Friday, June 1, 2018

Author Visit: Loree Griffin Burns

The truth is this: I have only ever had incredibly powerful and positive author visits at Oxford Elementary School, and I'm happy to talk about any of them. If you are lucky enough to host authors at your school, you probably already know that every visit--no matter how similarly structured--is ultimately it's own unique experience for the students and school community. We recently had another really wonderful visit I want to share:
Hosting Loree Griffin Burns for a two-day author visit last week was truly a pleasure.

Over the two days, Loree's presentations spanned all six of her books, and all of our students (preK through 6th grade) had the opportunity to interact with Loree in those classroom presentations. On the first day, our fifth graders virtually visited the relatively young, volcanic island of Surtsey. The sixth graders took a look at ocean movement and trash pollution, and the third and fourth graders learned about the dangers imposed by invasive species like the Asian long-horned beetle. On the second day, PreK, kindergarten, and first grade classes learned about the life cycle of a butterfly and about Loree's research experience at a butterfly farm in Costa Rica. With our second and third grade students, Loree dispelled scary stories about bees and spoke about why bees are so important. In every single session, Loree's presentation, style, and facilitation of student question and answer was seamless and perfectly suited to her wide-ranging audiences.
One part of our visit with Loree that set this author visit apart from others was the Citizen Science Night we sandwiched in the evening between her two-day visit. All of our students and their families were invited to Roberts Farm Preserve, a local preserve with gardens and greenhouses, miles of hiking trails, and indoor/outdoor classroom spaces that often hosts classes or grade-levels in our district for outdoor experiential learning opportunities. We had an amazing turn out for a gorgeous spring night during baseball/softball season! In addition to a brief presentation by Loree about citizen science and ideas for projects families can take part in together, students and their families rotated through three additional stations. Loree led families on a search for insects with techniques and tools for finding insects to observe. A parent
volunteer organized a station about tree identification and talked about watching for invasive species. A STEM teacher led a third rotation about using observation skills--especially your senses--to notice the outdoors, and students and their guests began composing haiku. It was beautiful, not just in terms of the weather, but to see the engagement and involvement of students and their families! Citizen Science Night was a solid example of Loree's willingness to work with us to personalize her visit experience to best achieve our goals for bringing her to our school community.

Another way that this author visit with Loree Griffin Burns was special was due to Loree's participation with Authors for Earth Day. (For more information about Authors for Earth Day you can visit their site, Loree's recent blog post about A4ED from her perspective, or my recent blog post about what our partnership looked like from inside the classroom.) By design, Loree's two-day visit was the culmination of four weeks of research, opinion writing, and persuasive speeches by our fifth graders who were tasked with educating the students of OES about three conservation organizations that are dear to Loree, her research, and her books. At the end of every presentation, fifth grade helpers assisted in conducting the school-wide vote in which every student, kindergarten through sixth grade, had a chance to vote for one organization to receive a generous $1,000 donation from Loree. Each team of fifth graders would come back from a presentation with a stack of ballots for me, and I counted along the way to keep the count manageable. I can honestly tell you that the race was close...the whole way. However, at the end of Loree's second day, she met more informally with the fifth graders who had done so much work and announced that the final winner was Maine Audubon. While all three organization were worthy recipients, Loree told the fifth graders she was glad that the donation would support an organization in Maine where they are living, playing, and growing.
With Loree's help and through her visit, we have been able to provide our entire school community with an author visit they will never forget.
  • My students feel like they have made a new writer-friend. They were quick in their comments to note how easily they could talk with Loree and how they were not intimidated by her credentials as an award-winning, published author. 
  • Students made many mentions related to how Loree made them feel: respected, valued, empowered. She was absolutely all-in with every age group, giving every student with whom she spoke her full attention. 
  • Loree's interactions with students, especially in inviting and fielding their questions inside of her presentations, honored her aim to instill and promote a sense of wonder in students.
  • They are motivated and tuned into the needs of the earth more than ever before, and they believe their voice can do something about those needs.
  • They are inspired, and they have shared new aspirations for writing or for travel or both. They see new possibilities and realize they can think outside their every day because now they know someone who has done (does) just that.
The bottom line? Students at OES love Loree Griffin Burns and would be ready to have her back next week or next year. But, since she just visited us and more students in more places should have the same great opportunity, they'd also probably say you should invite her to visit you.