About being a presenter

While a school should not expect you to be a trained teacher, and a teacher should always be present during a presentation, schools do have a right to expect that their dealings with you will be professional.

Pre-presentation considerations

It is essential that, prior to the visit, you clarify the school’s expectations as to what each of your sessions will entail. You should also assess your own confidence and abilities in relation to managing a variety of student groups and, if necessary, take steps to ensure that your visit will be as successful as possible for all concerned.

Communication prior to the school visit

Preparation for your visit to a school must begin with communication with the organiser. Make personal contact with the organiser. This can be done by a phone call or email. Email is preferable as teachers are hard to catch during school hours and you will have all the information in writing as a reminder. Confirm your booking and all arrangements in writing.

Confirm the type of presentation required for each group, the duration of each session and other issues you consider important, such as the number, age range and gender mix of the students.

   Use this booking form checklist for discussion with the visit organiser and as a checklist for each presentation.

Preparation and publicity prior to the visit

All children involved in an author’s presentation should be aware of his or her publications, and ideally have read some of their work. The importance of publicising the visit and the work of the author cannot be overstated. Many experienced authors rate this as the main condition for ensuring a productive and satisfying visit for all parties. Well-known author Nadia Wheatley described her very positive experience of being introduced to the students of a Sydney school prior to her actual visit:

‘About 10 days before the visit I received a ring binder containing letters from the 105 children I would be meeting. They didn’t ask the usual questions but wrote about themselves — their pets, their homes, their sports and hobbies. This gave me a great introduction to the students but it also meant they were prepared.’

One teacher-librarian, when writing about her preparation for what was a very successful author visit to her school, hinted at some of the pitfalls of not doing this preparation.

‘Productive time was spent familiarising students and staff with the illustrators and their work prior to their visits. (We had already heard the anecdotes of schools being caught totally unprepared for visits by Kim [Gamble] and Di [Wu]; their names are not gender specific).

 

Source: Scheffers, Jenny. Integrating an illustrator study: Kim Gamble and Di Wu visit Merrylands East Public School. SCAN, Vol 18, No 4, 1999, page 5)

You may prepare a flyer that outlines the talks and workshops you are able deliver so you can offer suggestions about topics you could explore in a presentation.     

Ask which of your books are in the library.

How can you ensure that the students will be well prepared for your visit? There are no guarantees but try some of the following:

  • Suggest a book or chapter that could be read to the students in preparation for your visit.
  • Send a bibliography, short biography and colour copies of book jackets or posters to hang as promotion.
  • Direct the organiser to your website.
  • If it is a workshop, remind the organiser what the students will need.

Planning your presentation

Most experienced and successful teachers would agree that careful planning is the key to quality teaching and classroom management. This can be done in detail and facilitated by devising your own planning template or using or modifying one of the many lesson plan templates available on the Internet.

Key   Use this sample lesson plan template.

Your planning will be based on your communications with the school and the unique qualities you have to offer. Some important elements of this planning are the identification of what you want to achieve in the session; the time frame; description of the group you will be working with; the resources and activities you will use and an allowance for evaluation of your own presentation.

You may prefer a less formal plan. Many people use notes or key points written on cards. These serve as memory prompts if you are nervous and keep you on track with your plan. Don’t forget to number the cards so that if you drop them you can quickly put them back in order.

Practise aloud what you are going to say. Record or ask a friend to listen to your presentation and give you feedback. Time your presentation so that you know roughly how long each part takes. (Your presentation will be interactive, so it is hard to gauge exactly how long it will take.) As you become more confident, you may not need to fill out planning sheets or practise each time. Planning can also become less formal, based on much less prescriptive outlines.

You should prepare more activities than you think you will need for the time allocated. These should be a mix of short and longer activities so you have alternatives. Whatever the plan you must maintain spontaneity and flexibility.

‘If an exercise isn’t working or is causing a riot, don’t be afraid to change tack or even drop the task for another. An activity or exercise that worked well with one school or class may be a complete fizzer with another.’ Deborah Abela 
‘Writers … who have been doing workshops for a decade or more, and have been writing for a long time, are fortunate enough to have a lot more anecdotes, examples and stories to draw on. The risk that you run when you do a lot of presenting is boring yourself, and being able to modify your session even slightly can sometimes keep you sane.’ James Roy

Classroom management, or teaching ‘tips and tricks’

Any planning should identify the strategies you will use to communicate with your audience. These strategies should reflect your approach to managing students and classroom discipline. The following ‘tips and tricks’ include some of the most effective teaching and classroom management strategies identified by experienced teachers and author presenters.

Relevance or finding that ‘hook’

To have students engage willingly and enthusiastically in their own learning should be the goal of any educational planning. When students are engaged they are focused, absorbed and usually far more manageable. The key to this engagement is relevance and the use of a ‘hook’ to gain and maintain their attention.

For authors whose work is already highly popular with students, this can be as simple as identifying themselves — students’ undivided attention is assured. In most instances, however, it is important to consider carefully what ‘hook’ you will use, as it must be sustained.

Chat to kids who are the same age as the students you will be talking to, to gauge their interests. Buy or borrow children’s magazines that would be popular with your target audience and do some background reading.

Humour

Humour, of course, is an excellent way of getting a group’s attention. Some popular authors like Andy Griffiths and Felice Arena are ‘funny’, telling jokes and relating humorous stories. This makes them popular with kids. But not everyone can be funny. It is more important to be yourself, and show your sense of humour, as it happens naturally, for example, you could begin by reading a funny incident from one of your books.

Remember, however, that humour is a tool that, if not carefully used by a presenter, can lead to discipline problems and other management issues. If you are going to use humour, be sincere, make it novel and unique. Regaining the attention of students after the laughter can be a challenge.

Managing talkative or fidgeting students

Being well prepared with a good hook for your session, providing a variety of activities and involving the students in some way should minimise interruptions from misbehaving students. The teacher should always be in the room with you and is ultimately responsible for maintaining discipline. Some teachers jump in too quickly and ‘speak’ to a child they consider to be misbehaving while others leave it up to the presenter. It is best if you are prepared to take charge and have a few strategies ready, just in case. Here are a few techniques teachers use:

  • The stare — practise your ‘I’ve got my eye on you look’
  • Keep talking but move to stand right beside the offending student
  • Ask the offending student a question or to read their work aloud — praise them at the first possible point for a good answer/act/question
  • Never talk while students are speaking to each other — if you do, you are giving them permission to speak while you do
  • Whisper or lower your voice for effect
  • Mention that you will need some responsible students to help with your presentation
  • As a last resort ask the student to go and sit beside the teacher.

The power of the name

One of the best classroom management techniques is to address students by name ... listen as the more boisterous ones are addressed as they enter the room. Knowing their names shows you are interested in them. An alternative technique is to request that students, teachers and, most importantly, you the presenter, wear name tags.

Questioning

The development of good questioning technique is essential for classroom management and quality presentations. Questions that encourage students to think about and analyse why a particular piece of writing sounds good or makes them laugh will assist their learning, impact on the way they write and push them to think in different ways. Wherever possible use questions that are open-ended, stimulating and of a higher order.

An internet search on Higher Order Thinking provides insight into what constitutes quality teaching. For insights into the development of questioning skills in the teaching and learning process see the Questioning Toolkit online.

Once you’ve chosen a student and had the answer you’re happy with ask for all remaining hands to be lowered and any chatting to stop.

Can I bring some of the children out of the audience to help? Can I have some simple props for them to use? Should I use music or instruments to add effect? Look at the piece you have selected to read and find any part where the children can participate by making sound effects or repeating a catch cry.

Is there a character that they can boo every time you mention their name?

Connect with the children as much as you can, for instance by eye contact, using names, praising exciting answers, laughing with them, referring back to earlier answers before continuing. Flapping or waving hands can be a distraction to you but more so to the rest of the class.

Learning styles

Different learning style preferences exist in any student group, and an understanding of these styles can be a major tool for a non-teacher. Some students will learn best by listening, while others prefer visual learning — studying images, noting actions and body language. Some students need to interact with their environment while others (known at kinaesthetic learners) learn best by doing things. Ignoring these differences and delivering your presentation in one mode only can cause frustration and boredom for those whose learning preferences are not being catered for. Discipline and other management problems can then occur.

Most teachers would agree that the kinaesthetic learner, in a session where a talk is being delivered with or without props and displays, can become a discipline challenge. There are many articles about learning styles and multiple intelligences available on the Internet.

Audience participation

Think about how you can involve the children. If they are left to sit and listen for an hour without any type of participation you may lose them. The younger the audience the more important participation becomes. Most primary school students are keen to participate and assist in presentations so this can be an incentive or reward for good behaviour.

Discuss audience participation with the teacher beforehand so they can lead the way. They might also suggest some children who may wish to get involved. You may set up parts of your performance with certain children before you start so that it is a surprise for the others.

Key icon   Find specialist advice in Capturing the audience with your voice by Maria Cauchi Simpson.

Using props and display material

Keeping in mind the need to cater to different ways of learning and the importance of ‘hooks’, using props can be an important asset to a quality session. (It is equally important to use such items in moderation, not only to avoid distracting some students away from the message you are delivering, but also for your own good as you are the one who has to transport them from session to session.)

The younger the audience the more useful props are in engaging their attention. If you are talking to infants school classes, a puppet of a character from your book will be a real attention grabber. You may be able to buy a suitable commercially made puppet but some authors make a puppet themselves or pay someone to make one for them. Arriving with a ‘box of tricks’ (copies of your books, enlarged copy of the cover and illustrations, puppet or toy character, favourite poem or book, draft of next book) which you can delve into if their attention wanes, usually works with younger students.

You can create a portfolio showing the development of your book from first draft to final proofs. You can use examples of editor’s comments to show how a story can be improved by sharing it with someone. Discuss some of the changes the editor suggested and how they improved your manuscript. If your book is illustrated collect some of the early sketches and covers to show how they may have changed as the book evolved.

 Key icon
 Get insight into what Props and displays authors use for school visits.

Using classroom technology

Most Australian schools have access to technologies such as computers, data projectors, interactive whiteboards and videoconference cameras. It is far more common than just a few years ago but make sure you use only the technology that suits your presentation.

Deb Abela is one who has taken advantage of the technology.

‘I use Interactive whiteboards to show PowerPoints and videos (for example, the trailer and images that inspired the creation of my novel, Grimsdon). I show kids a photo of the Thames Barrier in London and discuss how it inspired the main complication that propels the action of the book. I also have segments of the kids’ TV show I wrote and produced at Network TEN.’

James Roy advises caution when planning to use computers and other similar technology.

‘I don’t ever rely on laptops or PowerPoint presentations or anything like that — I’ve seen sessions half-wasted as the presenter and a teacher-librarian try to get technology to cooperate.’

This is certainly an important consideration, but, if you are keen and confident enough to use technology for your presentation, leave sufficient time before your session to satisfy yourself that it all works. For writer-in-residence sessions or all-day workshops it is definitely worth investigating the use of technologies. The key is to be prepared — the unforeseen can happen. Know what you will do if all technology fails and sure you have a backup plan. Always be ready to switch to your plan B or even C. This gets easier with experience.

The importance of voice

Classroom teachers are used to spending day after day addressing classes, but most writers don’t have this level of experience.

Visiting authors should not be expected to present for more than the equivalent of three hours per day, but even this can still be very demanding. See Part 3 The Business of School visits.

In addition to being aware of the need to protect your voice from strain, it is also extremely important that an author’s presentation varies in modulation, projects well and captures the interest the whole audience. Performing arts specialist Maria Cauchi Simpson suggests, ‘varying the tone, finding character voices, using a whisper or a loud voice to emphasise key moments — all help to keep your audience captivated.’

Add impact to your presentation by really looking at the audience. Look from child to child, but don’t stare at any one child for too long as it may make them feel uncomfortable.

As Maria Cauchi Simpson says:

‘You have spent many years honing your writing skills and fine-tuning your novel. Now it’s time to bring it to life. To personally share your story with an audience is a wonderful opportunity for you … For some people public appearances can be a little daunting. Being stressed will affect your voice and performance. Being calm, relaxed and prepared means you will be able to perform at your best.’
Key icon   Find specialist advice in Capturing the audience with your voice by Maria Cauchi Simpson.

Reading your own work aloud

Reading your work aloud, without timidity or self-consciousness, is important and it’s something students and teachers really value.

In your planning you need to select some of the more engrossing segments of your books to read. Use anecdotes, humour or suspense to build up to the passage to be read aloud or select one that needs minimal introduction. Action or humorous extracts will capture a young audience. Have a few selected pieces that will suit different audiences and moods and that you can read if you have time at the end of your presentation. Practise reading the passages beforehand.

Writing on the whiteboard

If you intend to use a whiteboard, practise your writing so it is legible. Many authors begin by writing their name on the board. While whiteboards can be useful for brainstorming sessions and recording instructions for exercises they also have some limitations:

  • Impact. If the group you are addressing is large, the visual impact of using a whiteboard is extremely limited.
  • The quality and the colour of whiteboard pens can be problematic. While black is usually quite safe, writing with red or other bright colours may look fine to you but to many students can be almost unreadable. Cleaning the board and then writing on it again after cleaning can exacerbate this problem. The residual colour builds up gradually causing new writing to be blurred.
  • The left-handed writer is also disadvantaged as much of the information remains covered until the writing is complete — again a further distraction and potential student management consideration.
  • Unless the whiteboard you are using is one that allows for copying of what you have written before you move to another screen (not many schools have invested in this technology), then the notes you have made cannot be kept for future referral.

Other things to consider

Photos, posters and autographs

Students are usually keen to have a memento of an author’s visit. Bookmarks are ideal. As James Roy says, ‘Bookmarks are good, especially if they have a space on them for you to sign. The kids take the bookmark home to proudly show Mum or Dad, and hopefully that bookmark is then taken to a bookstore.’

If the bookmarks are printed at the same time as the book cover the cost is minimal, so talk to your publisher about this for your next book.

Bookmarks can be pre-signed to save time on the day. You can either leave them with the teacher to give out or, if there is time, personalise them quickly by adding the child’s name.

At the end of a session you may be asked to sign autographs. Time permitting, most authors have no hesitation in signing autographs, although they do have conditions such as only signing copies of their books, autograph or exercise books (no school hats, shirts, skin or tiny torn scraps of paper which they’ll promptly lose).

Duncan Ball has a Selby footprint stamp that he uses along with his signature. Deb Abela has a stamp of her website. Some authors present the school library with an autographed copy of one of their books.

Librarians love posters, so ask your publisher for copies of your book covers or make colour photocopies of them. These can be signed and left with the teacher-librarian for display in the library as an ongoing promotion of your book.

Visiting author’s kit

In spite of planning and communicating your needs with the host school, inevitably there will be times when you need to improvise or simply delve into what Kate Veitch calls your ‘indispensable Visiting Author’s Kit’. This should be well stocked for all occasions and include:

  • Name tag with your name in big, clear letters
  • ‘Live textas’ and whiteboard markers (black and blue preferred), pens, blutack
  • Pad of paper and … extra pencils
  • Visual material: book cover roughs, illustrations, a messy draft to compare with finished manuscript. (Veitch, Kate 1995. Real live writers, National Book Council, Melbourne, page 50).

Also, carry a USB or other external memory device in this ‘Author’s Kit’ with inspirational images, trailers, book covers, pictures of you at work, in your studio etc.

Types of presentations

When authors are invited to be a writer-in-residence, appear at schools, public libraries bookshops or festivals, they can be asked to deliver a whole range of presentations to groups of all sizes, ages and levels of ability. The most commonly requested presentations are author talks or writing workshops but videoconferences, Skype sessions and online chats and festivals are becoming popular.

Author talks

Most author talks involve the author sharing information about themselves and their books, followed by question time. Session lengths vary, with 45 minutes for upper primary and 30 minutes for younger students the most common.

Deb Abela describes author talks as sessions for energising kids about books, reading and writing, rather than lectures on books and writing.

James Roy finds that the talk schools most commonly require is a focus on himself. He believes this helps ‘demystify’ what writers do. As he says:

‘If kids are familiar with what writers do and can put a face to what they do, they’ll be far more open to exploring books and stories and reading.
‘I’ve learnt over the years that kids listen better if they feel like they’re driving the session to some extent. Therefore I don’t talk for 50 minutes and leave 10 minutes for questions, but in fact leave almost half of my session for questions. This is because I know what questions will be most often asked — What is your favourite book? Which writers do you admire? How long does it take to write a book? How much money do you make? And the biggie: Where do you get your ideas?
‘That last question is really the catalyst to the way I’ve constructed my main author talk – I give some examples of where the ideas for several of my books have come from, based around storytelling.
‘I have five or six stories I tell, linked into the books, and which integrate a few other principles I like kids to know about — observing the world, using all the senses when we write, writing about what we know about, and journaling. Then I leave about 20–25 minutes for questions. If a kid asks a question I don’t expect or anticipate, I just answer it as honestly as possible. And if it’s a personal or inappropriate question, I just keep a sense of humour. Not that I mind some personal questions — it can be a real epiphany to a kid to learn that writers are just people who live with a regular family and have pets and ike watching Friends, and just happen to like telling stories, which they do for a job.’

Some schools or groups who are studying a particular book by the author may request that this be the focus of the talk. Alternatively authors might be asked to focus on some aspect of writing such as research or character.

Presenting an author talk to the age group you write for is easiest. However, authors are often asked to speak to students younger or older than their intended audience. Only do this if you feel comfortable. For a group older than your target audience you can talk about why you write for younger children and about the challenges of writing for that age group. Upper primary students are often asked to write a picture book or reader for younger classes so you can discuss with them what they think younger children would like to read about.

Catering for a group younger than your target audience is more challenging. You can still talk about where you got the idea for your book and how you go about writing. You may be able to read them a short extract from your book or retell the story giving them parts to respond to, e.g. ask them what they think may happen next. Visual material related to your book is always useful with younger children. Don’t hesitate to introduce poems or unpublished work. Take it as an opportunity to research a novel or picture book for this age group and find out what they like to read about.

In a small school an author may be asked to talk to students from, for example, Year 3 to 6 in one session. This is not as daunting as it sounds as students in small schools are used to working in this way. In larger schools avoid an age range of more than two grades in any one session.

If the group is well prepared, they will have questions about aspects of the author’s books. If not, you can expect to be asked: What’s your favourite book (written by you)? Do you know J K Rowling? What was your favourite book as a child? How many books you have written? When did you start writing? How old are you? How much money do you make? Be prepared! Even if you have included some of this information in your talk don’t be surprised if you are asked again in question time.

Make sure you have selected and practised reading aloud an extract from one of your books so that if the questions don’t come you can keep the audience engaged with an entertaining reading.

Writing workshops

Teachers are required to introduce students to a number of text types, including narrative writing, but many are not confident in teaching it. Authors have an important role to play in passing on tips and advice that they use and in showing kids that narrative writing can be fun and worthwhile.

Writing workshops in primary schools are generally requested for years 3–6/7. They can be for specially selected students (for example, gifted and talented) or whole classes, to give all students the opportunity to be encouraged to write by a practising author.

The expectation is that the students will actually do some writing. This does not necessarily mean they will produce a finished work. They are expected to complete some writing exercises or begin work on a story they can complete later.

A period of at least 60 minutes is required for a writing workshop, longer if possible. In a short period of time it is not possible to address all the skills needed to write a good story. You should choose one or two aspects of writing that you are passionate about and share them with the audience. What are the strengths of your writing? It might be planning, place, character, language, dialogue or getting ideas. Share with the students what you do, why and how you do it, and the outcome. Read examples from your work and/or the work of other writers you admire. Introduce a writing exercise to focus on developing that skill.

Longer writing workshops, a series of workshops or a writer-in-residence program (see below) allow for the development of a story, the chance to edit and polish work and great opportunities to genuinely improve students’ writing skills.

Workshop tips:

  • Link writing exercises to ‘real’ writing — share what you do with the students.
  • Avoid talking for more than 10 minutes without involving the kids in a writing activity.
  • Use writing exercises to scaffold learning new writing techniques. Give examples of good writing and discuss why it works. The reverse is also fun, asking how they would improve it. Work as a group and then let the students try the exercise for themselves.
  • Encourage students to share their writing with a partner, a small group or the whole group. This has to be in a ‘safe’ environment, where students feel they won’t be unkindly criticised or ridiculed. Always start your feedback by pointing out something positive. You could follow this with a tip on how the writing could be improved.
  • Be flexible — prepare writing exercises that vary in duration and difficulty. If something is going well, continue it; if not, change to another activity.
  • Encourage students to write their own story.
  • Brainstorming a class story sounds easy but without a strong direction you can end up with an unworkable mixture or characters and situations. You need a strong scaffold, for example, What would happen if? Or draw up columns of names, problems, locations, etc. If a story heads in an inappropriate direction, don’t hesitate to say so and accept another more suitable idea.
  • Be clear about the time available and monitor it closely so there is time to share. Sharing is very important and, with positive encouragement from you, very rewarding for the students.
  • Involve the teacher — this is the best way to ensure the writing workshop is followed up after you leave. Invite the teacher to join in the writing exercises and share their writing with the group.
  • Be positive and make it fun — for many students writing is something to be avoided. Try to show them that anyone can tell a story.

James Roy says:

‘When I do workshops, I often do the exercise along with the kids (and ideally the teacher as well.) Kids often like hearing a professional writer sharing their work alongside their own, and they LOVE it when their teachers do it.’

Notes and examples: writing workshops

 Key icon  See Writing workshop notes and Writing workshops for primary students (60–75 minutes) and all day Writing masterclass by Deborah Abela; Writing workshop basics by Jame's Roy (60–75 minutes); and a Writing workshop for children by Sue Whiting

 

Video conferences and online

Video conference technology, webinars, Skype and other online modes are increasingly found in Australian schools.

Some benefits of programs delivered via online or video conference are that:

  • The author can deliver a general talk (see Author talks above) or workshop to many different school groups. If there is a demand for a repeat, the same workshop can easily be rerun, after the first has finished.
  • They limit the need for authors to travel considerable distances.
  • Remote schools are no longer disadvantaged in their access to quality presenters.
  • Finances are not strained by the need to provide travel (usually air fares) and accommodation for the guest authors.

Tips and protocols

While there will usually be a teacher or a technical support present at the author’s delivery site, it is important to be aware of some protocols that enhance a video conference or other online presentation for all involved.

As with all presentations, planning and timing are important. You want this to be just as interesting and enjoyable as your face-to-face sessions. Because you’re on screen, be careful not to clutter the shot with loud patterns or stripes on clothing or too many props in front of you. Think carefully about props and visuals such as PowerPoint slides and book covers and discuss with the conference organiser any camera settings you’ll need to pre-set (usually by the camera operator for the session).

The author will usually remain seated in front of the camera, but not always. For this to have maximum effect, it is best to avoid too much clutter around the table as this can be distracting for participating classes. The other important protocol is to insist that participating classes make sure their microphones are always muted while the presenter is speaking. The microphone should be un-muted only when the presenter invites students to comment or ask or answer questions.

Online chat

Like videoconferencing, online chat offers students in remote and regional centres the opportunity to work with an author. Writers’ Festivals like the biannual StoryArts Festival Ipswitch (SAFI) have involved many authors and thousands of kids in locations all over Australia. Whereas once they were simply text-based, they evolved to include voice and now sound and image. Each year, the technology changes so that the sessions feel more personal, increasing their effectiveness as a real alternative to face-to-face visits.

Online sessions can include:

  • Author chat — 30–60 minutes with one group or many
  • Full-day writing workshops with three to four sessions
  • Specified chat(s) sometimes called a book rap, for example based on one of your books
  • Meeting a character — take on the role of one of your characters and the kids ask you questions.

Online author talks or workshops require:

  • Good communications with the organiser
  • Excellent keyboard skills
  • Confidence in using technology — be sure to take up all offers of training sessions
  • Experienced moderator — to ensure the session runs smoothly
  • Preparation — including visuals and examples of writing
  • Class management skills
  • Lots of energy
  • A sense of humour.

It is very easy for an online session involving lots of students to get out of control, with the author being bombarded with questions. You will need to take control of the session by setting out boundaries, encouraging listening and calling on schools to submit questions one at a time.

Writer-in-residence

Residencies vary enormously, from going to a particular school to meet the same group of students once a week or once a month, to going to a school every day for a week to speak with different groups, to living on campus, in a camp situation, or being billeted for 3–5 days.

James Roy describes some residencies he has experienced:

  • A week at a school with a different group of students for each session, thereby working with most students in the school.
  • A week at a school with Group A, B, C on Monday, then the same groups on Tuesday, Wednesday, etc, so that each group has five sessions over the week.
  • A week with two author talks each morning (to different groups), and the advanced writing group for one session each day for the whole week working together on a picture book text.
  • Any of the above, with some PD sessions for the teachers as well.

Whatever the structure, one feature is common to all — you are there to develop a relationship with the school and its population. Part of that is the need to be available a little more. This isn’t to say that you should present more than your three sessions per day (unless paid accordingly) but you need to be approachable and accessible to the kids, to create a meaningful and rich residency — which may mean that you’re more likely to be invited back.

One thing to be wary of is over-familiarity. It’s a delicate balance, sometimes, between playing soccer or hanging out with kids at lunchtime and getting to know your target audience, and making sure that you have enough uninterrupted time.

A challenging part of a residency can be working outside your comfort zone. You might ordinarily speak to middle year students, but because of the size of the school or for other reasons (such as making up the number of sessions), you might be asked to meet the infants’ classes, or the senior secondary students.

Another challenge specific to a residency is extending your workshops. James Roy describes his first writer-in-residency:

‘I was asked to spend five 60-minute sessions with three different groups over the week. I had to look for new material. I dedicated one day to characterisation, another to plot, another to editing, etc, and that worked okay for me. But it was very challenging to find enough fresh material to fill the extra hours, while offering the students something they could use, keeping the school itself happy with the outcome, and not stressing myself out too much.’

A writer-in-residency is a great opportunity to make a difference in the writing of students and to be around to see that change. It can also stretch you as a writer. In the average 60–90 minute workshop you might address two or three aspects of writing and the impact of your lesson may not be immediately obvious, but a writer-in-residence opportunity means you can cover many aspects of good writing, including polishing and critiquing the writing of another author.

New authors could investigate adopting a local school, perhaps on a voluntary basis, to work once a week with a small group of students. Students could create a portfolio of different types of writing, create work towards writing a mini novel or reader for younger students.

If you have children, you could offer to run a school writers’ club at lunchtime.

Key icon
See Writer in residence: One author’s approach in Primary schools, by Krista Bell

Professional development workshops for teachers and parents

Most parents and teachers are interested in the writing process authors’ use and especially where they get their ideas. Professional development for teachers and parents could include an overview of principles of good writing, advice on polishing and editing stories and information about what you have found works to get children writing.

Workshops involve participants writing so make sure you get the teachers and parents writing in the same way you would children. Use some of the exercises you would use with students. James Roy delivers his basic workshop, in which the teachers participate. He augments it with insights into why he thinks kids respond to certain aspects, for example, rather than saying, ‘When you can write freely about yourself, you find the words flowing,’ he’ll say ‘I find that if the students are able to write freely about themselves for five minutes, they find the words flowing.’

Teachers are looking for ideas they can use in the classroom ‘tomorrow’. Making students want to write is a challenge regularly faced by teachers, so include warm-up activities and ways to stimulate story ideas. Many teachers aren’t aware of techniques like ‘show don’t tell’ and ideas like ‘What if …’ Discuss how you avoid writer’s block and what you do if your story isn’t working. The workshop should model good practice, encouraging everyone to write and share in a non-threatening atmosphere. Demonstrate how to critique a participant’s work in a positive way, providing comments on strengths and suggestions for improvement.

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See Deborah Abela’s Writing workshop notes for a teachers’ development day.

Post-presentation evaluation

Any presenter owes it to himself/herself and audiences, present and future, to request feedback, positive and negative, from the teachers and students. It is also important that he/she regularly evaluates his/her performance.

Some factors that impact on the success of a visit are not directly within the control of the author. Most of the following criteria, which authors have suggested as indicators of success, need to be addressed by the organiser and the author in the planning stages:

Factors Questions

Preparedness of students and key staff

Have they researched the author via websites, books and other print material? Have they read or been made aware of the author’s publications?

Availability of the author’s work

Have the author’s books been publicised and made available for loan through the school library? Are students or parents able to easily purchase these titles? Has the teacher-librarian or visit organiser publicised the visit with local bookshops and media?

Staff involvement

Did the teacher-librarian and the classroom teacher remain in the room during the presentation? Were they actively involved? Was the author able to manage the group without any unnecessary or unsolicited teacher interruption for purposes of discipline?

Flexibility of all involved

Was the school flexible in terms of venues and classroom organisation? Was the author able to arrange the student groups into configurations which best suited the purpose of the session?

Level of interactivity

Did the session achieve the author’s desired level of interactivity? Was the writing workshop sufficiently interactive for all participants to willingly share their work if asked?

Spacing between sessions

Has the program been thoughtfully designed so that the presenter is not faced with large blocks of time or too little time between presentations?

Group organisation

Have the student groups been thoughtfully arranged according to the purpose of the presentation? Have student groupings across a large chronological age range (for example F–6) been avoided?

Follow up

Is there evidence of planned follow up to the visit? Do students ask about communicating further with the presenter? Does this happen?

Payment

Is payment for the presentation prompt and as agreed?

The more of these questions that can be answered Yes, the more that visiting speakers can be satisfied they have made a positive contribution.

Deborah Abela sums up her approach to evaluation. She says you know you have done well ‘if your presentation inspires you as much as it inspires the kids!’

Remember that most speakers have a definite preference for the ideal group size; the number and timing of sessions; type of accommodation and mode of transport. What one is prepared to accept, others may choose to refuse. In your post-presentation evaluations you should highlight any items that you would not agree to in the future and list those that you are happy to accept.

Key icon  See an example post-presentation self-evaluation checklist.

Final note for being a presenter in schools

Most authors who have successfully negotiated a career of presenting in schools and in similar venues would finish with the following words of advice and encouragement:

Thousands have done this before you and all have lived to tell the tale. Don’t take any negative kid’s attitude personally. Above all, when delivering presentations, enjoy the kids! Remember, that you are writing for children and you need to be immersed in the kids’ world.

Resources for this section

Summary list of supporting resources in this section

Booking form checklist

Lesson plan template

Capturing the audience with your voice by Maria Cauchi Simpson

Props and displays authors use for school visits

Writing workshop notes by Deborah Abela

Writing workshops for primary students by Deborah Abela

Writing masterclass by Deborah Abela

Writing workshop for children  by Sue Whiting

Writer in residence — one author’s approach in primary schools, by Krista Bell

Writing workshop notes for a teachers’ development day  by Deborah Abela

Post-presentation self-evaluation checklist