Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Skype in the Classroom

Just over a week ago I experienced my first of several interviews with a published author.  I set up a discussion for my creative writing class, via Skype, with YA author Mitali Perkins.  I was surprised at how smoothly the technology operated during the 45 minute conversation.  We didn't need to free up any bandwidth at school and there was barely a hiccup.

Some of my students had read some of her novels in preparation for the class discussion.  Mostly though, being a creative writing class, students had questions about the craft and discipline of writing over anything specific about a particular novel.

However, several students did experience some curiosity about the recent history of Burma (Myanmar) as a result of the YA novel Bamboo People, written by Mitali Perkins.  I read the novel the read before our Skype session and really enjoyed it.  It is both a story about worlds colliding as well as separate journeys experienced by two male protagonists.  One protagonist is a child soldier, the other a young boy on the run with a displaced and villainized ethnic group.  Their paths cross and each experiences moments of moral conflict and growth.

The novel served another purpose beyond our enjoyment and background for an author chat.  It is a terrific example of a current topic in my creative writing class: setting as fuel.  Setting as means for a writer to drive the plot, and drive and define character.  The setting in Bamboo People establishes that this book is not taking place in a vague location or a fuzzy sense of time.  I recommend it the novel for any young adult or any creative writing or geography teacher.  The novel provides well beyond just telling a good story.

Finally, I have to say that Mitali Perkins was terrific with the kids in my class.  Sometimes guest speakers can unintentionally distance themselves from kids, belittle kids, or simple present and talk over and through them.  (Not every assembly is a home run)  Yet, this author truly connected with them and took the time to offer thoughtful and patient responses to all of their questions.  My kids asked questions for a full 40 minutes and took notes throughout.  I was really proud of the way they handled their first experience with this as well.

In a climate where field trips or bringing in guest speakers becomes unrealistic, setting up a classroom chat with someone via Skype is an effective and economically viable option.  Currently, I have a dozen authors committed to speak throughout the year, with several more offering hope that we may be able to set something up over the Spring.

I've found some authors asking for a fee ranging from $75 to $150 for about an hour, and others willing to do it gratis.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you created this blog! I am following you now and checking out your author skype visits. I am a huge fan of Gayle Forman. I must come to this skype session and period 3 is my planning period! Have you read If I Stay? It's outstanding. I highly recommend it. Anyway, Gayle Forman is one of my favorites so I must come to this....if you don't mind! ;)