Authors in Schools: What’s the Best Match for You?

Whether you are a teacher or an artist, it’s wise to get a sense of how programs work. Long before any planned visits, writers and artists need to think about what they will offer to students, and teachers must evaluate how guest presentations will fit with their goals for students.

Browse the websites as soon as new information is posted. Both Young Alberta Book Society and the Canadian Authors Association Writers in Schools Program provide links to the websites of participating authors and artists. Follow those links, and the web will open up a world of further information.  While teachers will be researching possible guests, authors and artists will find countless ideas for programs.

Just as artists are wise to begin with grade levels where they will be comfortable, teachers should look for writers, illustrators and story tellers who will enhance their own programs concerning both content and approaches to learning and writing. For instance, writers of horror, science fiction and romance may have written great work, but only the teachers will know if that work is the most suitable genre for their students. Some schools prefer to “shelter” students; others may wish to focus on presenting the widest array of possibilities from the artistic world.

The WISP webpage is part of the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Authors’ website. As such, it does go off line between periods of author and school registration. So, for spring presentations, be sure to check the website during the previous fall.

The YABS website is an especially fabulous resource that is available all year long.  It offers a page suggesting additional teacher resources, publications and writing contests for kids, and it provides links to other relevant programs. For instance, in partnership with business, the society has also developed Wordpower, special week-long tours generally in March for southern Alberta and in April for northern Alberta.

Writers and artists must realize that there is a greater chance of being invited into an elementary school than into a junior or senior high school. Writers are sometimes invited to speak to Grade Ten or Grade Eleven students, but there is little likelihood of being invited into a Grade Twelve classroom. The reasons are logical. Generally speaking, elementary teachers have more flexibility in their course matter and approaches, while Grade Twelve teachers are working hard to prepare students for the rigorous exams that can determine what further education and career opportunities are available to those students. As well, parents are more involved in fundraising at the elementary school level. Later, their teenagers prefer independence to parental involvement at school, but fundraising is often necessary if a school is to fund author visits.

Those authors who hope to visit elementary schools should take note that younger students have shorter attention spans, and attention span needs to be part of program planning. Younger students benefit from varied approaches to learning, and sometimes they even prefer to tell their own stories rather than listen to the stories of adults. So presenters might consider how to encourage discussion as well as how to assist students in moving ahead to new materials or concepts.

Writers and other artists in schools are often able to provide the extra inspiration and motivation that helps make all students become keen learners. Both the YABS and WISP author programs have fine strengths. So, choose what’s best for you, and plan to participate.

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