Sunday, November 3, 2013

Author Skype

Have you ever experienced a Skype session with the author of a book that your students have read?  My Spanish 2 students and I had a Skype session last week with Mira Canion, the author of Fiesta Fatal, the book we piloted and is scheduled to be published early next year, and six other books for Spanish students.
Spanish 2 students Skype w/ author Mira Canion

Mira was very accommodating and worked with me to schedule a separate Skype session with each of my Spanish 2 classes. There is a two hour difference between us, which meant she had to arrive at school extra early in order to Skype with my first period class.  

Each session was 25 minutes long.  Mira had asked that we start the Skype session in Spanish and then move into English.  The day before our session, my students' homework assignment was to write two questions in Spanish regarding the book (the plot, the characters, the ending, etc), and one question in English about the book or about writing in general.   

At the 3 appointed times, we successfully connected with Mira and the students asked their questions in Spanish and Mira answered them in Spanish.  Mira writes books and also teaches full-time, so she was careful to use vocabulary and grammar that the students could understand in Spanish. And, unbeknownst to Mira, (but she'll know if she reads this post), two or three times when I saw the students didn't understand, I jotted it on the board, out of view of the camera.  

This was a very positive experience for my students! They took advantage of the direct access with the author to ask about the different characters in the novel, what they were going to do after the last chapter, why they acted the way they did in the novel, etc. They also had some great questions about writing such as how long does one book take from start to publication, from where does she get her inspiration, how much does the book change from the first draft to the final publication, and on and on. The conversation with Mira provided my students a glimpse into the work that goes into a book before it reaches the classroom.  An extra bonus for my last class was the opportunity to meet some of her students. 

If you have never had a guest enter your room through Skype, here are a few suggestions to make the session go smoothly:
1.  Do a trial run through before the session to make sure there are no technology kinks that need to be worked out.
2.  Talk with your students about Skype etiquette.  (one student speaks at a time, speak clearly, no side conversations, treat the Skype guest as if they were physically in the room, etc.)
3. Set a determined length of time and stick to it.  
4. Have students write possible questions beforehand so they are prepared to ask them and you don't lose any Skype time.
5. If it is a big class, move the computer to a different angle so the Skype guest is able to see more of the students, not just those that are front and center. Also, have students circle in and sit close to the camera.

 Two years ago, I contacted a writer of a short story that my Spanish 4 students read in hopes that we could Skype with the author.  I was not successful in setting up that session due to the author's schedule that year, and then failed to check back the following year.  However, after the students' positive reactions to the Skype session with Mira, I'm inspired to explore other possibilities for using Skype to connect my students with others.  My students connected with a class in a Spanish country two years ago and I think it's time to explore that avenue again.  I have other ideas that I'm already mulling over in my head.

If you are willing to share your Skype experiences with me, or any words of wisdom on how best to incorporate it into the classroom, whether here on the blog or by direct e-mail, I'd love to hear about it.

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