Blurring the Lines Between Author and Audience

When I first started teaching, I typed my students’ stories on an Apple IIE computer and printed them on a dot-matrix printer. I used the book-binding machine in the office to make books for our classroom library. We wrote letters to authors and delighted in their return replies. We had young authors’ days, where parents came in and read to us, and we to them (from our very own writings.) I talked to my students about my favorite authors and poets, and some of my students made my short lists. My goal was always to tell my students, in as many ways as possible, that they were writers.

These were a few ways I tried to blur the lines between authors and student writers, professionally-published books and pieces my students and I wrote. I wanted my students to not just learn English, but to know they were writers.

Fast forward (and it was fast) twenty-five years, and there are myriad ways to accomplish the goal of having my students know they are writers. I still do some of the things above. Except, now we write more blog posts and less hard-copy books in our classroom library. Instead of sending letters on chart paper to authors, we tweet them and share links to blog posts we write about them.

In the 21st century, however, there are clearly brand new ways to blur the line between teachers and students, authors and readers, producers and consumers, professionals and amateurs. As a result of social learning and the Internet, here are some of the new things we’re trying and the sweet results.


NaNoWriMo for young writers was a delightful find. (More about it here.) Eighth grade students in November come to English class and know just what to do. They write novels. Right now, they are furiously trying to reach their word-count goals by November 30.

Usually all I hear in the classroom that period of the day is light clicking on the keyboard and a tiny bit of music coming from the earbuds of some students. (Writing fiction is the perfect time to listen to music!)

However, a couple Fridays ago, the students seemed restless and talkative. Usually they are fully engaged in writing — anxious to reach their goal. However, this time they were chatting away, but strangely novel-related. I stopped for a bit to listen to the following charming conversation.

“My character has been kidnapped, and I don’t know how to get her saved,” someone said.

“I have a kidnapped character too.”

“Hey, me too.”

“What’s going on? Do we all have kidnappings in our novels?”

I was ecstatic. There were more conversations going on, as well — pockets of authors talking about their craft, not about the coming weekend. They were talking about plots and characters and other novelly-type delights. — It reminded me of the write-ins I go to with a group of adult NaNoWriMo writers. We are all writers.

21st Century Readers

I teach English, which includes both reading and writing for the junior highers. We are not reading group novels, but each student is making reading choices ala Donalyn Miller (the Book Whisperer) and Nancie Atwell. We are keeping track of our readings, but we’re not keeping long reading logs with summaries and responses like we used to. We no longer take A.R. tests.

Now we share books with friends just like real life. We encourage each other to find books we love, so we can make progress toward the 40-book challenge. Some students keep track on GoodReads, and some prefer to write a list in their English handbook. Some listen to audio books. Some read on Nooks and Kindles. Every opportunity to shape learners into life-long readers does not go unexplored.

Connected Authors

The most interesting way that the line has been blurred is through online connections and interactions with “real” authors. These connections have certainly made me feel more like an author. When we connect with them online, somehow authors seem more like us.

Kenneth C. Davis
From a summertime tweet by Don’t Know Much About series author, Kenneth C. Davis, I set up a Skype session for my history class, and my class and Mr. Davis followed each other on Twitter. It reminded me of the Cisco “Welcome to the Human Network” commercial: ”…where the team [author] you follow, now follows you.”

R.J. Palacio
Author of Wonder, the wonderful and wildly popular book, which is on the fast track to becoming an anti-bullying classic. R.J. took part in a Good Reads book club. Funny, the concept is still so new to me that when I left the following comment, I really didn’t expect her to answer back. (Welcome to the Human Network! Remember, Denise?)

Kate Messner
The #TeachersWrite Summer Writing Camp, hosted by Kate, was an amazing experience.  We were a group that included professionally-published authors, wannabe authors, and teachers just wanting to be better ‘writing’ teachers. The lines were blurred and we were all members of the same club.

Joanne Levy
Joanne was a member of the #TeachersWrite Summer Writing Camp. She donated a copy of her book Small Medium at Large for a door prize. I just happened to be the winner. I was so excited to receive the autographed copy with a large set of book marks.

Later when I saw Kate’s and Joanne’s books sitting side-by-side on the shelf in our public library, I couldn’t help but think I was looking at books written by my friends.

Sharon Creech
All authors don’t respond back personally. However, even when they don’t, connected authors like Sharon Creech share a new side of themselves and add to their body of work on blogs and through tweeting. Authors’ work is no longer limited to the hard- and paperback books found in the library and book stores.

Those are just four authors that I’ve met on Twitter. Thank you to Joy Kirr for this whole list of other authors on Twitter you can connect with.

What a joy to be a teacher, learner and writer in the 21st century!

What are more ways you see the line blurred between professional and student writers?

“Last Page, Lost Friend” Reading Quotes & The Reading Zone

Great Writers on Reading

“When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, it seems to me to be alive and talking to me. Sometimes I read a book with pleasure, and detest the author. It is easy enough for a man to walk who has a horse at his command. The invalid is not to be pitied who has a cure up his sleeve. And such is the advantage I receive from books.

“They relieve me from idleness, rescue me from company I dislike, and blunt the edge of my grief, it if is not too extreme. They are the comfort and solitude of my old age. When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as the running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind. And they don’t rebel because I use them only for lack of partimes more natural and alive. They always receive me with welcome.” ~Montaigne

“Let me read with method, and purpose to ourselves an end to what our studies may point. The use of reading is to aid us in thinking.” ~Edward Gibbon

“Books are to be called for and supplied on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep; but in the highest sense an exercise, a gymnastic struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself.” ~Walt Whitman

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. The book exists for us perchance which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered. These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them according to his ability, by his word, by his life.” ~Henry David Thoreau

“Book love, my friends, is your pass to the greatest, the purest, and the most perfect pleasure that God has prepared for His creatures. It lasts when all other pleasures fade. It will support you when all other recreations are gone. It will last you until your death. It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live.” ~Anthony Trollope

I found all the above quotes on the back of a book copyrighted in 1959, To Appomattox: Nine April Days. There was no information about the book at hand, just inspiring reading quotes from great writers.

In addition, I’ve been reading Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readersand I keep running across quotes I want to remember:

The goal is “to read for pleasure, but not for idleness; for pastime but not to kill time; to seek, and find, delight and enlargement of life in books.” ~Robertson Davies

In reading workshop, the delights are intrinsic, always: This week I got to experience a whole world with characters I loved; inside me I traveled, wondered, worried, laughed, cried, raged, triumphed. The passions aroused by stories and characters are the prize~Nancie Atwell

Frequent, voluminous, happy experiences with books — preferably in a room that’s filled with good ones and in the company of a teacher who knows how to invite and sustain a love of stories — are the way to teach and learn reading for a lifetime. ~Nancie Atwell

“The vicarious experience of reading can shape our essence, change us, just as firsthand experience can.”  ~Sydney Jourard

The Reader’s Bill of Rights

  1. The right not to read something
  2. The right to skip pages
  3. The right not to finish
  4. The right to reread
  5. The right to read anything
  6. The right to escapism
  7. The right to read anywhere
  8. The right to browse
  9. The right to read out loud
  10. The right to not defend your tastes

~Daniel Pennac

This afternoon I decided to claim my rights as a reader and I did a little skipping and browsing of the rest of The Reading Zone. I was disappointed in Chapter 5 on Comprehension. She argued against what’s been written on reading comprehension since Pearson’s research in 1985. That would include some of my favorite writers — who write primarily about using the comprehension strategies good readers use — Ellin Keene, Susan Zimmerman, Cris Tovani, and Stephanie Harvey. The strategies from Mosaic of Thought have made it into the Iowa Core–one of just two additions Iowa added to the Common Core Standards.

Nancie talked about connections with self, text, and world mostly in the negative sense, about the “irrelevant bumps” that come in to disturb the reading zone. Certainly there are some of those, but good readers know when their understanding breaks down, and they have fix-up strategies for getting back in the zone.

It’s true that strategy instruction is only important for a certain population of readers–the ones with decoding skills but aren’t using comprehension strategies. Proficient readers don’t need to be taught the skills because they already have them. That’s why her students rebelled at the sticky notes she required them all to write.

Overall, however, I gleaned many good ideas from The Reading Zone. I’m going to make some fairly radical changes in my language arts curriculum next year. More choice. Less quizzes, tests, and book projects. More reading homework and accountability. I believe my classes will be more relevant and rigorous than they’ve been in the past. Atwell’s book has some great resources–a list of openers to help students write their letter/essays in response to books, a list of questions to ask students during individual conferences, and a great two-page reading survey for the first day. This was a book worth the read/browse.

I’ll report back next year about how it’s going!