Weigh-In: Do Author Visits Make a Difference?

Choosing volunteersDo author visits make a difference in the lives of kids?

We think they do.

And at the end of this post, I encourage you to weigh-in with an example.

Among writers, those who write for children are in a special category. We’re called on to motivate, inspire and educate students, not just to sell books.  And many believe that our influence is long-term and durable.

Yet according to buzz among authors, many have been experiencing a decline in school visit invitations in the past couple of years. And teachers, librarians or parent volunteers have had to deal with resistance from administrators when proposing author visits to their schools.

Teachers and librarians feel that author visits make a difference and often share stories about the transformations they’ve witnessed among their students.  But to be fair – especially in today’s tense testing climate — people who hold the purse strings want to know if the expenditure of time and money to bring an author on campus can pay off in terms of student gains or changes in behavior. A feeling isn’t enough.

To address this, Jo Anne Pandey, Ph.D., a faculty member at California State University Northridge in the Child and Adolescent Development department, and I began searching for empirical studies on author visits, but found none. So we designed a study to explore whether or not an author visit makes a difference in students’ attitudes toward reading, writing and revision. Our purpose was to find statistical data to offer schools about the value of an author visit. Our efforts have been endorsed by the Ventura County Reading Association.

To that end, we conducted a pilot study with fourth graders at one elementary school at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. The results were promising. First, a pre-test. Then one week following a one-hour author assembly, we did a post-test. The results of the pilot study showed that there were increases in student mean scores in reading interest, reading efficacy, writing interest, and positive attitudes about revision. Better still, increases were found to be statistically significant. Dr. Pandey shared details of the study at the International Organization of Social Sciences and Behavioral Research Conference in 2013.

The promising results have been encouraging enough to warrant an expanded study. In 2014-2015, we plan to conduct this study with 4th graders in 12 elementary schools in one school district (including Title I, fundamental and general schools) to see if these results are consistent across schools and a variety of author presentations.

What does this study mean to you as a presenter? It means that the results can give you one more compelling “convincer” in your arsenal of reasons for why it’s important for schools to host author visits. Schools provide assemblies throughout the year. Why shouldn’t at least one of them be an author visit, especially if that visit supports the schools primary goals of motivating students to read, write, and revise?

Educators have a gut feeling that the effect of an author’s in-person meeting with students percolates for years. But no one yet has done a quantitative study on the effect of these visits on children. This study can make history.

In the meantime, here’s how you can help us expand our study. We would like to collect your “personal triumph” stories about the impact of an author or illustrator visit on a student or school. While statistics are important, decision-makers also respond to stories!

Please share a story showing how an author visit had an impact on a school, library or individual child. Leave a comment below or contact me  at info2@schoolvisitexperts.com.

 

14 Comments on “Weigh-In: Do Author Visits Make a Difference?”

  • For 30+ years my library program as an elementary school librarian was based on author/illustrator visits. My students learned how to be a good audience at an event, had role models (male & female) to inspire their future careers, and enjoyed making school memories. My students read the author/illustrators books to prepare for the visit & then “fought” over them after the visit to read again. They were inspired to journal, write, draw & paint, they laughed & learned.
    My favorite scenario was always students rushing into the library when they saw an unfamiliar person there to ask if their class got to meet another author or illustrator that day.

  • This year, Brian Floca visited our 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders. The first result was deep and renewed enthusiasm for especially Locomotive and Moonshot. But the more personally satisfying was the proliferation of self directed student made books to put in the library. And perhaps most impressive, one of the second graders made a power point comparing Moonshot and Locomotive, even down to analyzing type face. We are lucky enough to live in a town where authors Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Roni Schotter, and Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman live, and they visit almost every year. Traffic of their books increases exponentially, and children come away from every author/illustrator visitor we have had feeling that the sky is the limit, and they, too can be authors/illustrators.

  • I am so excited to hear about this study and hope that the finding will be published for a wide audience to benefit from. I am on the author side of the coin and am gratified when evaluations of my author visits indicate how the one-day visit impacted the larger curriculum. One thing I love is that several local schools have integrated my visits into their lesson plans; I get to work with every grade every year in order to sequence the learning and make the best use of the boost in in energy/motivation pre and post visit. As I write nonfiction about nature/science teachers use my visit and extension activities as a launching point for both language arts and science lessons. One teacher comment that was a surprise to me: the author visit also served as a professional development for them; they began applying teaching techniques they learned from my presentation. Cool!

  • Cathy, Dee and Heather –
    Thanks so much for sharing your author visit stories here. Lots of folks also contacted me off-line, so I’m getting great response to this. If you know of any teachers and librarians who might want to share, do pass the link along!

    Warmest best –
    ALEXIS

  • I’ve been doing author visits for 20+ years in schools throughout the U.S. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting thousands and thousands of school students, teachers, and staff. I’ve received countless emails, Thank You cards, drawings, and letters thanking me for my visits and telling me that they loved my visits, were inspired, uplifted, and encouraged to believe in theirselves and follow their dreams. But the emails and letters I receive from students and “grown” students are my most touching.
    I recently received a letter from a 23-year old girl who had a 2-year old son. She told me that when she was in second grade, I came to her school and that my visit changed her life. She was the type of student who didn’t like reading, never had, and didn’t think she ever would. Then, when I spoke about my childhood and my books and did my PowerPoint presentation, something happened–the door to reading opened in her heart. After my visit, she read my picture book, Twister, and loved it. She read it again and again and each time she saw more to love about the words, the pictures, the language. From my book, she went on to read more and more books and became a LOVER of reading! And now she hopes to pass her love of reading to her son. And it all started with one author visiting one school fifteen years ago….that’s the power of an author visit.
    I have other such touching emails, too. Here’s one from a teacher. When the huge F5 tornado came through Moore, Oklahoma, which destroyed two elementary schools and killed seven students in 2013, a teacher was hiding in a pitch-dark closet with 16 of her students. The electricity had gone out. She and her frightened students could hear the roar of the tornado right above their heads. Debris was flying and hitting the sides of her closet and she just knew they would all die–right there in that closet–and there was nothing she could do about it. So she thought, “What can I do to make the last few minutes of my students’ lives happy?” Then she remembered reading my picture book, Twister, to her students previously that year. She remembered how the brother and sister in my book were down in the cellar waiting on their mother and while they waited in such fear, they made hand puppets on the wall to calm themselves down. So she decided she would do the same with her students and they all took turns using her cell phone’s light to cast the shadows.
    Fortunately, the twister lifted and even though her school was one of the two which were totally destroyed, she and her 16 students somehow, miraculously survived. A year later, she sent me a most touching email to tell me how my book saved the lives of 17 people that day. So I’m here to say, THAT’S the power of books and THAT’S the power of author visits!

  • Darleen – Thanks for sharing these stories that have both heart and drama. Your book has made life-saving change in more ways than one.

  • Yes, author visits most certainly can make a difference. I teach 6th grade reading and remedial reading classes in Holcomb, Kansas. Reluctant readers at the middle school age, can be extremely difficult to motivate to read – especially struggling readers. By this age, they have convinced themselves they cannot read well, there “aren’t any good books,” and they would rather be playing video games. Basically, they quit trying and fall further and further behind. It can be extremely expensive to bring authors to western Kansas. Finding the resources to pay for their visits is very difficult in this economy. Our wonderful librarian at our school district, Judy Hopson, is constantly on the look-out for author exposure for our students. She arranged for our remedial class to attend an author visit by Ben Mikaelsen (author of books – Touching Spirit Bear, Red Midnight, Sparrow Hawk Red and many more) in Quinter, Kansas. The Northwest Kansas Library Association funded the visit and graciously allowed our students to attend this visit free. He was a wonderful engaging speaker! Our children were totally taken in to hear about his writing journey and the stories behind many of his books. He hooked them! They were all scrambling to read his books when we returned home. One of my VERY reluctant male readers, that struggled to complete even one book in a nine weeks, read every book by Ben Mikaelsen that he could get his hands on! I asked this student if he would come share his reading experience with my next year’s remedial class. He did come and he shared his story of believing reading was a waste of time until he met Ben Mikaelsen and started reading his books. Mrs. Hopson also arranged for the children’s picture book author, Jerry Pallota to visit our school district. Even though his books are generally for elementary school, she arranged for him to come to the middle school as well, and the students were enthralled to hear about his writing journey as well. My students scramble to read the author books, and they are more interested in writing themselves. When students are able to meet an author in person, hear their story and talk with them, the books take on even more meaning to them. It’s almost like reading a book about a national park. The book is nice and informative and we enjoy it, but when you actually get to visit the national park, the book information pops. We want to know more. It is the same with meeting the real authors. Yes! Author visits. DO make a differencel

  • Thanks for this example, Becky! Isn’t it exciting to see a n on-reader turn into a reader as the result of having met an author? And for your student, it was Ben Mikaelson who did it!

  • Hi Alexis,
    I always enjoy reading your column in the SCBWI bulletin and wanted to respond to your call for anecdotes about how author visits can have a positive impact.
    I’m a former elementary teacher who left classroom teaching 25 years ago to work as an author/illustrator. When I originally left, I was heartbroken that I’d no longer be in the classroom as I think there are few jobs as important as teaching. Now, 25 years later after having visited literally thousands of classrooms across the country, I realize that I still am a teacher, but just not in the traditional manner.
    Recently I arrived at a bookstore for a signing event and was met by a young woman waiting for me with her husband and two small children. She told me that I had visited her elementary school nearly twenty years ago. She still had the copy of a story she had written during a writing session I had conducted. Because of that one day visit at her elementary school, she decided to major in English at college, and now writing is a significant part of her job. She brought her family to the bookstore because she wanted them to meet the person who had inspired her career.
    Several years ago I was spending a week working with all the first graders at a school. On the last day of my residency a parent stopped me in the hall and said, “I’m so glad to meet you before you left. This week has been the first time all year that my son has actually wanted to come to school. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
    And finally a friend from another state related this story: While talking with a new acquaintance of hers, she happened to mention my name. The other person replied, “You know him? He just visited my daughter’s school! When my daughter came home after his visit, she insisted we go to the public library right away that evening because she wanted to check out some books to read. My daughter has never liked reading before. Please thank him for whatever he did that has gotten my daughter so excited about books.”
    I’ve heard many stories like these over the years…and so have other friends of mine who give author visits. Classroom teachers are heroes and should be paid ten times more than they are, but a visiting author can get a student excited about books, writing, and reading in a way that a regular teacher may not be able to do. I feel very fortunate to share my love of writing in the role of a visiting author.

  • David – Thanks so much for sharing these three stories! Like you, I used to be a classroom teacher. And like you, I still am a teacher — only on a wider platform as a children’s author. These kinds of stories keep me charged up . . .

  • When I was a teenager a Shakespearian theatre group came to our school. I am convinced it was this visit that resulted in me becoming a performer. As a children’s author I have visited hundreds of schools offering performances. Time and again I have had positive feedback, parents saying that their child would not read until my visit whereupon their child had read one of my books and become hooked on my book series. All this because my school organised a visit.

  • Hi Dianne – There is something very powerful about seeing a live performance, as you’ve shown! I appreciate your sharing this story.

  • As a school librarian, I have invited authors to speak to students and watched it transform students into lovers of reading, writing, and science. In particular, two women I had in who each write about science, spurred strong interest in science in girls. It would be interesting to include nonfiction writers as well as writers of fiction in the study. I think it’s probably also a bit easier to convince administrators of the value of a nonfiction writer doing an author visit right now because of the links to the common core. Not that the common core excludes fiction, by any stretch, but the focus of most administrators is on the nonfiction component.

  • Erin – You’re absolutely right that nonfiction is hot right now! (And it’s about time, don’t you think?) You’ll be happy to know that the study includes both authors of fiction and nonfiction. I love your story about the nonfiction writer inspiring girls to expllore science. Have you had a chance to fill out the Author Visit Survey yet at http://tinyurl.com/kzjnutv? I hope you can take a couple of minutes to weigh-in!

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