Sunday, March 19, 2017

Author Visit: Elly Swartz

I had the great fortune of hosting author Elly Swartz at my school last week.
Finding Perfect was our class read aloud through the winter months, and my fifth graders responded strongly to Elly's characters and their stories. They were curious and interested in Molly's anxiety and exhibited a genuine desire to understand her internal conflict, even if different from their own struggles. The students were tickled to hear that Elly would be visiting to talk with them about a book they had grown to love.

Over the last year or so, I have also been lucky to have several conversations with Elly related to writing process and identity. Familiar with Elly's transparency and candor while being relentlessly inspiring and encouraging in her conversations about writing, I knew the students' writing lives would be enriched by the opportunity to talk with her personally.
The result was a completely full and especially joyful day for all readers and writers involved.

While visiting Oxford Elementary, Elly addressed my two fifth grade classes separately and presented a large group session with the three sixth grade classes combined. With each group, she invited any and all student questions, addressing everything from what happened to characters beyond the last page to writing quirks that are part of her process. Students' faces radiated with engagement. The dynamic was instantly comfortable, and my students could easily read that Elly was genuine in her interest and respect for what they had to say.
A look over one student's shoulder during
the Unfolding Identity Project.

Elly shared the Unfolding Identity Project with readers as part of her presentations. In keeping with the themes of Finding Perfect, Elly encouraged the students to look at the many layers of their identity and to consider what lies below the surface of those around them, too. As a teacher, I enjoyed listening to the students support one another in generating descriptors for themselves. There were so many opportunities for affirmation embedded in this activity.

Finding space for celebration as a more frequent part of the writing journey has become a specific focus for me and my writing workshop and was a direct outcome of my conversations with Elly. All year long, I have embedded more opportunities to scaffold students in recognizing smaller successes in our writing processes. During her time with my students, Elly followed up on this big idea of celebration, asking students to share one celebration about themselves as a writer so far this year, and every student shared a celebration.

Elly Swartz gave my students an up-close and personal experience in her visit to Oxford Elementary. The students loved everything about Elly's visit: the stories she shared about her personal writing journey, the picture book she brought that she had loved reading with her own children, the "secrets" about revising Finding Perfect and allusions to her forthcoming book, Smart Cookie (Scholastic, 2018). But also, they loved Elly--a writer among writers, a reader among readers. Through her authentic conversation about reading and writing and the care she showed for my students on this one day, Elly became part of our literacy community.