Thursday, 7 July 2016

How to Prepare for School Visits by Alexia Casale.

@alexiacasale
Lots of things go into a fantastic school visit – some of them can be controlled, and others can’t. Never underestimate the importance of prep. It doesn’t guarantee success, but if things go wrong at least you’ve done your best. 


Before the event
Make sure the school tells you the following in advance 
  • What age(s) the students are 
  • How many there are (this changes the extent and ways in which you can be interactive) 
  • Whether they’re a particular class (e.g. GCSE English Lit or reluctant readers) 
  • Where to go when you arrive at the school and whether you need any photo ID 
  • Who your named contact is and at least one emergency phone-number 
Discuss whether the school will sell books or whether they want you to bring some to sell – make sure that if either of these things is happening, the kids know in advance so they can bring money. 

It ALWAYS helps if the kids know you’re coming and are encouraged to think about questions to ask – or, ideally, start reading your books! Also, if your publisher can send you the file for a poster for the school to print out, it’s a big plus. 

Always check your route in advance. Print out a map. One printed page won’t kill the rainforest or weigh you down. Have your contact’s name and emergency number on your map. 

If you’ve prepared a powerpoint, make sure you have a plan in case you can’t use it. 
On the day of the event
 Right, so it’s the big day. Wear something comfortable that gives you confidence. You’re a children’s/YA author, so fun rather than formal is often the way to go. Being a bit eye-catching never hurts for keeping attention and will look good in photos even if you’re pulling a weird face (I always am). 

Take a bottle of water, a snack, a little cash and a pack of tissues (with the water, this is an emergency stain-remover kit). Charge your phone. Consider an umbrella. 

Make sure you leave a nice cushion of time. You may need to sign in, have your photo taken and have reception ring round to find out who you are because no one’s actually told them you’re coming... I prefer to take a book and find somewhere to read, knowing I’m already where I need to be. 

Go to the loo as soon as possible. There are usually loos by the entrance but there may be none near where you’re speaking. 
Alexia teaching
Don’t be bullied into being run-ragged on the day. If asked to do extra spur-of-the-moment events, all you need say is ‘I’d love to but I need a little time between events to clear my head so I can give all the kids I speak with equal time, focus and energy.’ Hard to object to that, really. And you can always offer to come back for another visit... 

Take a deep breath and follow the teacher to the stage/front of the classroom. Have a short bio prepared (and printed out) in case. Make sure the teacher knows the correct pronunciation of your name, but tell the kids to call you whatever you’re comfortable with. It’s your show now. 

Make sure the teacher doesn’t leave you alone with the students. It is not allowed under safe- guarding regulations and if you have liability insurance this may invalidate it. At least one teacher needs to be there in case you need any assistance in this unfamiliar environment.​ 

Make sure you introduce why you’re there and what you’re going to talk about. Make sure the kids know whether to put up their hands with questions throughout or wait for the end. 
Alexia taking a class
Make eye contact all around the room if you can. Have a spiel prepared to start with so you’re on safe ground as you warm up. If you can do something interactive at the start, make it a simple activity. If the kids are sullen or nervous, they will refuse to participate then everyone’s off on the wrong foot. If you can do something visual, all the better. 

Now go for it! And remember there’s no ‘right’ way to do it – there are as many right ways as authors. Do what works for you, provided you’re passionate and energetic. It’s usually good to have lots of different ‘bits’ to your event – it helps break things up and keep up the momentum. 

Include a few new words or ideas so that your session effectively has clear learning objectives and outcomes. This will help teachers demonstrate the educational value of the event and help justify future author visits. Make sure the kids know what each term means and get them to do something that demonstrates their knowledge. Don’t try to accomplish too much: a good understanding of 2-4 new terms/ideas is great. 

Be flexible: have a plan but be ready to throw it out of the window if it’s not working. Don’t insist on doing a whole presentation if you end up with less time for some reason or if the kids are dwelling enthusiastically on something worthwhile and don’t want to move on. 
Leave time for questions, but have an extra activity up your sleeve in case. Leave time for signing/book buying. 

Remember, throughout, to use inclusive language and avoid making assumptions (e.g. some of the kids will be living with grandparents or foster carers not parents). 

At the end, thank the kids and the teachers. Let them know your social media details. 

It’s often nice to follow up with a thank you email, reiterating your social media details. If you want to ask for feedback, do so but gently. 

Nothing is foolproof with school visits. If things go wrong, analyse what you might have done differently but don’t beat yourself up: it happens to all of us. But with good planning, luck and a little experience, it usually goes well. If you focus on stuff you love, most people find it infectious. And that’s really what an author visits is about – making kids excited about reading and about writing, and making them all feel that books and words are for them.

@alexiacasale
Alexia is an author, editor and writing consultant, with degrees in Social
Sciences, Educational Psychology & Technology and Creative Writing, as well
as a teaching qualification. Her first two YA novels - House of Windows and
The Bone Dragon - are published by Faber and represented by Claire Wilson
at RCW. *The Bone Dragon* was shortlisted for the Waterstone's Children's
Book Prize, while *House of Windows* has been selected for the Reading
Agency's new 'Reading Well for Young People' list.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this. A great summing up, I especially appreciate the point about remembering "to use inclusive language and avoid making assumptions (e.g. some of the kids will be living with grandparents or foster carers not parents)". At one visit, I was talking about Luke Skywalker discovering that his dad is Darth Vader and I said Star Wars resonates with boys because boys will often measure their manhood by who their dads are. Later a boy in private told me he didn't have a dad. What about that? We had a nice chat about the need for role models. This did not make shy away from discussing Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. But it really made me aware that these presentations can and will introduce questions that we should be prepared to explore.

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  2. Thanks for this - so interesting to see other peoples perspectives on school visits. Love the idea about 'new terms' adding value - I hadn't even thought of that!

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  3. Great article - never sure how to end. Have been doing thank you-s at the end of my talk but stupidly didn't think to add a: 'these are my social media/ website, if you want to get in touch...' thing - so good tip!!

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