In my literature classroom, I find students are often more engaged when we’re delving into a book they can relate to, or when they have some personal connection with the text. I also notice that some students simply don’t feel comfortable volunteering in class, yet they have so much insight to share. These factors led me to wonder how to establish an environment where students feel safe sharing their thoughts, and where I can engage and involve my students in their learning.
As an experiment, I started implementing Author Chats, an educational app created by Bublish, to reinvigorate the way they experience literature. Essentially, it’s a virtual, interactive experience with book authors and creates an authentic learning opportunity—one that’s collaborative and sometimes international! With Author Chats, I’ve introduced my students to authors from South Africa, Canada, England, California, and Colorado.
In my classroom, Author Chats doesn’t necessarily follow an organized lesson plan format. That’s what makes it so fabulous. Usually the participation from the featured authors guides the direction each “chat” takes. I primarily use it for morning work and early finishers activities. It comes in handy to use the activity as motivation for students to finish a task, yet it doesn’t take away from my to-do list of teaching curriculum-based lessons.
Writing the Perfect Dialogue
Before implementing these chats, I struggled with what to have students in my homeroom do first, as they’re filtering in each morning over a thirty-minute time period. I teach two blocks of ELA, and I don’t even see half of my students in the morning because they’re in a different homeroom. Thanks to Author Chats, I can easily post an objective for my students on Edmodo and host discussions in my selected Edmodo Group, then let the authors drive where the conversation heads. It’s a great way to warm up to the school day, prep student minds for learning, and put a different spin on “bell-ringer” activities or worksheets.
Guest authors tell students how they get motivated to write their novels and describe their writing process, their inspiration behind key characters, and how they came up with the plot, among other things. After interacting with the author, I usually ask students to pose thoughtful questions. These questions vary in nature, but I usually try to tie it into an area of focus in our own writing, such as editing, creating a suspenseful plot, how dynamic characters are created, etc. They also may ask the author for book recommendations or to share a bit more about the genre they typically feature. Students receive authentic, live feedback from authors—something that usually isn’t possible in the classroom.
Setting the Scene
What’s fabulous about these chats is that I don’t make them mandatory. It isn’t for a letter grade; instead, they’re used to help reignite a love of learning in my students. I don’t want them to get bogged down with having to interact. If they aren’t interested one week, it’s no big deal. Not constantly being worried about another grade in the gradebook helps keep Author Chats FUN! In a world where our students are inundated with more and more assignments, this is something that’s not required, yet is what my students look forward to most.
The participation and thoughtful feedback from my students has been incredible and far exceeded my expectations. One student commented, “We get to meet real authors who explain their books, sometimes LIVE! I especially enjoy book trailers and the excerpts. Our class learns many things, like the process of a plot on a storyline, tips about developing characters, etc.” Other students have expressed their enthusiasm for being able to ask the authors questions they know they wouldn’t normally get answered.
I’ve been doing these chats weekly, and it’s really changed the culture in our classroom. Not only are my students learning about how authors construct characters, plots, and settings, but they’re also exposed to different countries and cultures, as well as genres they may never have discovered on their own. One of my female students says she loves Author Chats because it helps her find new books to read, and she gets to tell the authors how much she enjoys their writing.
The best part of this program is seeing my students get inspired and bring more creativity to their own writing. They genuinely enjoy sharing their creative writing with their peers and even the authors! Interacting with the authors has become the highlight of my students’ day. It truly has brought back the fun into reading! One of my students put it best when she said, “I never really wanted to be an author, but Author Chats helped me realize how fun it can be, and how cool. I get to interact, question, and most importantly, READ!”
Laura Murphy teaches English at Charles Pinckney Elementary in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Her classroom philosophy is best summarized by the Socrates quote, “Wisdom begins with wonder.” To learn more about Laura and this project, register for and attend EdmodoCon 2015, where she’ll be presenting.