How to Plan Your School Author Visit

If you work in a school and intend to host an author visit, I recommend you read through this blog carefully. If you’re not, I recommend you don’t read it at all – this really is an example of writing to inform and not writing to entertain!

Every year I book three authors to visit our school. Our Patron of Reading always visits our Year 7s then I choose a different author each year to visit our Year 8s and finally we are “given” an author at discount price through the “Crossing the Tees Book Festival” for our Year 9s. I was pretty daunted the first time I had to organise a visit; worried sick I’d forget something important. Having done it several times, I thought I’d set out everything I do here so you can use it as a starting point for your author visits 😊 This list is pretty intense although not exhaustive. However, most of the jobs are just little jobs and don’t take long to do. It’s more a case of making sure you don’t miss any of them out, so tick them off as you go!

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  1. PERMISSION FOR THE EVENT: Win over your Head Teacher. If you’re lucky like us, your Head Teacher will totally understand the qualitative value of having a visiting author and you can skip to 2). However, if your Head Teacher needs educating about the magic of visiting authors, I will be doing a separate blog on that shortly.
  2. CHOOSE AN AUTHOR: Do your research. It’s not enough that the author is an amazing writer and has single-handedly turned Dave Smith’s reluctant reading boy into a book-devouring monster. Can the author hold an audience? If the students aren’t engaged, they won’t receive the message. Sorry, but it’s true – your author also needs to be an entertainer. Ask English teachers and librarians from local schools for recommendations. Ask Facebook and Twitter. When you think you have the right one, read one of their books.
  3. CHOOSE A DATE carefully, you need to make sure that it’s not school Exams month, Sports week, Injections day or anything else that will get in the way. When we have an author for a whole year group, we try to choose a day and period when the whole year group are having English at the same time to avoid disturbing other subjects. This isn’t always possible in very large schools, but you can still go for majority in English to keep disruption to a minimum.
  4. OFFICIAL PERMISSION: Put in an event request (ours is online through our Intranet).
  5. COST: Confirm price with your chosen author and put in a purchase order request to your Finance Department. Currently in the UK the price seems to be £450-£500 for an author to give a whole year presentation followed by two workshops of about twenty students in each. I always add on the cost of two or three books for the library as well. Some charge travel and accommodation on top of this in which case it’s often worth getting in touch with local schools to book for the following day and halve the travel and accommodation costs between you. If you think your school cannot afford this, don’t worry – I will be blogging some top tips very soon. There IS money, it’s just knowing how to get your hands on it!
  6. ROOM BOOKINGS: Book the hall/sports hall wherever you’re having the presentation and notify the PE department (if they normally use it). Also book a really nice room for the two workshops.
  7. IT: Check with the author whether they need a laptop, speakers, over-head projector, microphone, headset, etcetera. If they’re bringing a presentation on a USB they will probably need to come early enough for it to be checked for viruses by the IT team. Book any equipment necessary. Most music or drama departments have microphones with amps.
  8. SITE TEAM/CLEANERS: Notify the site team about the room you are using – will they need to set the chairs out for you? Will the cleaners be required before/after the event? If like us, your Main Hall is also your Dining Hall, do they need to be in to set up for lunch?
  9. WORKSHOP STUDENTS: Select the two sets of twenty students who will be doing the workshop. Different authors offer different workshops and this will affect your choice of students. The presentation should have done the inspiring part, so now you need to decide which students you want. For example, you may be selecting PPG only (if that’s how the visit is being funded), More Able, weaker students, students who are already interested in writing, etcetera. You could even run a competition for the chance to work with the author.
  10. INFORM TEACHERS (WORKSHOPS): Give advanced notice to all the teachers affected by the students going to workshops and check that this doesn’t cause a problem. Also diarise a reminder for the teachers the week before and again the day before and finally on the morning of the event. Notify them by email, briefing, and bulletin.
  11. REGISTER Copy the list of workshop students to the Attendance Officer and ask for a tag to be put on the students’ names on SIMS so the classroom teacher remembers why they’re not there, or if the students forget and turn up, the teachers can send them to the workshop. Also keep a copy of the register for you, so you can take a paper register at the workshop. Make sure you have a runner who can take the register to the Attendance Officer on the day as you cannot leave a visitor unsupervised with students.
  12. INFORM TEACHERS (MAIN PRESENTATION): Give advanced notice to all teachers who will be affected by the whole year presentation. Explain that as it is during their lesson, they will need to take the register then accompany the children to the Hall and MUST remain with them for the duration of the presentation. This is REALLY important otherwise you may find yourself in charge of 300 students on your own! You must give them chance to contact you in the case of a problem – such as a planned assessment you were unaware of. Also diarise a reminder for the teachers the week before and again the day before and finally on the morning of the event. Notify them by email, briefing, and bulletin.
  13. LETTERS HOME: Send letters home to students’ parents/carers about the event, let them know how exciting and inspiring it is to have an author visit. Most authors have something on their website you can use to help show just how amazing they are. Indeed, some authors even have draft letters you can adapt. Make sure you mention on the letter that students can buy signed books and inform them how they can do this.
  14. PARENT PAY: If you are using Parent Pay for students to contribute towards the visit or to buy books, make sure you set this up in plenty of time and make sure the wording is very clear.
  15. ADVERTS: Prepare adverts to create a buzz about the impending visit. Share adverts as posters around school, in tutor trays, on plasma screens, on school’s social media and in particular get the English teachers on board to promote it. Share your adverts with them to make it easy for them as they’re very busy people! Some authors will have ready prepared PDFs you can use for advertising so check their websites.
  16. PHOTOS: Arrange to borrow the school camera for the event. For the presentation take backs of heads shots with just the author’s face showing (no students’ faces). For the workshops, check on SIMS and make a note of anyone who does not have permission to be photographed for the website.
  17. COVER: Organise cover for yourself and another member of staff for any lessons and duties you’ll be missing whilst shepherding the author and students around the school. Inform the person in charge of cover and send a reminder to all a week before, again the day before and finally on the morning of the event.
  18. LUNCH for the author: where will they eat, what will you provide, who will they eat with? We invite the author to spend lunch with our student librarians as a special privileged treat after all the hard work they put in week in and week out. Students bring their own lunch, but I always bring some cake to help make it feel more special.
  19. BOOK SIGNINGS: where and when? Do you want your author signing books during break, lunch, after school? Who is providing the books? Some authors bring their own, but if not, you may need to ask a local bookshop to provide some on a sale or return basis. Who will be taking the money? Have you got a float if necessary? Do you know what price the author/bookshop is selling for?
  20. THE DAY BEFORE: As well as the regular reminders to the teachers, it’s also worth texting/emailing parents/carers to remind them about the event and that their child will have the opportunity to buy a signed book.
  21. AFTER THE EVENT, thank the author and send reports to those you need to send reports to about the success of the event. Create a write-up for the school website and link to the author on social media. Go home. Put your feet up. Pour a large glass of wine!

This does seem a lot and it is, but it is a lot of little jobs. The day will be exhausting, but worth all the sweat and tears. To hear the excited chatter of students about the author and the books on the day and hear the continued rhetoric around books days later is wonderful. Anyone who can inspire students to read is welcome in our school!

 

* Disclaimer: Always check with your school in case there is anything else that they need you to do and add it to your list.

Ban the Baccalaureate!

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Daniel* more than just enjoys his education – he loves it! His mum doesn’t have to drag him out of bed on a morning, she doesn’t have to threaten or bribe him. She gently wakes him, then pops off to work, knowing that he’ll get himself safely there. Too perfect to be true?

This wasn’t the case for the first 14 years of his education. Far from it! He never liked school, always made excuses trying to get a day off here and there, lied about how much homework he had and how much trouble he was in. That sounds more like it!

So what’s changed?

He’s left school and started college.

Despite being academically intelligent, Daniel preferred practical subjects. His favourite subject at school was design technology. As he was an A* student, he was forced to drop DT and take a modern foreign language as one of his “choices” even though he hated MFL. He was also forced to “choose” between history or geography, despite wanting to take drama. His only pleasure was PE, one lesson per week. Imagine hating 24 out of 25 lessons! This is reality for far too many children now. Their Year 9 “Options” are actually Year 9 “Directions” and not necessarily the right directions!

Now Daniel’s left school, he’s training to be a car mechanic. NOW he’s happy. None of the subjects he was forced to take were of any use to get him on his Mechanic’s course and he never wants to study for a degree because education is forever tarnished for him. He’s not the only one…

At Secondary School, students are being pushed down an ever-narrowing academic route, especially since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate. Some schools are in such a panic about OFSTED grading them “Inadequate” and forcing a government academy on them, that they are panic cramming more and more English, maths and science down unwilling throats and removing creative subjects such as art, drama and music.

Have we forgotten “less is more”? Have we forgotten that everyone excels in things they enjoy and enjoy things in which they excel? We need to broaden the curriculum not narrow it. Our children do NOT need a degree in an academic subject to be successful!!!

First of all, define success! Success is NOT money in the bank. Success is happiness. Who are the happiest people? Hairdressers, plumbers and interior decorators are among the top ranking most happy people. Not doctors, head teachers or bank managers.

The solution is simple – ban the Baccalaureate! If a student wishes to take maths, English, science, MFL and history or geography, that’s up to them. But it should be their choice to take it just as much as it should be another students’ choice not to take it. It is criminal that so many students’ happiness is cast aside for some crack-pot idea a random politician once dreamed up just to show that he’d done something!

What if the next politician comes along and creates the Arts Baccalaureate? Every student must take GCSEs in art, music, drama, dance and photography. People would be disgusted:

“But my child wants to be a doctor, he can’t be a doctor if he’s not allowed to choose Biology!”

“I’m terribly sorry (not sorry), but I have invented the Arts Baccalaureate and you simply must comply.”

If we are living in a free country, why are our students not free to make their own choices in what they study? Why are schools not free to offer the courses that they know their students want?

No wonder there is a teenage mental-health crisis. As Einstein famously said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid!”

There are many different types of intelligence. The main ones are emotional, musical, verbal/linguistic, logic/mathematical, kinaesthetic/body, interpersonal, intrapersonal. In the past students with great athletic ability have been proud of their skills but now their triumph is overshadowed if they cannot also excel in English. Likewise, students who can play the most beautiful music, have this success over-shadowed if they cannot show top results in maths. This has to stop. Students’ successes should be celebrated and they should be encouraged to pursue the subjects and careers that suit them as an individual. Let them be who they want to be, not who one grey faceless politician says they should be.

There’s a popular hashtag #letourkidsbekids which fights against excessive testing and homework. It might not be as catchy, but I propose the hashtag #letourkidsgrowintohappyadults!

You want world peace? Fill the world with happy people!

*name changed

How Homework is Ruining your Child’s Education.

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Homework sucks!  Right?  Well, perhaps it sucks far more than we realise.  What if I told you it was ruining your child’s education?  Here’s how:

The students who are most able to learn are those who have good mental health.  A child who feels safe, happy and loved, is more receptive to learning.  So far I haven’t told you anything you didn’t know.

To nurture a child and help mould them into a healthy well-balanced person, parents need to spend time with them: listening to them, talking to them, helping them to deal with their emotions, talking through their fears, planning how to deal with situations, praising them for good attitudes.  Parents need to spend quality time with their children, playing board games, reading together, caring for a pet together, curling up in front of a good film.  A child who feels as though their parents have time for them and care for them will grow up with a much better attitude than those who feel ignored or marginalised.  Still you already know this.

Picture this:

Day One – Today I will have quality time with my child.  I’m going to be the best parent ever.

You’re driving home from work, you think, we’ll have a quick tea tonight so that we can spend some quality time with our child.  You get in from work and your child has already been home half an hour but hasn’t started their homework.  They claim they didn’t get straight on with their homework because they were tired after a day at school and just wanted a snack and to chill out in front of the TV.  You’re livid.  That’s half an hour wasted that they could have got on with their homework.  That’s half an hour less time available for your planned quality time.  Stop!  Wait a minute – your child was right!  Of course they are tired and hungry when they get in from school.  Aren’t you frequently tired after a full day’s work?  And they were learning new things ALL DAY LONG!  Just the thought of it is making me tired.  And they’re only kids!  So they deserved their chill out time.

Now it’s time to do their homework.  They need to spend 40 minutes on their English project but dinner is ready in 30 minutes so they just rush it to finish it.

They have their tea and now they’re feeling sleepy, but they still have their maths homework to do.  They don’t want to do it.  They want to watch TV.  You are a law abiding, rule abiding parent trying to do the right thing so you tell your child off for being lazy and insist they do their maths homework.  An argument ensues and you’re particularly fuming because you wanted to spend quality time with them but they’re taking it up with homework.  Stop!  Wait a minute – you TOLD them to do their homework.  They worked all day then you made them work all evening.  The school loves you for being so supportive.  But who’s supporting your child?

Finally, homework is finished.  They’re still in their uniform.  No point getting changed now, it will be bed time soon anyway.  “Let’s have a game of cards” you say.  “I just want to watch TV” they reply.  You’re really hurt.  You wanted to spend quality time with them and all they want to do is watch rubbish on TV.  Stop!  Wait a minute – they have no brain energy left to spend on a tactical card game.  They have no energy left to do anything except flop in front of the TV and watch The Simpsons.

Next morning, your child doesn’t want to get out of bed.  They’re dreading school.  This is because they know they didn’t complete their English homework to their best standard and the teacher will say something. They know they were too tired to do their best in maths and the teacher will say something.  Worse, they had a history homework that they didn’t tell you about and so now they know they will have an after-school detention.  They arrive at school tired, grumpy and fed up.  They are not mentally prepared to learn and have a hard time taking in new information.

Day Two – Today I WILL have quality time with my child.  I’m going to be the best parent ever.

You get home from work and your child is still at school – in detention.  When they eventually get home you are furious that they didn’t do their history homework.  They’d lied when they’d said they only had English and Maths.  Now they’ve already used up one hour when you wanted to have quality time with them. You tell them off and order them to get straight on with today’s homework.  No they can’t have a break – they lost that chance by being in detention.  Stop!  Wait a minute – did they actually have time to do that homework last night anyway?

Homework is interrupted by tea.  If they hadn’t been in detention they would have finished their homework before tea – it’s their own fault.  They finish tea and you force them back to their homework.  They argue again but you point out what happened when they didn’t do their homework last night.  They only end up having to do it in the end anyway in detention if they don’t do it at home.  Stop!  Wait a minute – They’ve been working all day long, they didn’t get a break when they got home, they worked up to tea and now they’re working after tea.  Are these work hours even legal?

They finish their homework, but it wasn’t their best effort they were angry.  And tired.  They refuse to play a board game with you and stomp upstairs to play on their X-box and complain to their friends what awful parents they have.  Their friends listen to them and sympathise.

Next morning your child doesn’t want to get out of bed.  They’re dreading school.  This is because they know they were too tired and angry to do a good job of their homework and their teacher will say something.  Also today is their least favourite day with their least favourite subject and least favourite teacher. They arrive at school tired, grumpy and fed up.  They are not mentally prepared to learn and have a hard time taking in new information.

Day Three – Today I WILL have quality time with my child.  I’m going to be the best parent ever.

You arrive home from work and your child is already home.  Great this is better than yesterday.  But they haven’t done their homework.  They’re stuffing food into their face, staring at the TV.  “Why aren’t you doing your homework?” you snap.  How many times do you have to tell them they must do their homework as soon as they get in from school otherwise they end up doing it too late at night and going to bed late.  They argue with you and stomp about a bit but eventually start their homework.  You stomp into the kitchen to make the tea angry that your child has been lazy yet again.  Stop!  Wait a minute – haven’t we already been here?  Haven’t we already noted that the child is not lazy – just overworked!  And which subject has given homework today?  Only the subject that they hate the most.  What motivation do they have to complete it – the threat of detention.  What do they get if they complete their homework?  Nothing.  Just not a detention.  You give them their tea and then ask to see their homework.  You’re suspicious because you know they hate this one.  Just as you suspected, they haven’t done their homework, they’ve been messaging their friend about how awful the teacher is, how awful the subject is and how awful parents are.  You shout at them, remove all electronic gadgets and force them to do their homework.  They don’t finish until after bed time.

Next morning your child doesn’t want to get out of bed …

Okay, so I’ve made my point that your child is too tired (and probably disinterested) for homework, they’re not doing it to a high standard and I’ve made my point that it is impacting negatively on their learning the next day.  I hope you have also picked up on how miserable your child is and how miserable the parent is.

Now how about the teachers?

They are instructed to give homework out on a weekly (or fortnightly depending on the school) basis.  Here are the reasons they hate setting homework:

  • Setting homework eats into the time they would rather spend creating exciting and informative lessons.
  • They don’t have time to create a whizz-bang exciting homework, because they are already over-stretched with all the lesson planning and marking.
  • They know the homework they set is not going to aid learning, but they will be in trouble if they don’t set something so they just grabbed anything.
  • The homework is always a poor standard – you can tell the children have rushed it and not taken care over it.
  • They’re going to have to find time to mark the homework.
  • They are going to have to start the lesson on a negative because some of the children will not have done their homework. It’s not easy to get students enthused in your subject when you’ve started with a telling-off.
  • They are going to have to spend an hour in detention with the students who didn’t complete their homework, taking yet more time away from planning amazing lessons.
  • Some of the children don’t have a book to do their classwork in because they “left their homework at home”. The teacher immediately stresses about “what if OFSTED sees their book”.

Now picture this alternative:

Day One – Today I will have quality time with my child.  I’m going to be the best parent ever.

You’re driving home from work, you think, we’ll have a quick tea tonight so that we can spend some quality time with our child.  You get in from work and your child has already been home half an hour.  They’ve got changed, made themselves a snack and been watching TV for half an hour.  They feel content and relaxed because they’ve had chance to wind down from a hard day at school.  You ask how school has been and they tell you about the funny thing that happened during break.  You both have a laugh and your child follows you into the kitchen when you begin to make tea.  During this time, they tell you that they have had trouble with another child at school.  You discuss the problem and the best way to deal with it, and your child is relieved that you listened and helped.  You sit down together and eat a meal.  After tea, your child’s friend calls and they play out for an hour.  When your child gets back you play a board game and they tell you they’re no longer worried about the  child who had caused trouble because they have arranged to walk to school with their friend and hang out with them all day.  You watch a comedy program together and then your child gets ready for bed.

Next day your child gets out of bed, meets their friend and goes to school.  They are fresh alert and ready to learn.  The teacher greets them with a smile and teaches a whizz-bang lesson.

Now … which scenario do you think sets them up for a happy, successful life and enables them to learn at their personal best?

So what’s the solution?

Surprisingly, I’m not asking for an all-out ban on homework. Judicious homework now and then can reap huge rewards. If a teacher tells a class who doesn’t normally have homework, that they have an assessment coming up and here’s some revision guides, I strongly suspect they will take it far more seriously than if it was just yet another homework among many. Preparing for a new topic might have an interesting bit of research. Another homework that I agree with is for students to finish what they didn’t complete in class. If they’ve wasted class time messing around then they can finish it in their own time. This gives the students incentive to behave in class. Behave – no homework. Mess around – homework! There are homeworks that make sense, but the minute you start dishing out drivel, week in, week out – that’s when you turn students off homework and off independent study.

There are those who argue that homework is keeping some naughty children off the streets. I disagree entirely. The “naughty” children aren’t doing their homework anyway. They’re still on the streets, but the conscientious children are missing out on fun, locked away in the misguided notion that they’re doing the right thing.

I also think there’s a place for voluntary homework. For those students who enjoy school work, especially academic work, why not have a bank of homeworks they can either access on-line or from the teacher’s desk at school? They can earn achievement points for any they complete. Give the control to the child: if they want to do extra homework – go for it. If they want to play out – let them. After all, they are all little individuals with their own likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, ambitions and worries. It doesn’t matter what their skills are; academic, social skills, football, cooking, being around animals. They need to carve their own way in the world, and to be able to find out who they are and where they fit in. They need to have evenings and weekends free to discover themselves and enjoy their lives. They’re only young once. Let our kids be kids!

 

Deluded?

What if I’m deluded?

How do I know whether I’m a sane person with great talent or a complete basket case and hopelessly deluded? I used to laugh at those poor people on X-factor in the early days who thought they were the best singers ever and then they’d do the strangest, weirdest, sometimes scary things. After a few years I stopped laughing because I suddenly realised they were being exploited and I wondered what happened to them after the world had laughed in their face. Were they deluded enough to carry-on in their happy place or did reality crash down on them?

I’ve written a book. It may well be a book of utter, entire shizen! But I love it! So, am I gifted or deluded? How will I ever know?

I’ll let you into a little secret – sometimes I used to wonder if the world was real and my life was real or if I was just the object of an elaborate hoax and everyone around me were actors. Then I watched a film called “The Truman Show”. At first I thought, that’s great, this means my life is real, because someone else, a film writer no less, has had a similar thought to me. It must be normal to feel this way. I’m fine and everything is real. Then I thought – NO! What if everyone watching my reality show is absolutely killing themselves laughing that the writers have dropped me the biggest hint ever that I’m just an unwitting star of a show and I STILL haven’t worked it out!

Still, I can’t complain: they haven’t killed me off yet, they gave me a hot husband and hopefully my contract won’t run out for another 50 years. Here’s hoping they write a fantastic book deal into the plot …

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Twitter – where the grown-ups hang out!

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Shh! I’m not really a grown-up!

If Facebook is a gossip magazine, Instagram is an art gallery and Twitter is a business and political convention for grown-ups only. That’s how I see them anyway! This causes me a problem: you see I’m not really a grown-up. Yes, I have been alive for 48 years, but I haven’t actually grown up. Sometimes I’ll be walking along the street and I’ll see my son’s friends with their parents and I’ll think – ooh look, grown-ups. I have never, ever, looked in the mirror and thought – ooh, I’m a grown up. I have the same wrinkles around my eyes and silver streaks in my hair as grown-ups. My middle is spreading which I believe is another sign and has nothing to do with chocolate! But I’m just not a grown-up. I don’t think like one and I don’t act like one. When my son said he was going to have a few beers at his friend’s house to celebrate the end of exams, I launched into an attempt at a grown-up speech warning him of the dangers of excess alcohol and he cut me off saying, “don’t worry mum – I’m not like you!”

I’ve been on Facebook for some time now. I understand how it works, and I enjoy it. But … I’m trying to get my novel published and the advice is to get yourself out there on as many social media platforms as possible. Bear in mind my target market is Middle-Grade and the Middle-Grade students at school informed me that Facebook is “only for old people in their 30s and 40s”!!! So off I trotted to the virtual world of Twitter disguised as a grown-up and started following authors, publishers and literary agents. Very mature. I also followed a few immature comedians but I think some grown-ups do that too and I’m sure nobody will notice anyway! And then I had to tweet something! What could I tweet? My mind went blank which is weird because I don’t normally get writers’ block when I’m writing my stories. I can sit down and let the thoughts pour out of my head, down through my fingers and onto the keyboard. But that’s just it. My stories are for Middle-Graders – not for grown-ups. After a few poor attempts which disappeared into the ether unseen and unheeded by the world’s millions, I decided to retweet important sounding messages from grown-ups and respond on other people’s tweets. It’s working really well. Real authors are replying to me as though I am one of them and all grown-up and stuff!

So guys and gals! I’m just putting it out there – if you tweet me I will definitely respond because I am ridiculously excited about this new persona I have created. Just please don’t “out” me. Rachel Coverdale is a very grown-up girl! 😊