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Middle School Monday: Preparing for Visiting Authors

MSM1This week, G. Neri is visiting our school for a week-long Writer-in-Residence. I know. I know. We’re crazy lucky.

Preparing for his visit has been the focus of my teaching for over two months. Every student in our school has read Under Berlin [G. Neri’s short story from the wonderful collection Open Mic, edited by Mitali Perkins] and created a digital book cover. All 7th and 8th grade students read Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. Afterwards, we examined what it would mean to alter one element of Yummy’s story. How would that have changed his narrative? Students were empowered to do creative, critical thinking for this project. They each chose one action or reality to change in Yummy’s childhood and then rewrote Yummy’s story by producing animated videos of his new narrative via Biteable. [They were amazing. I might have cried while we were having our mini-movie premieres. Okay. I did cry.]

With two 7th and 8th grade writing groups, we’ve been reading Ghetto Cowboy during an elective-like period. The students in these groups will be working for one or two classes each day with G. Neri on different aspects of creative writing.

I can’t stress enough how important logistics and preparation are in terms of welcoming authors into our schools. I recently wrote about this topic and I want to touch on that today.

The January/February 2017 Knowledge Quest, the journal of the American Association of School Librarians, focused on Equality vs. Equity. The issue was subtitled Diversity Matters: Moving Beyond Equality toward Equity in Youth Services and edited by Kafi Kumasi and Sandra Hughes-Hassell.

I was lucky enough to write about my #MdlPwriters that worked with visiting author Matt de la Peña last year and I’ve been revisiting my reflections on logistics and preparations these past few months. I think this plan works because it’s grounded in an equity-based framework.

The ideas paraphrased below were originally written about in: #MdlPwriters: 14 Powerful Voices by J. Stivers (2017). Knowledge Quest, 45 (3), 29-37.

As librarians hosting a Writer-in-Residence, it’s imperative that we:

  • make sure visiting authors reflect our students and the wonderful reality that is our diverse world;
  • prepare students so they are familiar with the author’s work;
  • flood the curriculum with the author’s reflective literature;
  • use culturally relevant practices in classes and groups to examine the author’s writing;
  • assemble writing groups—and any other opportunities for face time with the author—within an equity framework, i.e. do not base face-time with the author on book purchases!; and,
  • ensure that the entire experience is student-centered.

When we prepare using this framework, we are then able to essentially get out of the way and let our students and the author powerfully connect via literature and creative writing.

I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib—have a great week!

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