Branksome Hall News

Virtual Author Visits Create Magic and Engagement

Pandemic learning has its ups and downs, but for Junior School students, a virtual author visit is the equivalent of an interactive television show with a famous personality. This means that for young readers, an author visit is more magical and engaging than one might expect.
“The level of engagement has remained remarkably high,” says Junior School Teacher-Librarian Fatma Faraj, reminding us that for Senior Kindergarten through to Grade 2 students, a visiting author falls into the broad category of “famous person,” and as such is worthy of students’ rapt attention. 
 
Designed to create curricular connections with the Units of Inquiry studied as part of the thematic-based structure of the International Baccalaureate, Grade 1 classes visited with Mariko Uda today to discuss how water works in Toronto. Of course, in pre-submitted questions for the ‘Water and Water Cycles’ unit, young minds wanted to know, primarily, where all of a certain kind of human waste ends up, says Faraj. A civil engineer who lectures to university students, Uda is talking to six-year-olds for the first time, she says.
 
Although Faraj typically programs authors through relationships with publishers and related book tours, that approach was reconfigured this year.  
 
“Teacher-librarians generally have a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world,” says Faraj. “I’m always cognizant of thinking about who are the best guests to share stories and materials about [trending] conversations.”
 
As such, when it was time during Black History Month in February for the Grade 2 Unit of Inquiry Where we are in place and time, Toronto author and teacher Nadia Hohn came February 26 to discuss her book, Malaika's Costume.
 
“These books are about a young Jamaican girl who is involved in celebrations,” says Faraj. “All of a sudden the conversation was about more than Black History Month. We talked about costumes and music and the geography of Jamaica. We were sharing the author’s story and her character’s story and our students’ stories. We had an hour of everything.”
 
Likewise, SK to Grade 2 students recently enjoyed Pakistani-American author Saadia Faruqi’s visit, creator of an early reader chapter-book series featuring feisty Grade 2 student Yasmin, who lives with her multi-generational Pakistani-American family and has wonderful relationships with her parents and grandparents.
 
The catalyst was that U.S.-based Faruqi was offering free virtual visits, but students enjoyed the opportunity to discuss everything from writing to language learning. 
 
“With the emphasis on a diversity of authors, students are making such great connections, such as: ‘I speak that language,’ or ‘I call my grandmother that too,’” says Faraj. “The love of literacy has shone through this year and the students are so engaged, even virtually.”
 
One of the final  author visits of the year is May 3, with returning local writer and illustrator Ruth Ohi, to speak with JK students about the book writing process.
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