Well-planned author visits can boost literacy across the school
One of the most successful methods of promoting reading for pleasure among students is to host a visiting author. Thankfully, such events are becoming easier to arrange with the help of forward-thinking independent bookstores and booksellers, many of which have the connections to enable schools to source top-quality authors free of charge. But are author visits worth all the hours of preparation required to make them a success? Below are some of the pros and cons.
Authors are real people. Good authors will entertain your students for an hour and motivate them to read something, even if it is just the book they have come to promote. The very best authors will go one step further by spending some time talking about how they started writing. Although their stories are often unremarkable - either they have written since they were a child or they were bored in their day job - they use them to demystify the creative process and to introduce young people to the idea that a career in writing is not only open to them, but also achievable.
Inspectors love you. Over the past few years, the promotion of reading for pleasure has been a hot topic for schools inspectorate Ofsted, and an author visit will very likely tick all the boxes on its most recent literacy-related decree. Author visits can (jargon alert) strengthen your whole-school literacy culture and have a positive impact on all pupils, including reluctant readers and those with special educational needs, by engaging them in a world beyond the classroom and opening their eyes to new genres.
Teachers love you. Who doesn't appreciate a free period every so often?
Perils to avoid
Authors are real people. Unfortunately, just because authors can write fantastic fiction for young people, it doesn't necessarily mean they can deliver an interesting and engaging presentation in person. Be sure to do your research and choose authors well. The price of not doing so is that you will put your students off books faster than you can say "reluctant reader".
Publishers hate you. If you are lucky enough to have an author visit your school for free, it is usually as part of a promotional tour. Be prepared for requests that will seem ridiculous to you but are entirely reasonable from the publisher's perspective. Publicists want every hour to count, so you will probably be asked to ensure large audiences of 250-400, including students from two or three different year groups and students from other schools. "Oh," they will say, "and can you guarantee that you'll sell at least 100 books?" Take a deep breath and try to accommodate their demands. You may find that this gets you first dibs on dates for the author's next big promotional tour.
Teachers hate you. The whole thing can be seen as yet another interruption, leaving your colleagues despairing, "Will I ever get the chance to teach 8e before the end of this academic year?"
But all in all, my experience has shown me that a little research and a lot of charm can make an author visit one of the most enriching experiences of the school year.
Niki Davison teaches English and drama at Parmiter's School in Watford, Hertfordshire
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