My class Skyped with author Lisa Graff on Thursday. The entire experience was, in the words of my students, “exciting”. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face throughout our 45 minute Skype meeting, because pure joy was emitting from each and every one of my students.
After the Skype session, my students wrote about their experience and what they learned. One student concluded, “I had so much fun and enjoyed every second of it! It was an amazing experience and I will never forget it! It’s amazing how much you can learn from a person in 35 min and especially when it was so interesting! It was a once in a lifetime experience and was awesome.”
I hope this is an experience I can provide for my students in future years. I learned that Skyping is a great way for students to connect with professionals. The benefits went beyond our 45 minutes on Skype. The preparation process and reflections afterwards were a learning experience as well. For my own personal reference and for anyone interested in setting up a Skype for your own class, I’ve highlighted our process along with the biggest takeaways in the eyes of my students below.
- Students wrote questions on post-its and placed them on a board in the back of the classroom.
- After completing the book, we read through the questions as a class, grouping like questions together. Students chose to add more post-it questions at this time also. We made a list of questions, making sure to omit repeats.
- We had a discussion about how to best organize the questions for the interview. This was 100% student-driven and run as a roundtable discussion. Students decided to group the questions into three categories: General Author Questions, Specific Book Questions, and Personal Questions.
- Students then debated the order of the categories. As a teacher, this was my favorite part of the preparation process. Students passionately shared and justified there views and rationales. “I don’t think we should start with personal questions. I think we should ask them at the end when she is more comfortable,” one said. I loved the thought they put into this, and I think they did a fabulous job. Students also had to show restraint and patience while being good active listeners during this process. I love the real-world skills students must apply and sharpen during roundtable discussions.
- I put the questions within each category in order and printed a copy for each student. I also emailed the questions to Lisa Graff ahead of time.
- The day before our author Skype, the class did a short practice Skype with a staff member. This didn’t take much time, and I believe it was hugely beneficial. We practiced where to stand, how to transition between questions so we could move things along and get all of our questions in, and how to speak clearly and loudly.
- I began by saying a quick hello and introducing the students, and we got right to it!
- Students asked their 29 planned questions. We finished in 30 minutes! Since we had a little bit of extra time, students asked some follow-up questions and shared some of their own comments.
- Students took notes during the interview. They just had a blank paper with which they could record anything interesting that they’d like to remember. I didn’t ask for anything special in the notes, just that they take some.
- We signed off in 45 minutes.
- We shared with one another. As a class, we discussed what we learned from Lisa Graff.
- I asked students to write a four paragraph essay about their experience.
Students churned these four paragraphs out like it was nothing; there was so much excitement, and they had so much to say. Lisa shared a number of things that stuck with my kiddos. Here are the top ten takeaways…in my students words.
- She has felt like an almost herself sometimes.
- Holes was the book that inspired her to be an author.
- The first book that she wrote, that was not published, was when she was 14 and the book was called A Speck of Dust.
- Lisa Graff said that a lot of her inspiration [for Absolutely Almost] was from living in New York and being a babysitter.
- She said that the revising process is always much longer than drafting and that she usually thinks it stinks and wants to quit in the middle. She said she’s never been disappointed once a book is published.
- When I hear Mr.Clifton’s jokes I wondered how Lisa Graff got those jokes and it turns out that she just looked up in the internet, “Bad math jokes”.
- I found it very interesting that Albie actually at first liked candy bars instead of donuts, but her editor wanted to change candy bars to donuts, which I think was a great idea.
- She shows how if you work long enough on the thing you love you will succeed.
- What I learned from this experience is that it’s really hard to be an author because it takes a long time to come up with an idea for a book and wait for that book to be published and making changes to your book. It’s a long and hard process.
- During the Skype, she told us some advice, “ Write, even if you think it stinks.”
In the words of Mr. Clifton, “You can’t get where you’re going without being where you’ve been.” Lisa Graff told my students to write. She recognized that – yes, it stinks sometimes (or as least you think it does), but you can’t get better without producing some pieces to learn from. Each piece students write advances them as writers. Nearly all of my students quoted the advice, “Write, even if you think it stinks.” This message resonated with my kiddos and gave them confidence. In their eyes, if even a famous author thinks her writing stinks as she’s writing sometimes, then it’s ok if they think their’s stinks too. They learned that it’s normal to feel that way, but they must push through and stick with it until the end. Lisa communicated that, in the end, it’s always worth it. See, this Skype went beyond learning a little more about the background of our read aloud. Students were given writing advice and were able to learn about the writing process directly from an author. I have to do more Skype meetings with my class!
A big, giant THANK YOU to Lisa Graff for offering the opportunity to Skype with classes. For more information on hosting a Skype session with Lisa Graff click HERE.