Connecting with authors via Google Hangouts and Twitter

Google Hangout with Claire Legrand and Lindsay Cummings

Last week was a busy week for Lamar Library! For #celebratemonday we chatted with authors Lindsay Cummings and Claire Legrand via Google Hangouts.  My 7th Texas History students are working on a PBL with the driving question, “What will cause the next civil war?”  Mr. Wacker has his students writing an argument/story with a dystopian tone, so we thought it would be great for students to chat with some YA authors that have some experience with basing fantasy on research.

The students posed some great questions:

  • How can I make a story/argument about the next civil war AND make it reasonable?
  • What makes a story dystopian?
  • Would it be easier to write an environmental dystopia than a political dystopia?
  • How do you finish a book? (I’ve started a few…)
  • After you get an idea, what continues to inspire you?
  • We are finding it difficult to link our new ideas to the past. How can we make our dystopias believable?
  • What historical events shaped your fantasy ideas? (What links to the past make your story believable?)
  • Do you communicate with other authors about your ideas?
  • What inspired you to write these books? (or who?)
  • How do you use everyday life to inspire your stories?

Overall, the chat was fluid, educational, and entertaining.  Having two authors at once was new for me, but we wanted to really ask a panel of experts not just one author.

Lindsay Cummings, author of the Murder Complex, “loved that the kids had questions prepared ahead of time, so there were no awkward pauses while kids tried to think of questions, and the authors sat twiddling their thumbs on the other side of the screen. Luckily, that didn’t happen :)”

Claire Legrand, author of Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls and Winterspell, gave me a great reason to have her visit next time instead of Skype:

“As far as Skype vs. in-person visits, both are great. Skype visits obviously have the advantage of being flexible for both the author and the educator, and are a great way to fit a short inspirational visit into a busy school day. That being said, I will always prefer in-person visits because it allows for more natural interaction between me and the students! I love passing out “props”–my earliest stories, my printed out edit letters, etc–and making that in-person connection. As convenient as video chats are, you lose a certain something special when there’s a screen between you and your audience!”

This is the whole chat without edits if you feel like taking a peek:

Twitter Chat with Chris Barton

A few months ago, I read a post on Buffy Hamilton’s blog about utilizing Twitter chats with students.  Then last month at TLA something Matthew Winner spoke about during his closing keynote at Tech Camp really stuck with me. He discussed the importance of letting kids tweet from our library accounts to teach them the power of positive social media use. I wanted to combine these two concepts, and utilize Twitter chats as an authentic learning tool for students (just like Twitter chats are for me!)

In my TLA Takeaway post, I mentioned wanting to learn more about research processes from authors like Chris Barton and John Rocco.  Since our students were to research a Greek God/Goddess and then write their own fictional story from the character’s point of view, I thought my students would learn a lot from an expert like Chris Barton!  Plus, students always struggle with writing after research, and I was worried they would also struggle with blending fact with fiction to tell their own story and Chris is an excellent storyteller.  Wednesday at the end of our research I had students develop questions for our chat, then asked Mrs. Wilson if her students could read one of Barton’s stories out of “Can I See Your I.D.?” Thursday to prepare.

Student Assignment

Why are we reading this?

  • These stories were written by Chris Barton after he did extensive research on the individual.  (Sort of like what you are doing with your Greek God/Goddess.)  Read the story to learn about the individual from a different point of view.

Questions for Ss:

  • Have you ever read anything from the 2nd person POV before? What?
  • Explain how the point of view makes you feel as a reader.
  • Why do you think Mr. Barton used the 2nd person POV?
  • How do you think you’ll incorporate facts into your own digital story?

Friday was the big day, and it was a GREAT CONVERSATION and LEARNING experience! Plus, thanks to Storify, I have the whole chat in one fluid, readable document below!  I tweeted our pre-written questions from my account, and then I had students write clarifying questions on whiteboards during the chat and pic-tweeted those from my library account. Mrs. Wilson and I also thought it would be more engaging and keep our kids on track if they took notes during the chat on their research site.

So how do I feel like it went?
  • It was actually more engaging for students because we had them take notes on their mythology project site.
  • Plus, lots of quiet kids were more comfortable with writing questions rather than speaking in front of others.
  • Students were able to ask for clarity, or just ask their own pertinent questions, since it wasn’t like a formal Q&A with an author.
  • It made me tired because I was running around the classroom! I think I needed to let Mrs. Wilson do the tweeting from my iPad or at least bring a student aide who could assist with tweeting for students.
  • I was worried it was a little too stressful on our author, Chris Barton, because he had to do ALL THE ANSWERING! 🙂
  • I loved, loved, loved being able to take teachable moments while Chris was typing to talk with students about what he was saying.  At one point, the students asked Chris, “What do you do when you don’t know what to write?” To which he so eloquently said, “Pay attention to what you can’t stop thinking of.” So while he was typing up his next response, I told the kids, “What great advice! Think back to your research, what was something you learned that you can’t stop thinking of? Maybe you read that Hera was the Goddess of Marriage and you can’t stop thinking about that because her husband CHEATED ON HER ALL THE TIME! So maybe that’s your short story?” GREAT MOMENT!
  • I loved how authentic this activity was for the project the students were working on. Our students have to write stories based on fact, and they were able to speak with an expert who is great at writing stories based on facts!
  • At the end of the day, I polled two random kids on our chat. One, a student who never speaks in class, said that the chat was, “AWESOME! I was so easy to follow and I learned a lot.” On the other end of the spectrum, I asked a social and talkative student what he thought. He said, “I got lost. I didn’t understand the format.”
But how did the author feel?
  • “It had a big advantage over the Q&A sessions with an in-person audience: I knew that each question you chose to include was widely relevant. (What he means by widely relevant: “You never know if the kid who asks a Q in person is the ONLY one who wants it answered.”)
  • “It was a lot of work! And I don’t mean “a lot of work” in a negative way. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But it called for constant engagement and thought.”
  • “As for structure, I think it worked out great having main Qs come from you and visual Qs from students on a different account. I don’t think I could have stayed on top of Qs from more than two accounts, and having the visual from students reinforced the fact that it was the kids doing the asking so that I could keep them in mind as I answered.”
Storify Twitter Chat

Storify Twitter Chat

Read the whole Storify here!

It was simply an amazing learning and teaching experience. My process needs a little tweaking, but overall I felt it was very successful. Chris even wrote about the experience on his blog!

Technical note for teachers: Students also struggle with keeping organized throughout a research project, so I prompted my 8th grade ELA teachers to create a Mythology Research site where we could embed all notes, the calendar, etc. (We loved the ease of utilizing Site Maestro to copy and share sites when we did our All Songs project, so this time I taught Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Witter how to work this Google add-on!)


One thought on “Connecting with authors via Google Hangouts and Twitter

  1. Pingback: More (from me, and from my host) about last week | Bartography

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