Author study: William Joyce

This one got buried in my drafts folder and I’m pulling it out to share since it was such a happy bit of “this never happens” that happened for my students when I stuck my neck out and made a “the worst thing that can happen is he says no” request of a writer I have long admired. 
Our author visit with William Joyce came about quite by accident. I wish I could say I planned it.

As I often do with students, I watched a wordless short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore, as a vocabulary building activity. We shook loose juicy vocabulary in a PWIM-type activity.

The following week I was at a dental appointment and had an extra minute after getting a gleaming smile but before I had to pick up the darling children, so I swung into Chapters where Ollie’s Odyssey jumped off the shelves and into my hands. I read it myself and adored it and decided to share some of it with students as a book sell.

That night I tweeted to William Joyce that I was  loving his book and would he be interested in Skyping with my class. To my enormous surprise, he said yes!

Prepping students for the meeting was a wonderful experience in pushing them to ask more open questions as we sought to ask questions that would make him talk more. “We don’t want him to just answer yes or no! That’s boring!”

Other books we read included:

The Mischevians

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore

Billy’s Booger

The Numberlys

The Guardians of Childhood

Thanks to my amazing team of teachers the Skype chat was an enormous success! Would you believe I had a tooth extracted days before the visit and my face swelled to the size of a pumpkin… so I missed it! But my students were incredibly excited to share when I got back.

This goes to show for me what a powerful experience digital tools can help create for our learners when we bust the “silos” of solo classrooms!

The “Studio”

I began working with puppets in the primary classroom many years ago when I first attended a workshop on francisation and how to encourage the use of French among children who were born of Francophone parents but who’s families no longer used French at home. Paul et Suzanne were introduced to me! Two simple puppets who I used in the classroom all the time to demonstrate a back-and-forth conversation. My students at the time really connected with our “special guests” who often expressed happiness or disappointment, depending on my needs 🙂

Fast forward a few years…

I have been slowly integrating puppets back into my grade one classroom. My school has had a focus on Lister’s approach to intensive French and I was looking for a way to model a conversation for my students. After modelling, my puppet would travel the classroom.

I asked the first student: qu’est-ce que tu as mangé ce matin?

Student: j’ai mangé une pomme.

Puppet: ah! Tu as mangé une pomme?

Student: oui! J’aime les pommes! Et toi? Qu’est-ce que tu as mangé?

Puppet: j’ai mangé trios carottes!

Student: ah! Tu as mangé trois carottes!

Puppet: oui! J’aime les carottes!

The conversation took a couple of weeks to build using the intensive French model, but in the end my students were able to have a fairly organic conversation. I think it’s still a work in progress, but I’m excited to see where it goes.

Following this, we opened a “production studio” in a corner of our classroom. It required three people on a team: two puppet masters and a director to work the camera (we just used photo booth). In the video you can hear me coaching a bit, but following this, I left the studio open during literacy centres and listened in on their conversations. Pretty exciting to hear and I had a hard time keeping kids out of the studio when I wanted them to sit back down!

Our current plan is to leave the studio open and share the results during a school assembly.

A technical note: I found that the classroom has to be quite quiet to make it work so that we can hear the dialogue. We might try opening the centre during reading time and using a couple of mics. My class generally reads silently for 10 minutes after lunch while I work on guided reading with a small group. I don’t see why I couldn’t also have a small group working in the studio at the same time.