Bath, ME (May 3, 2021) - Although it’s easy to name the ways COVID-19 has kept us apart, advances in virtual communication have actually helped some RSU1 classrooms make connections. Schools like Dike-Newell and Phippsburg Elementary Schools (DNS and PES) have used the opportunity to invite authors from near and far into their classrooms.
Thanks to the efforts of Sheryl Ritchie and the Bath Elementary PTA, classrooms were recently visited by Vermont author Kate Messner and given a copy of Messner’s Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. Danielle Lizotte’s kindergarten class at DNS prepared for her presentation by writing their own story, How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.
“When they finished their first draft, I brought in the ingredients to make the sandwich to see how we did,” said Lizotte. “I followed their directions exactly, which meant if we wrote ‘spread the jelly on the bread’ but I hadn’t removed it from the packaging yet, I spread the jelly right on top. The students were highly engaged in this lesson and shouted out the next step to correct me right away. After the lesson, we all agreed that our writing needed more work to be clear for our reader. Students then wrote their own versions, and we spent several weeks writing, rereading, and editing.”
During Messner’s virtual visit, students learned that it usually takes her 1.5 to 2 years to finish a single book. Between their own exercise and hearing from Messner, Lizotte thinks her “students not only gained a greater appreciation for (Messner’s) books but motivation to keep writing for their audience.”
“Messner did a wonderful job connecting each step of the writing process (collecting ideas, drafting, editing and publishing) at a level our young learners could understand and relate to. I think having a visit with an author makes the idea of writing more concrete for young writers as they can go back to their writing and personally use some of the tools and strategies the author shared.”
PES teacher Sandi Brann’s class also participated in the Kate Messner virtual visit. Brann, who is currently working to become a certified librarian, said she has always had a “huge passion” for reading. In total, she has organized virtual visits with 11 different authors this year.
“I wanted to make this year as positive as I could for my kids,” she said. “Instead of focusing on all of the ways COVID-19 upended our world, I wanted to focus on things we could do.”
Guests included Dan Gemenhart, author of her class’s favorite read aloud story, The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, Christina Soonternvat and Lauren Castillo, author and illustrator of The Ramble, Shamble Children, and Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series.
“Another huge hit was Jarrett Lerner, who talked about his latest activity book, Give This Book a Title. The kids are begging me to invite him back,” Brann added.
On May 20, her class will meet Ann Braden for a 20-minute Q&A about her newest middle grade novel, Flight of the Puffin, which comes out on May 4. Every week since April 19, Braden has released a new recording of herself reading the book aloud and provided classroom activity starters and discussion questions. As their engagement builds, Brann thinks her students are just as excited for Braden’s virtual visit as she is.
“I hope these visits help light a spark in my students in regard to reading and writing,” said Brann. “This year, some of my students have gone from sitting at their desk, just staring at their pencil, to writing pages and pages of material. It’s so fun to see them bloom.”