The Perfect Skype Visit


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Lana Button, author of Willow’s Whispers, Willow Finds a Way and Willow’s Smile, challenged me to write about the perfect Skype class visit.

The biggest problem, I find, is that I don’t know how the visit goes. Because of the location of the webcam at the top of my screen,  I cannot make eye contact with the students. Each time I really look at them, it will appear to the students as though I am looking down. They will see my closed eyelids.

I put a little pink post end note near the round camera hole so my eyes know where to fix–not on the little image of myself in the corner talking which is kind of hypnotizing I must say.

To check how I would look to them, I used photo booth (which is also how I took the above picture) and rearranged things for the best lighting. The natural inclination would be to face away from my office window, but that turns me into a dark silhouette. Instead I faced the window and raised my laptop, and hence the camera, with a box.

Debbi Ohi, author/illustator of Where are my Books  spoke on how to Skype at the December 14th CANSCAIP meeting. She suggested taking advantage of all the things you could show the kids which you couldn’t ordinarily if you travelled. Mind you I don’t have sky high paintings. But I always like to show off my dog for that all important universal “AWWWWWW!”

That’s the student reaction I was able to hear.

Mortie acted as model for my Ping character in The Best Mistake Mystery so he became a prop to demonstrate the importance of using real things from your life to create surprise and recognition in a story.

Of course my students are writing about space ships and their characters are cars. The teacher let me know that in advance. The morning of, actually. (Any  advance dialogue and testing can be hugely beneficial) Their teacher wanted to tie in a lot of curriculum and the class will be making derby cars in the spring.

Because I did not want to clean what a newspaper reporter once described as my “daringly disheveled” office  I resisted the urge to show the students my entire workspace. Again that photo booth shot, see above, gave me a clear vision of what they would see.

I used a microphone and headset because I Skype workshop with other writers and that works best with them.  I also listened to my own audio via the Skype tester.  I sounded great.

During the 50 minute visit, my sound cut out on the school three times. We hung up, I called back twice. Once they called me.  My husband says we could pay for an upgraded Internet package to get better bandwidth. Something I would explore if Skype visits became more popular.

Because I could not feel their energy returned to me, I tried to be over the top with my own energy and enthusiasm. Theatrical, really.  Debbi Ohi is the kind of bubbly person who can carry this off well. I would say quieter authors need to steer away from Skyping or they will come across flat.

For the dog, I kept some treats at my side in case he became restless. I didn’t need them and once I finished talking about how we came up with his name, a little about his problems and how they fed the character and the arc, I put him down on his bed in his favourite spot–my treadmill. ZZZZZZZZ.

a-lucky-authorThe students were writing picture books so I showed them one of my favourites, aptly titled A Lucky Author Has a Dog. It tells the story about how one children’s authors works and how her dog “helps”. On the last page, after a school visit, the adult author magically transforms into a little girl with a stuffed dog, writing on her bed. I told them how a picture book should surprise like that at the end. How I felt that ending really spoke to how we all CAN write and the process can be different or the same.

Because I was nervous about the sound and what the students took in, a day after the Skype, I emailed the teacher some notes on what we discussed during our visit. I think that’s a nice thing to do in a regular school visit too but often I don’t take the time because who has any, really.

She responded today about how she used them to recap the session. She also said she can see the students applying what I said in their writing already. “What an extremely valuable experience for them!”

The perfect Skype visit?

Close enough.

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