Conversation with the author

THis is partially cross-posted from my English class blog,     with the addition of what happened since the post was written.

I’m teaching collaboratively in a year 7 English class. Since we’re studying Allan Baillie’s Little Brother, I thought I’d muster up enough courage to email the author himself, in the hope that he’d join our ning and interact with the students. What better way to create an authentic learning situation?

Well, guess what!? Allan Baillie has joined! He is part of our ning! I tell you, a day that moves like any other day, when frustration mounts, as it has a habit of doing – receiving an email reply from the renowned Australian author himself really turned things around for Maria and me. We were so thrilled!

Not so thrilled were we when we couldn’t find a trace of any such excitement on the boys’ faces. What? Are you kidding? Here we are organising the author himself for your information and enjoyment, and you can’t even stretch your face into a half-smile? What’s going on? Besides typical adolescent disengagement with anything that isn’t a game or related to free time or sport or TV.

Still, today was productive. A few days ago, Maria prepared the boys for questions by developing what would have been for any other class (I’m sure) a rich discussion leading to rich questions. Only it was like squeezing water from a stone. Seriously. And yet, these boys are never as predictable as we think they are, and today they happily entered their questions into the ning, demonstrating thoughtful and responsible online behaviour. We were proud, and we told them so.

I think for us, as teachers, it’s a lesson about the fact that the boys will never be as excited or appreciative as we are. How can we expect them to be? And I think, as we look into the ning activity, we can see that so much has happened – not even looking at the invisible activity which goes on in the background in the form of brainstorming, discussion, etc. – and in the end the ning is a transparent receptacle of this development and these breakthroughs.

Well, last night, I received an email notification to say that Allan Baillie had answered one of the students’ questions. Then another, and another, and soon most of the boys had received a reply to their question. I was so pleased! I think the boys should be too.

It’s very special that our boys are receiving individual answers to their questions. Here is an example:

Dear Mr Baillie,
I have read the book, Little Brother and I really liked the book. When I read it I felt like I was in Cambodia! I have one question, how did you feel when you were in Cambodia at the time of the Khmer Rouge?

Allan’s response:

I was Cambodia in 1969 and I visited some Frenchmen running a rubber plantation.
They slapped a revolver in my hand and took me on a night hunt in the plantation. They warned me about careless shooting because we were going into an area controlled by a few bandits. Harmless, they said, and charming. The bandits were just sick and tired of the corruption of the government. Called themselves Khmer Rouge. We stopped and I shot four coconuts.

I hope that this little exercise will be a lightbulb learning moment for the boys. We’ve been discussion the thinking behind the writing and creation of characters, and now that they’ve had a conversation with the author himself, I hope they’ll understand the power of the story, and the man behind the story.


Filed under 21st century learning, author, learning, network literacy, networking, teaching, Web 2.0

2 responses to “Conversation with the author

  1. scmorgan

    Excellent, Tania! What a great experience for the boys. You’ve inspired me to try something similar with my 8th graders this year. I’ve decided to use a ning, too, and have the parents sign them students on if they are under 13. What a wonderful opportunity to meet a practicing author.

  2. Good luck with that, Susan. After a slow start, we’re finding the ning is great. Now that the boys are confident in getting in and finding their place, it’s good to slot in as a shorter 20 minute activity, especially the discussion, if we don’t want to spend all lesson on it. One thing leads to another. Since the boys needed photos of Cambodia for their Little Brother assignment, I decided to put up my Flickr lesson on the ning. I think from now on it will just grow organically. All the best, and will you be documenting your progress on your blog?

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