Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The World Shrinks for Waukesha Students-- Skyping an Author

With a great idea, a lot of passion, and the daring willingness to try something new, the seemingly "impossible" has become a reality, and has made a very clear impression on some of Central Middle School's students.

Through the use of Skype, a popular video conferencing solution, Ann Zindler's Readers' and Writers' Workshop students were able to make a deeper connection to an author they were studying in class -- an author who just happens to live in the United Kingdom. 

At 3,900 miles distance, Zindler's students made an inter-continental
 connection with Payback author, Ms. Rosemary Hayes, via Skype.  The students
had to consider the 6 hour time difference when setting up a meeting time.
"[On December 4th], seventh grade students at Central enjoyed Skyping with the author of one of our literature circle books, Payback.  Rosemary Hayes, at the request of four of my students, spent about 40 minutes chatting from Cambridge, United Kingdom with our kids who read her book.  [The students] prepared several questions and took turns speaking with her about her writing process and passion for writing, her research, and specifics about the characters upon whom she based her novel," Zindler said.

The technology used to accomplish the task was fairly standard and simple to set up.  Zindler installed Skype on her school desktop computer.  Using the document camera that Zindler uses for other classroom instruction as her web cam, and using a fairly inexpensive set of computer speakers and microphone that was available from the Central library, the stage was set for the event.

The real work, though, was done by the students.  They were responsible for reading Hayes' book, discussing the work through the structure of a literature circle, and then preparing questions and comments for the author in advance of the actual Skype call.  All were critical elements in preparing for the actual meeting with the author.

And how did the kids feel about the opportunity to interact with an author?  Here is the collective reflection from Zindler's students: Wendy F., Jesica C., Kelsey N. and Brianna O.


"Meeting an author can be a once in a lifetime chance.  When Ms. Rosemary Hayes, of Cambridge, England, author of Payback, asked us if we wanted to meet through Skype, first we were surprised she even answered our email.  When we opened the email that she sent us, we literally started jumping up and down.

"Meeting her was amazing.  Some of us have met other authors, but hadn't even read that particular author's books before meeting him or her, so we didn't get as much out of it.  Since we had read Ms. Hayes book we had many questions and so did other kids who had read the book and joined our Skype.  After we were done and all of our questions were answered, I understood the book a whole lot more and understood why she wrote it the way that she did.  It's an amazing way to meet an author."

Like any technological tool that can be used in the classroom, the effectiveness of Skype to connect with the author is directly related to the quality of instructional planning and delivery by the instructor, and the commitment and engagement of the students to embrace the opportunity.  As Zindler and her students have demonstrated, the proper infusion of technology into the classroom can make for some unforgettable experiences for our students.

If you are interested in learning more about how to Skype an author in your classroom, view the Skype an Author network website:  http://skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com/

For a planning consultation to incorporate Skype into your classroom, please contact a member of the Waukesha Instructional Technologies Coordinator Team, please contact Wendy Liska, Jim Gonyo, or Brian Yearling.