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A very special “lunch with an author”

For 10 weeks during September, October and November, a group of 9 students who wish to pursue their love of writing would assemble in the school library on a Wednesday lunchtime to linkup with Christopher Herz, an author from Brooklyn, New York. See more at Lunch with an author – a reflection. Christopher would set them tasks each week. The following week, he would discuss the progress of students on an individual basis and set the next task.

As we completed the sessions in 2011, Christopher’s new novel, Pharmacology, was released. He asked whether I thought the students would like a copy and I said I am sure they would love it. The only concern was that it  had been written for  the older teenager. In January, whilst we were on summer holidays the box of novels arrived. As first term was crazily busy and there were different students away from school on most weeks, we delayed the ceremony until Thursday this week. I wanted Christopher to give each student their copy virtually and combine it with a special celebration.

Parents, teachers and students

Students, teachers, parents and Christopher

Parents were invited and special permission letters went out to ensure parents were happy for their child to receive the novel (as some students were in their early teens. They all agreed to the signed book being given to the students). Students were asked to bring a plate to share, with drinks and hot nibbles provided.

As the day drew closer, Christopher and I ensured we had the right day for each of us and the correct time as we had finished daylight saving. On Wed night at 11:00pm for Christopher and Thursday afternoon at 1:00pm for us, we assembled in the library. Unfortunately, two students were absent due to school commitments and illness.

The highlights:-

  1. Four parents attended to watch and feel the excitement of these linkups
  2. Students were excited and nearly drove me mad with questions etc prior to the lunch.
  3. Each student came up closer to the web camera to receive their book from Christopher. Christopher called up each student one at a time and made a great speech about each student and their progress with writing over the 6 months, encouraging them to continue on.
  4. Christopher had signed each copy with a motivational comment on the front page of each book.
  5. The video over skype was crystal clear as was the audio. It was as though Christopher was in the room with us. Thank you so much, Christopher for these amazing connections!

The challenges:

  1. Despite logging into skype 30 minutes prior to the linkup, there were technical issues. Unfortunately, the microphone would not work. As 1pm approached, we asked our technician to come in and help us solve the problem. We had to swap from the front usb port to the back one, and then update the software which seemed to take hours!
  2. I set mylaptop up on a chair at the front of the tables laden with food, so that we could communicate with Christopher and start the videoconference. At 1:10pm, skype on the interactive whiteboard was working. The sound was much clearer for Christopher as some students still speak very quietly.
  3. How to share our food and drinks with Christopher – but he seemed happy with his apple juice.
  4. The session was recorded with video and microphone. Photos were taken. A podcast will be created when time permits.

Where to from here? It is hoped to commence linkups at lunchtimes towards the end of this term or the beginning of next term. Instead of assignment style work, images and videos may be used to trigger writing tasks. I wonder how many of these students we will keep. I wonder whether more students will come on board!

A parent thanks Christopher

What do you think of this kind of activity? How could we include more students from across schools and the globe in such activities. Imagine if students of different cultures all created a character and others involved grabbed some of these characters to include in their stories. How can we publish student stories online? What tools are available?  So many questions, so much learning still to be done!

Read what the students have to say:-

  1. Georgia
  2. Kim

If you have any questions, please email me at innovatorofthemonth@gmail.com or please add a comment below.


Lunch with an Author – brief reflection!

Picture this – two contrasting spaces! The dizzying heights, dazzling lights, the energy, the sounds, the sights of bustling New York City and compare this with the quiet tranquility, the rurality and the remoteness  that is Hawkesdale, where the silence of the surroundings may be broken by laughing kookaburras and squawking galahs. And so it was that an author from New York came to Hawkesdale p12 College, via skype and spent lunchtimes with students encouraging and teaching them to write stories.

And so it was with some mixed feeling of sadness, happiness and excitement, that we had our last videoconference linkup with Christopher Herz, the author from New York for 2011. It was the end of November and the end of the school year loomed closer.

We were excited for Christopher as it was the eve of his new book release, Pharmacology and we were all curious about it, how it was put together, potential sales etc. The students had many questions. Read Chrisopher’s blog post on Time for Launch

In the words of Ruby who is young writer and passionate about writing:-

I never thought I would have the opportunity to meet an author, let alone actually work with one.

Read more from Ruby Lunch with an Author and its impact on her.

Over the 10 weeks that we worked together, students have come in at lunchtime and completed the tasks given by Christopher in their home or spare time. Here are the tasks that Christopher set:-

  1. Develop a character
  2. Make the character credible – put yourself in the ‘body and eyes’ of the character. Interview your character. Get your character to have a conversation with the character that another student has created
  3. Create a setting for your character
  4. Start the story

During the week, students would add their completed assignment work to evernote folders that Christopher had created. Christopher would give advice and feedback on their work. During the skype linkup, he would talk to each student individually (and the group would listen in) about their progress, teasing out better quality writing styles in each of the students.

The outcomes:-

  1. an amazing revelation of writing styles and creativity in students
  2. one student who rarely completes work at school completed Christopher’s assignments
  3. students who are so very shy in class, gained confidence in the use of the webcam and microphone with Christopher Herz
  4. a gradual understanding of the big differences in our lives and locations.

Although we could often hear the planes flying low over Christopher’s home in New York, neither side really understood the differences in place. In fact, Christopher would encourage the students to write for 15 minutes every day on anything. They should listen to conversations going on around them, take note and think about using them in their stories. The students would complain that they did not have time in the mornings before school as they had to catch their school bus early – some as early as 7:30am in the morning. He replied that they could write on the bus and fill in that time fruitfully. Students replied that the roads were too bumpy!! It was then that both parties decided to share images in an evernote folder to show their surroundings, pets etc.

This year Christopher took a video clip of what it was like to wait for a train on the New York subway. Students were encouraged to write about what they could hear and see and contrast it with catching a school bus.

Read student responses

  1. Waiting for the Train
  2. Waiting for the Train in New York

On Thursday this week, Christopher will present virtually (using skype), a copy of his latest book to each student who was involved in these lunchtime linkups. Parents have been invited and students will bring a plate to share.

Formal connections will resume during the winter term for us in Australia.

What questions do you have? What have I missed out on sharing? As I am the Innovator of the Month for April, you can email any questions to innovatorofthemonth@gmail.com and they shall be answered.