The books surrounded me. As I began the task of closing down a classroom frozen in time on March 13th, the books called to me. My students’ belongings were already packed up (thanks to a couple of teacher’s aides who I really suspect are angels!) and my books were in piles everywhere. Picture books, chapter books, poetry, nonfiction….I sat to read some of them, flipping through the pages, thinking of how I would have loved to read so many of the books to my students, in my rocking chair, with them gathered around me. Will that scene ever be possible again anytime soon? Sigh.
I turned to the books on resilience, on problem solving, on making it through hard times. Every book is an answer to some question in your heart. And, to think, every book itself comes with a story of how it was created, why it was created, and who created it. The authors of these books, in a sense, teach alongside me. They help me teach effective leads, a satisfying ending, infusing dialogue, interesting punctuation, and voice. They help me teach empathy, resilience, persistence, and courage. I couldn’t teach without books- and the authors who write them.
During May, Two Writing Teachers hosted our annual Author Spotlight Series. Stacey Shubitz, TWT’s Lead Writer and Chief of Operations, created the Author Spotlight Series to “help teachers get the voices of authors into their classrooms.” Stacey said, “I thought it would be really important to hear from authors and to hear about their process.” She hoped the authors would share their individual writing journey and process, help kids think about good writing, learn more about craft, how the authors use research, and what inspires their ideas.
I’ve always looked forward to the Author Spotlight Series and love learning about the behind the scenes process that happens before a book is published. To me, these posts are treasures that sometimes get forgotten in the busy end of school year rush. This year, we’ve certainly had a lot on our proverbial plates and with the Google Meet/Zoom exhaustion, I felt concerned that some might have missed these posts. I also thought it would be so helpful to have all the posts in one place, organized by topic. So, that’s just what I did and want to share with you today!
While I was working on this project, simultaneously I was developing poetry lessons for my third grade students. Rediscovering Elaine Magliaro’s Writing “Things To Do” Poems inspired a lesson I created to share with my class:
My students tried this lesson this week and here are a few of the poems they came up with. I am so proud of them!
5 Ways to Use the Author Spotlight Series Posts for Instruction or Inspiration
Growth Mindset/ Character Lessons: Many of the posts in the “Perseverance in the Writing Journey” category highlight how an author had to work hard, write each day, get back up after rejection, and how it took many years to see their dream accomplished. These are powerful lessons to teach our students. Many of those lessons (most?) can apply to any goal the student has for himself. We can ask students, “How easy do you think it is to get a book published?” and we can share some of these stories and brainstorm what qualities the author must have had to continue on.
Finding Ideas: Before reading a book to students, we can ask them, “How do you think the author got the idea to write this book?” This question brings back the notion that a real live person created that book and had to go through the entire writing process, just like our student writers do. Students can imagine how an author found the inspiration. Posts from the “Inspiration for Writing” section could be shared and a class chart/book created about all the ways ideas can be sparked.
Build a Culture of Curiosity: Posts from the “Researching” category can be shared to ignite conversations about how writers wonder about the world around them and learn about people, places and events. Researching what they are curious about helps them learn and be able to share their knowledge in their own new writing project. Elementary students often have difficulty writing informational books with voice. They think that you write down a list of facts from a book or website, then write those down and that is your report/presentation. Sharing high quality nonfiction books with craft moves and the backstories these authors tell can lift the quality of writing students produce. It can show them how nonfiction can be entertaining and memorable at the same time it informs.
Writing to Process Feelings: We don’t yet know the emotional/mental toll that this time of quarantine and global pandemic will have on our students. We can assume that there will be many feelings, fears, and emotional difficulties when we meet our new students in the fall. The “Writing Elicits Emotions” section of the padlet features posts that highlight how writing about hard things is important. Our students can learn from authors that writing about their worries can help them understand their feelings better- that many authors write books because they went through hard times and want to share the lessons they learned.
Grow Your Professional Knowledge of Authors and Books: My “TBR” (To Be Read) stack has grown writing this post as I rediscovered authors and books I want to read. As teachers of writing and writers, it is so important that we read widely both children’s literature and professional books. The more authors we know, the more authors we can introduce to our students. With class communities made up of children from all cultures, faiths, family backgrounds, and regions of the world, we need to read books from authors that can be both mirrors and windows for our students. Reading the Author Spotlight Series posts will help you know more authors and a variety of books you can use to teach many different types of writing as well as content.
How have you used the Author Spotlight Series with students? What ideas can you share with us for more application? Please share your expertise and inspiration in the comments.