Monday, January 17, 2011

School Visit Fail

Okay, so I'm going to break my school visit reports down into bite-size chunks.

First up: the fail that is Elana.

Let me just say that I really liked talking to high schoolers. You should do it if you get the chance, see if it's for you.

Tip #1: Talk to the teacher.

No, really. You should find out what kind of school you're visiting. Ask the teacher what kinds of things they've talked to the class about as pertaining to writing.

Find out how many kids will be there. Find out if the teacher's told them you're coming. Find out if what they've been assigned to read, what they like to read for fun. The teacher should know all this.

My biggest failure? Not asking these questions.

If I'd known the teacher had counseled her students to write through writer's block, I wouldn't have told them to play video games when they're stuck. (No lie. And there's a whole post on this coming up. Get excited.)

If I'd known the teacher had told them they have to learn vocabulary even though they don't like it, I would've talked about the importance of vocabulary in YA/dystopian/fantasy writing.

If I'd known the school focused on leadership, and the teacher taught her students about showing leadership in their writing, I would've been able to touch on that during the visit.

I didn't know any of these things. And while the visit still went well, it could've been better if I had known.

So my biggest tip for anyone planning a school visit is to ask questions. Find out as much as you can about the school/class/students, and tailor your lecture to meet their needs. After all, it's always best to teach people, not content.

And there you go. My failures laid bare. I can't even think of a question to ask about this. So, uh, yeah.

But the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE prize package winner is Michelle Merrill! Email me at elanajohnson(at)gmail.com for instructions. Congrats!

74 comments:

julietruekingsley.com said...

Been there! I think it's important to bring something for the kids to do. Maybe it's a writing prompt, or a scene to write, or a dialogue. Engage the students (especially high school kids). If not, you may just start spewing information, in not the best way. Wait, maybe that's just me.

julietruekingsley.com said...

Been there! I think it's important to bring something for the kids to do. Maybe it's a writing prompt, or a scene to write, or a dialogue. Engage the students (especially high school kids). If not, you may just start spewing information, in not the best way. Wait, maybe that's just me.

Vicki Rocho said...

I think that's an easy thing to overlook. But now that you know you'll rock it that much more next time!

julietruekingsley.com said...

Oops, sorry about that.

Laura Pauling said...

Great advice. I'd think the same goes for talking with any age kids. Anything to give the speaker an advantage helps!

Emily White said...

Oh boy, I would not have thought to ask those questions, either. But at least it's something you learned on your first attempt and now you have valuable advice to share with your readers! :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great Advice, Elana. Not sure if my English teacher would have had any clue about what we were reading back in high school. Nor would he have cared. He just wanted to get through his day and get out of there . . . pretty much like the rest of his colleagues and the students. ;)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great advice on how to tie in your talk more to what they are doing. But I'm sure you did awesome anyway.

Christina Lee said...

Huh...go figure! Thanks Elana for this!

Jen Daiker said...

Congrats to Michelle.

Well we all have lessons to learn and this seems like a good one that you were able to share with all of us. Someone has to make the first mistake and you took the lead. I'm glad to know it wasn't an EPIC fail, really just a fail in your eyes. Sounds like everyone still had a good time and I'm sure they appreciate you talking about playing video games rather than bothering on working through writer's block. I know I do.

lbdiamond said...

This is important info--especially cuz I'm a "wing-it" kind of gal. Thanks for sharing!

Congrats to the winner!!! :D

Ishta Mercurio said...

That is an awesome, awesome tip. Thanks for the advance warning! And thanks for sharing your experience.

Liza said...

In everything, preparation is key...and now you've offered solid tips on how to do so. Thanks.

Matthew Rush said...

I bet it wasn't nearly as bad as you thought it was. I would have so rather listened to an author than my teacher any day of the week back in high school.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for sharing your lessons learned. I hope next time you get a bad English teacher so you can teach all of these lessons! I'm glad you're making this part of a series.

Congratulations to Michelle.

Lola Sharp said...

I know they loved you...NOT a 'fail'.

Also, congrats on your anniversary and husband's new car. (I'm behind on blogging)

Have a wonderful week, E.

Love,
Lola

Jonathon Arntson said...

I think you should give yourself a little more credit. Sure that class had been exposed to those things already, but I bet you helped cement those ideas in their brains. When I was in high school, the teacher was smart and all, but when an outsider came in, they were the authority on the topic and I believed everything they said.

Dominique said...

I've been there. Used to speak to kids for an org I did. Sometimes it's hard to know how to mix it up in new situations. But now you've learned somethings you can use later.
(As far as the video game thing goes, at least you were honest about your techniques.)

Christine Fonseca said...

Awesome! I still wish I could have been in the back of the class egging...um...I mean encouraging you on! I see many more school visits in your future!

Em-Musing said...

I'm sure they loved you.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

So next time it will go GREAT! Great advice!

Jessie Harrell said...

FANTASTIC ADVICE!!! I hope to someday be in a place where I'm giving talks at school -- and I'll keep this info tucked away for future use.

lynnrush said...

Great advice. I never would have thought of all that. Now I'm prepped for when and if I have this chance.

Happy Monday!

Jenilyn Tolley said...

That is excellent advice! And, personally, I like the video game approach myself. :)

Janet Johnson said...

Great advice! And speaking of video games . . . I'm off to go play some. :)

Shari said...

Good information to know. I'll keep this filed in the storage room in my brain for the one day that I may need it. Thanks!

Sara B. Larson said...

I don't know if I will ever need this advice (one can hope, even if it seems like an impossible goal), but if I do, I will definitely come back to this post. I wouldn't have thought to ask questions either, but what a great point!

Lydia K said...

Great advice. It's good to know in advance what they know!

Dangerous With a Pen said...

I don't teach high school, I teach little guys and LOVE author visits.

While it's nice when the author backs up what I say, if they just say, "I do everything exactly like Mrs. Brooks tells you," then there's probably not a great reason to bother having them in. It's ok that your ideas and the way your talk was tailored didn't match the teacher's lessons. I think your ideas for pre-talk discussion with the teacher are great for tweaking your talk, but don't think for a minute that presenting your ideas was a fail. High school kids especially need different perspectives.

Michelle Merrill said...

I'm glad your visit went well even with the lack of knowing what they were learning. Thanks for the advice.

Okay, I have to admit...I actually gasped when I saw my name! I was like, "What is my name doing on Elana Johnson's blog? There must be some mistake." Yes, it was even accompanied with questions of doubt and I had to pinch myself into reality. Thanks SO much! I'll be sending an email your way :)

Angela Felsted said...

Good advice.

The Name Is Ashelynn said...

Oops! Next time you'll ask questions, I hope. But the good news is you've helped everybody who hasn't done a high school visit yet. lol.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Finally - details about your school trip - I was waiting! :) That's a great tip and it applies to so much more than just a school visit - anytime you do a talk, basically anything you do period, it's best to go in as prepared and prepped as possible.

Margo Berendsen said...

This was a great reminder! I mean, not that I've ever been asked to talk about my book and writing :) but in my field at any rate I sometimes get to do guest talks. And as a teacher/trainer for 16 years, it's only been in the last year that I've learned how important it, if you want something to STICK, you have to find someway to relate it to what the students already know or to something they want. Which you can figure out by... you know. Asking questions.

You remember posting about Save the Cat a while ago? Laura Pauling just did an amazing series, breaking down How To Train Your Dragon using Save the Cat structure and lessons learned. So cool! Go check it out if you have time - you have time! http://laurapauling.com/?p=1074 is the last in four part series.

bel said...

What great advice. You would think it would be obvious, but I'm not sure I would have thought of it.

Danyelle said...

Oh, wow! Thanks so much, Elana! I'm not at this stage yet, but it's good stuff to know, and something I wouldn't have thought of doing.

LTM said...

omg, Elana! *snort* you did not tell them to play video games... BAH!!!

sigh. You're so funny. We always think we've done worse than we have. I'm sure you were great. <3 :o)

Jennie Englund said...

Congrats, Michelle! Fun reading in your future!

Elana, your truth is our entertainment. Thank you.

Alleged Author said...

Yup! Diving into a classroom can be quite difficult. I'm sure you did a wonderful job though!

JoLynne Lyon said...

Elana, I really appreciate this post, and not just from a writer's point of view. I think asking questions can go a long way toward improving any presentation--and it shows some refreshing humility that you say so.

nutschell said...

Thanks for this tip. Not that I'll be speaking at any school soon, but I think it is important to ask as many questions as possible before diving into anything--whether its speaking before a group of students, or buying car insurance :)

Lisa and Laura said...

Bookmarked this. I was a teacher and would not have thought to do these things. I am SO rusty!!!

Lisa and Laura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kellyhashway said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm setting up two school visits and now I know what I should ask beforehand.

gideon 86 said...

Great advise for the future. Thanks Elana.


Michael

Holly Ruggiero said...

Good advice. It seems so obvious but I wouldn’t have thought to do it ahead of time.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'll know to ask questions!

ali said...

Congrats to Michelle!

As for your Elana fail, I beg to differ. It's only a FAIL if you don't learn from it and do better next time.

And of course you'll do better next time.

So, no fail for you!

Fantastic advice, too. TFS!

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss elana! i could want you to not use that word fail. ack. mom taught us if you try you very best and learn from trying you cant never fail. you did good and you learned stuff from it so you cant never say you failed. i was wondering did you have fun doing it? i hope you did and could wanna do it again cause learning stuff from writers like you is just soooo cool.
...hugs from lenny

Stasia said...

School visits can definitely be challenging! There's a good resource for authors on this. Here's the link: http://schoolvisitexperts.com/
Hang in there. If you enjoy speaking to teens, your presentation will find its stride.

Carolyn V. said...

School visits. So cool! I'm not quite there yet in my writing, but I'll have tons of questions when the time comes. =)

Heather said...

Hey don't feel bad, I get on Twitter when I have writer's block. It helps! Great tip to ask the teacher questions though.

Talli Roland said...

That doesn't sound like schoolfail! Sounds like it was a great visit. Thanks for the tips!

Carrie said...

great advice. Don't feel bad about telling them you play video games, they probably need to hear that too.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

that's awesome! I'm getting ready for my first school visits. I hope I can make them go well!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Dude--I NEVER would have thought of that. Definitely going to sponge off this wisdom! ;)

Colene Murphy said...

Good to know! Sorry about the problems you had but whatever, they were probably still so impressed with seeing THE ELANA! (I would be!)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm a school teacher and your suggestions are great.
I love teenagers and my students are lovely people. I wish more writers could visit and give them inspiration. With today's educational testing requirements they don't get enough time to read or write for fun.

Kiki Hamilton said...

I'm sure you were awesome. Were you in front of an English class or a larger group?

Liz Pezzuto said...

I betcha you were fabulous! I know I would be totally nervous to stand up in front of a group of high school students... Definitely good advice. Thanks for sharing your experience! :)

Mary Vaughn said...

I have a teacher friend who tells me these are great hints. If everyone who comes to class to speak followed these tips the day would be easier on everyone and more successful.
Excellent post.

PS - I borrowed Save the Cat from the library but I think I'll be getting a copy for my reference shelf.

Kelly said...

Excellent advice that I hope to use one day!
I'm sure you did great though!

Jemi Fraser said...

Congrats to Michelle! :)

Great advice! Knowing as much as possible about the class makes sense. I love that you advised them to play video games when they're stuck - I think it's great advice :)

Jeff King said...

Great advice...

Melissa said...

Excellent advice on school visits Elana! Hopefully your next visits will go smoother but I don't think this one went as bad as your fearing!

Nathalie said...

I used to tour highschools and junior highschools to talk about drugs and alcohol. The one time I went to my old highschool, I mistakenly figured I'd know all about the kids, the ways of the school and what would keep their interests. Safe to say, I bombed, but thankfully, am a quick thinker on my feet and with a well thought out rock n' roll trivia game of musicians who died from drugs, I saved myself! Just not my pride to return anytime soon to my beloved highschool!

Red Boot Pearl said...

I'm excited to read your video games and writers block post and seriously I can't always 'work-through' writers block. Sometimes you need to do other things to get ideas. Having multiple techniques of handling writers block is a good thing, so I wouldn't be too hard on yourself :).

Shannon O'Donnell said...

You're right. All of those things could help, especially if you aren't sure what to focus on to begin with. HOWEVER, lively speakers with contagious enthusiasm and a good sense of humor score huge every time regardless. And that my dear friend, as everyone knows, is you in a nutshell! :-)

L.T. Elliot said...

Hey, you told them what works for you and it clearly works because GUESS WHAT HAPPENS IN JUNE?! And I had a creative writing teacher who told me a lot of things and a lot of those things DIDN'T work for me. At least they had another perspective in case what she said wasn't working for them. I agree that asking questions is a good idea and I agree that it could help streamline your presentation but I love that you keep it real and tell it how it is for you. It's more helpful than you think.

Lee Wind said...

Great advice!
Namaste,
Lee

Jan Markley said...

Good advice - it's always a good idea to ask a few questions up front.

Serenissima said...

Great advice -- hope I get to use it someday!

Michelle said...

questions are good! great tip thankyou xx

Hannah Kincade said...

That is great advice but even if you asked all of those things, I'm sure you would have come up with other things you would want to change next time. Such is life.

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