typing questions and answers for the entire group. In Lake Washington, the classroom teacher was the keyboarder. An infinite number of computers can log on to the Web site to view the chat, so I had three set up for the rest of the group to read the chat. I logged on as the "moderator." This meant that all questions and answers from invited guests would go to my computer for review, and then I would post them so everyone who was logged on could read them.

After this chat, we were extremely relieved that we had practiced before the actual event. The students and I concluded that:

  • When practicing between schools, everyone needs to be prepared. Our students had already finished their reading, but the other students were just starting. This was frustrating for our group.
  • Connie, although an excellent typist, felt overwhelmed with the seven other girls exuberantly yelling at her to type in their questions and answers. We decided to break up into two groups.
  • We needed to redesign our questions so that we introduced ourselves first. Here is an example: "Hello, my name is Connie, and I read The Midwife's Apprentice. I thought the most exciting part of the story was Chapter 7 and the devil. What was the most exciting part for you?" Furthermore, we decided to write each question on a notecard.

On author chat day, we were ready. The girls came 30 minutes before the chat started. Since I would need to be the moderator for the chat, I asked a fellow district librarian to be responsible for one group while Connie was in charge of the other group.

The chat was to begin at 2:00 p.m. Participants included my students, the class in Lake Washington school district, a large group of librarians attending a program on author chats at a conference in Washington, and the author, Karen Cushman.

Problems ensued when at 2:00 p.m. only my students and the librarians had logged on to the site. As the moderator, I could see that Karen Cushman needed to enter the Web site in a different way, so I quickly contacted her and she responded. It was 2:15 p.m. before the chat started. By this time, my students were a bit frazzled from the anticipation, but once we got started--MAGIC! Karen Cushman has a wonderful sense of humor. She answered students directly and succinctly. The latter is important because one doesn't want a lot of lag time in getting questions and answers posted so everyone can read them. As the moderator, I was constantly besieged with questions and answers. It was my job to edit and post questions and answers in an order that everyone could understand. As a librarian, I found it exhilarating to moderate, but I also wished I could have been with the two student groups to hear their reactions to the chat.

Would I do it again? In a minute! Although Karen Cushman was not physically in my library, her presence was much felt. The students learned a lot about an author's writing process. Further, they learned a valuable lesson in how to apply technology to extend their learning about books and literature.

Web Connection

The following Web site is one source of online author chats.

  • The
    Read In Foundation at hosts an annual Read In! chat with a number of authors. This year's Read In! will take place on May 16, and authors include Louis Sachar, Lois Lowry, and Chris Crutcher. Each author chats for a half hour, and a variety of related activity ideas are available on the site, encouraging educators to make a daylong celebration out of the event.

Karen Kline is the librarian at John Muir Elementary School in Kirkland, Washington.
Kim Grimes is the librarian at Corbett Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona.