Tag Archives: teaching English

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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Young Alberta Book Society (YABS) & Writers in Schools Program (WISP): Planning Ahead

For teachers, timeframes for author tours are important, and dates can become a deciding factor. Some school calendars follow the traditional school year; others operate on a semester system; some schedule classes over the summer. Professional development days, parent-teacher interviews, statutory and religious holidays all affect when it is most convenient to host an author.

Timeframes are important to writers and artists, too. For instance, some simply cannot participate in YABS Wordpower tours because they are scheduled in March and April. Other participating artists who are “emerging” in their fields need extra time to prepare material before going into schools. Also, mental preparedness is essential, and newbies benefit from talking to those who have toured in the programs.

Both teachers and touring artists learn from viewing the websites of numerous authors. In countless cases, these experienced individuals know what works and what doesn’t work in schools. As well, before signing up as a host or presenter, consider suitability for specific grade levels. Touring artists should begin with grades where they feel comfortable, whether that be kindergarten or high school, and school organizers new to the role of hosting should see how the process works with a few classes before determining that they will offer everyone in the school an opportunity to “see the writer.”

Likely, teachers or teaching teams will prefer the spring or fall for Alberta author and artist visits. For WISP, member writers update their information and availability by the end of September. School organizers can view the information by mid-October, and by then, the deadline for applications to host authors are posted. Usually, that deadline will be about the end of November but it can change every year. Also, demand exceeds availability and funding. So, schools should apply as early as possible. Participating authors present in schools from February to mid-May. All follow-up paperwork must be to the WISP co-ordinator by the end of May.

Those YABS members who are planning to tour update their information and availability in March. The updated content is available throughout the year on the website, and school organizers can begin booking visiting authors in May for the fall.  With many, many visiting artists who live throughout the province and are willing to travel to schools, finding the best guests for your school may take time, despite the ability to search specific types of artists and specific grade levels. Also, the school registration form allows organizers to select their first three guest preferences.

Next year might be the perfect year to participate as a host or visiting artist. So, begin now. Check out the websites: www.yabs.ab.ca and www.albertaauthors.ab.ca Plan, plan, plan, and success will be inevitable.

WISP & YABS: Who’s Who?

Whether you are an interested teacher or a writer, knowing the similarities and differences in the WISP and YABS author touring programs will help you decide which is right for you.  The Alberta Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (www.albertaauthors.ab.caoffers tours through its Writers in Schools Program (WISP). Young Alberta Book Society (www.yabs.ab.ca) has a number of touring programs, the best known being Taleblazers.

Both organizations assist teachers to host writers in their schools. Also, both programs provide a backup “team” with the experience to help writers and instructors plan for success. As a bonus, their websites provide teachers and other arts co-ordinators with information about Alberta writers, their published work, public experience and types of presentations. For everyone, such support is invaluable.

These organizations are committed to the concept that students benefit from meeting real “live” Alberta writers. Young people discover the impressive array of work by those authors and have an opportunity to ask questions and learn from their guests.  English and language arts classes are enriched, and everyone wins.

Information about programs and participating writers is available on YABS and WISP webpages. YABS has its own website, and most information remains accessible throughout the year. WISP is featured on program pages for the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA).  That content is online only during the booking period. It is posted about the first of October. Tours are completed by the end of May, and WISP goes offline until the following October. However, interested authors must register long before the information goes online for schools. So teachers and writers will benefit from printing some of the information while it is online and filing it. That way,  potential  hosts and guests have time to plan. As well, they benefit from a  head start when registration and booking begin for the following year.

The motto of the Canadian Authors Association is “Writers Helping Writers,” so it is not surprising that part of the intent of its program is to assist writers in gaining experience in the school setting. To participate, writers must be members of the Alberta Branch of CAA, and they must have at least one short story, poem, article or book published by an independent publisher (rather than self- published).

The Young Alberta Book Society’s website, with its extensive information on members, is a great place to search out Alberta authors. The primary objective of the society is to “foster literacy and a love of reading among young people in Alberta.”

As well as authors, YABS welcomes other writing-related artists including illustrators, playwrights and storytellers. All must be residents of Alberta. Also, in order to tour with YABS, they must meet very stringent requirements, which are set out in the Taleblazers Presenter Eligibility form. Even a cursory glance at the form will convince everyone of how professional these wordsmiths and other artists must be participate in YABS programs. 

The organization’s best known touring program is Taleblazers in October. For this arts festival, YABS facilitates school visits throughout the province. However, the society organizes other events and programs, too.  

Writers and book-related artists, join the movement to inspire our youth. Teachers, here’s your chance. Alberta artists are at your call!

Calling Writers and Language Arts Teachers

I feel fortunate to be one of the guest authors presenting workshops at the Calgary Young Writers’ Conference (CYWC) on April 21. This very special full-day event is in its 29th year and is offered by the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) for hundreds of Grades 4-8 students who love to write. Dedicated volunteers have spent months organizing the 40 guest speakers who will address students and the six of us who will share ideas with the teachers and other adults in attendance. In order to celebrate home-grown talent and “writing in our own back yard,” the 2012 conference features Alberta writers only. With keynote speakers Jacqueline Guest and Michele Martin Bossley, as well as dozens of other well-known Alberta writers who will offer small group workshops to the students, the CBE and volunteers deserve thanks and credit for what is certain to be a memorable day.

In the past, my CYWC workshops were dedicated to motivating and encouraging student writers, but this year, while presenting to the teachers, volunteers and parents, I will suggest how a humanities approach to reading and writing is a great option. That approach does not have to be offered within an official humanities program. Rather, the approach is a very contemporary method of interesting and supporting all language arts students, whether their preferred learning mode is print, visual, tactile or auditory and whether they love English, social studies, science, art or other subject matter.

Also, I’ll reveal how my own attitudes about writing instruction have been dramatically changed with my increased awareness concerning what brings on writer’s block for me and what helps me pursue my own writing goals and interests.

Lastly, I’ll explain and recommend reading/writing-related options developed to facilitate visits by Alberta writers to schools. I believe that it is mutually beneficial for teachers and writers to work together in their efforts to encourage reading and writing among today’s busy, high-tech kids. So, I will highlight what is available throughout Alberta. However, details concerning such programs offer writers and teachers in other locations useful information and ideas for setting up their own programs or improving existing ones.

Whether you are a writer or teacher in Alberta or elsewhere, stay tuned. Discover available options, and decide what is right for you.