Growing up, authors were comparable to super heroes. They had the power to transform words into magical journeys and bring me along for the trip. I had a long list of favourite authors, however the idea that I could reach out and talk to one or have one acknowledge me in any way was beyond the realm of possibility at the time. Connection through the use of social media has forever changed this dynamic and this week’s events in my classroom will forever hold a special place in my heart and in the memories of my students.
I received a tweet from educators Catherine D and Kelli Holden asking if I wanted to join their classes in watching a webcast of popular authors Jeff Kiney – Diary Of A Wimpy Kid and Dav Pilkey – Adventures of Captain Underpants. The event was being hosted by Scholastic and featured these authors discussing the elements of a story, what inspires them to write and details about the writing and illustrating process.The authors would then ‘smash a story’ together which students would have to complete. I immediately replied with a yes! My students are huge fans of these series, so much so that we had started a countdown for the next book release. We decided that a great way to have the kids connect on the webcast was to create a room using TodaysMeet and give students the opportunity to chat with one another while watching the broadcast, as well as have a group of tweeters from each class tweeting out the learning.
We waited in anticipation for the day of the webcast. That morning students were anxious, excited and couldn’t wait until after recess to begin. Once the time had arrived, my students logged in to the room we had created using TodaysMeet and found other students from Edmonton and Spruce Grove, Alberta and Colorado in the US. The introductions began as did their common love and connection to the stories of both of these authors.
As students continued their conversations, I had two of my students become our official tweeters for the event. I would oversee and assist if needed, but it would be their responsibility to watch the webcast and share their learning with the world. They started off a little rocky, not knowing what exactly to tweet but as soon as they saw tweets coming in from other classrooms watching and using the hashtag #storysmashup, their tweets containing their thoughts got stronger. One moment during the webcast, they saw a photo from Kelli Holden’s class Millgrove4H of two of her students tweeting and realized that yes, other grade four students like them were sharing with the world too. The spark was lit and one student began writing tweets on paper, while the other furiously typed them out. It was incredible to watch.
The webcast was phenomenal. The authors touched on the important elements of a story and how they access their creativity when coming up with ideas. They even discussed whether they liked to illustrate digitally or on paper which was a big hit in my room as my students are currently experimenting with digital illustrations for another writing project.
Once the webcast was over, the conversations on TodaysMeet took over. Students were asking each other their thoughts, predictions and also sharing what elements they would add to complete the story. For students in the US, the webcast allowed them to enter a contest where the student-author of the best completed version of the story would win a variety of prizes. We, along with Catherine and Kelli’s classrooms, are in Canada and are therefore ineligible but we didn’t allow that to hinder us. We decided to have each classroom complete their version, post on our respective blogs and have students share their versions. Upon hearing this, my students were even more excited as its one thing to have adults read your work but it’s completely different having peers do so. It allowed us to have discussions about genres and how you can absolutely love a book or story that someone else might not and that is ok. We talked about how authors write to appeal to a certain audience and how best-sellers become so. Writing is not always an easy endeavour and how authors may go through many rejections before publication, but that their love of writing keeps them writing and sharing.
Following the webcast, Scholastic had tweeted that classrooms who tweeted what books, authors or stories they would like to see ‘smashed-up’ next would be entered to win a signed poster from one of the authors in the webcast. My students were on a roll tweeting out their favourite books and authors. This is where the magic of this event really happened in my classroom as they realized the power of their voice.
Students tweeted their #storysmashup ideas and included the authors who were on Twitter in their tweets. This was what happened:
They were jumping up and down in excitement and disbelief! THREE authors had seen, read and reacted to their tweets. I can’t even describe how ecstatic they were.
The following day we received the following from Scholastic:
They were now understanding the power they have and how they had connected to the world. They saw that their friends from Millgrove4H also won a poster and were so happy. They wanted to keep going and began their story drafts. We re-watched the webcast and students drew their version of the character Coco-Puff which Jeff Kiney had created. They drew these and tweeted them:
Within minutes they received yet another direct message from Jeff Kinney:
This time the sheer excitement was just incredible. They were jumping, laughing and giving each other hugs. It was priceless to witness. One of their favourite authors had appreciated their art work and took the time to respond and motivate them to continue. All they wanted to do at this point was write, write and write.
What started out as a tweet led to a wonderful collaborative writing project that assisted students in recognizing their voice and abilities. Thank you to all who helped in making this such a monumental experience for my students.
They reached out to the world and it reached back out to them.