For the last three summers, a small group of Missouri educators has traveled to Hesston, Kan., to attend the annual nErDcampKS conference. This free one-day conference is modeled after the original nErdCamp in Parma, Mich.. While the national Edcamp (un)conference principles are followed, each of the conversations at a nErDcamp has a literacy focus. To make these literary events even more special, several authors from across the nation attend the day, participating in the discussions; many authors participate in panel discussions.
“One of my favorite parts was meeting so many amazing authors—getting to spend time with them and get to know them as real people. They genuinely care about their readers and work so hard to be available to them when possible,” Tamie Williams, the librarian for Neosho Junior High, said about the Hesston event.
Connecting your students to the authors of the books they are reading is a way to motivate even your most reluctant readers. While bringing an author to a school may be too costly for a district to do on a regular basis, here are some additional tips for helping your students connect with authors.
• Have students visit the author’s website to learn more about them. Many author websites include information for the various social media sites they are also involved with. While many authors may not have the adequate time to answer lengthy student requests, responding to or liking a tweet and/or Instagram picture are common author connections. There are even some authors who host various contests via their social media accounts. For instance, Tim Green uses Facebook to reach out to his readers for help in naming characters and will give classrooms across the nation the opportunity to win sets of his newly released books just by accumulating likes on a comment.
• Check out author Kate Messner’s webpage (http://www.katemessner.com/authors-who-skype-with-classes-book-clubs-for-free/) of authors who offer free 10-15 minute question-and-answer Skype chats with classes and book clubs. Students are asked to have read at least one of the books written by the author prior to the chat visit.
• Attend a Children’s Literature Festival with your students. The University of Central Missouri, Truman State University, Missouri State University, and the Unbound Book Festival in Columbia are just a few of the annual events across Missouri where students attend multiple author sessions throughout the day.
• Collaborate with your local public library and notify students when author sessions are scheduled. Many authors will have at least one session in the evening and most will include an opportunity for an autographing meet-and-greet with their visit. If notified early enough, some authors will include school and/or class visits for little additional cost.
• Learn about #KidsNeedMentors, a brand-new way authors are connecting to classrooms this year, all for free. Authors Ann Braden and Jarrett Lerner, as well as a couple educators from New York, helped to pair classrooms with an interested author this past summer. Expectations include the author sending books to their classroom partnership in the fall, at least monthly communication between students and the author, and either an in-person or Skype author visit in the spring. If the pilot program is deemed a success this year, the program will continue to grow with additional sign-ups for future school years.
For additional information, please check out Reading Circle at readingcircle.org or contact an RC member: Brenda Steffens, firstname.lastname@example.org, reviews preschool and primary books; Debbie Anderson, email@example.com, reviews primary level books; Jenn Baldwin, firstname.lastname@example.org, reviews grades 5-8; Lysha Thompson, email@example.com reviews 9-12. Sarah Kohnle, firstname.lastname@example.org, serves as the staff liaison.