Author Madness Author Study

By: Mary Kienstra on: April 9, 2014  in: author study; engagement; reading; tellagami; book trailers   3 Comments

There are times when things just go right.  Sometimes it’s because of exhaustive planning and preparation.  But sometimes, it’s just meant to be.  Our author study “Author Madness” was one of those things – it was meant to be.

Author study in March Madness brackets.
Inspired by Dave Burgess and Teach Like A Pirate
Author study is one of my favorite units in my reading class.  It incorporates all the elements of an engaging unit: student choice, plenty of reading and research, student creativity in video and website production, real letters to real authors, and (don’t tell anyone) tons of fun!  The essential question, which drives the instruction, is “How does the author’s life influence his/her writing?”
It all started in January as groups of kids studied the famous children’s authors Avi, Jerry Spinelli, Peg Kehret, and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  The kids read an autobiography/biography and several books by their author.  They discussed the ways that the author’s life influenced his/her writing and wrote about the connections they saw.  
Next, students chose their own favorite author.  Usually their favorite author is the person who wrote their favorite book and this year was no exception.  Of the 26 students, 7 choose Rick Riordan, 3 chose Jeff Kinney, and the rest of the students chose various favorites.  They knew their choice should be someone they truly enjoyed as they would get to know this author very well.  They also knew that they were going to teach the class about their author.
The first thing the students did was research their author.  Some read biographies or autobiographies and all searched online for information.  They once again looked for connections between the author’s life and writing.  After they had the information they needed, they wrote scripts to create a video using the Tellagami app.  (A good example of student engagement was when I asked them to create a script instead of writing a paragraph, they literally ran to their desks to begin writing.)  The writing was fabulous!  Audience changes everything!
The next part of the project was to use the iMovie app to create a book trailer for their favorite book written by their favorite author.  This was a chance to be creative and once again, persuade their classmates to read their favorite book. They selected a template for their iMovie Trailer, wrote a script, and chose pictures.  Our classroom was a hive of activity as everyone was busy producing their videos.  Student engagement at the finest.
The letter to their favorite author was another part of this extensive project. My students knew this was not fan mail, but a letter to express how the author’s writing has influenced him/her.  In fact, it should include lessons learned from the author.  Once again, a real audience is a powerful thing.  After publishing the final copy of their letter, they searched for the author’s contact information and sent the letter.  (Some have already received notes back from their favorite author!)
Next they needed a place to connect all these projects.  Each student created a wiki page on Canvas, our Learning Management System.  This password protected page contains their videos and links to their letters.  These websites are how they would access information about each other’s authors. 
After all this work, I introduced the brackets.  March Madness for authors? They were puzzled, yet excited.  What was this about?  
The first round of the author bracket

Round 1 included 8 games.  We had 17 different authors, so one “game” actually featured 3 authors.  Otherwise, it was “head to head” matches of one author vs. another.  Kids spent time visiting each other’s websites to learn about the authors and voted for each “game” using our student response system.  (That added another element of intrigue.)  After school, I tabulated the results and covered the brackets until the unveiling the following afternoon.

The second day was round 2, 4 games.  Did I mention how excited these kids were to see the results?  They were on the edge of their seats waiting to see which authors had advanced.  They cheered and high-fived as the brackets were revealed.  Students visited the websites again to review the authors and then debated with a small group the pros and cons of each author.  Once again, they voted on the responders and I tabulated the results after school.  

The third day was round 3, 2 games.  We were down to the Final Four.  Our Final Four authors were Dan Gutman, JK Rowling, Rick Riordan, and Roald Dahl, all exceptional.  The excitement from round 2 had increased significantly. Today students listed the accomplishments of each author and debated who should advance.  They voted and went on Spring Break for a week!

Next was Monday after Spring Break, the final “game.”  By now the excitement in my class was out of control.  They could barely handle themselves as I built the anticipation before I revealed the brackets and the final two authors.  It was down to two famous authors:  Rick Riordan and Dan Gutman.  Students compiled facts as evidence for each author and presented them to the class. They voted on the responders and after school I tabulated the votes.  They begged me to post the winner on our class site, but I wanted to reveal in in class.  I was not going to miss the looks on their faces when they learned of the winner. After school I tweeted: 
A funny thing happened next as I received a tweet from none other than @DanGutmanBooks:

And another the next morning: 

Not only are my students interested in the author brackets, but the author himself is following this!  What fun! 

Today was the day.  I produced a video to set the mood and the anticipation.  To say they were excited would be an understatement!  As we revealed the final bracket with the winner announced, they all cheered.  This was an experience they will remember for a while.  

Who won the author of the year in our class?  Dan Gutman!  

I would also argue that every one of my students also won.  They read so many books, created interesting products, and learned from each other.  The discussions during the author brackets were outstanding.  I’m sure I could check off many many Common core state standards that we covered, but that’s not my purpose here.  I know that my students are better readers, thinkers, and speakers for having experienced this author study.  Some things are just meant to be.

The rest of the story is my students are receiving letters back from their favorite authors and Dan Gutman did Skype with my class!  Dan was a great sport and seemed genuinely touched by being voted PI Author of the Year!  The kids had another experience that they won’t soon forget.  It was an outstanding conversation between a famous author and a group of his loyal fans.  Yes, some things are just meant to be.

  3 comments   Comment

  1. 9 years ago  

    Jessica Rogers

    What a great unit! I love that the students were interacting with authors and writing strong letters. The coach in me LOVES the competition!
    Your students are lucky to have you.

  2. 8 years ago  

    Jamie Pignatelli

    As I have told you a million times, you are a rock star! I loved hearing about this project as it was happening, and loved it just as much while reading about it here. Keep inspiring Mrs. Kienstra!

    • 8 years ago  

      Mary Kienstra

      Thanks, Jamie! Wait until you see this year’s version! The voting starts the week after spring break and of course, you can follow our progress on Twitter and on my blog. I look forward to collaborating with you again soon.

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