Interacting with experts is not something our students get to do every day, but an especially keen, risk-taking teacher that I work with showed me that it isn't that difficult any more. In Mrs. Caskie's IB Language and Lit class, the students have been reading Stuart, by Alexander Masters....and then asking questions of the author.
Mrs. Caskie stumbled across Masters' blog and, on a whim, asked if it was "okay" for students to write him and ask questions. Then she asked her students to think about what they would want to ask the author as they read the book. This was a theme that she kept repeating until she finally said, "then let's ask him - he's got a blog." So they did. And Masters has been responding to the questions one by one making this learning opportunity particularly personalized.
Mrs. Caskie is excited about how this interaction with the author might serve as a springboard for some creative written or oral tasks. Some of the student generated ideas are:
- a transcript of a "lost tape" of Stuart's
- putting Masters on trial for exploiting the homeless/disabled person with students writing the court transcript,
- a missing chapter - perhaps of when Stuart was young and happy
- a comparison piece with Masters and Orwell meeting up and discussing identity, culture and the idea of moving.
As with most authentic tasks, the students have been engaged and motivated. My own learning is not something new, but a reminder of just how powerful technology is - it can connect us with professionals. In the case of these students, technology has given them the opportunity to include a professional author in their Personal Learning Network. We should sieze the opportunity to make this happen for more students; apparently all you have to do is ask.
If you've read Stuart, you may want to check out Masters' latest book: The Genius in My Basement