[NOTE: This explanation is a follow-up to my March 2013 post...just a bit belated in publishing.]
Our Naperville Reads 2013: Choose Kind pledge video was an instant hit with the students, parents, and the author! I worked with the host committee to have the video running in the background of the theater when we arrived. Personally, I wanted the students to have the reward of seeing themselves and the impact of their words. I had hoped this would drive home the message of the Choose Kind movement and at the same time solidify the pledge they visualized instead of wrote.
What I didn’t expect was the author’s reaction. Ms. Palacio called me up on stage in order to thank me for our work. After sharing the vision and discussing the beauty of each individual student’s pledge, she blindsided me. ”Can I have it?” she asked. Unfortunately, my reply was a simple and blunt, “Uh…no.”
A quick picture of R.J. & I when we debuted the Choose Kind video pledge in early February.
For that very, uncomfortable moment, I would like to reflect on just how this video came to be and help others to prepare for amazing circumstances just like this!
Prepare the Audience
Whenever an author visits our school or a grade level is selected to travel to Naperville Reads, I do my best to prepare our students, teachers, and community. I do extensive online research to find out about the author and/or illustrator so our students can identify with their life and work. R.J. did not have a ton of information due to this being her debut novel, but our district put together a solid PowerPoint of information, multimedia, and other digital resources.
Screen shot of the presentation I gave to 5th graders to prepare them for Ms. Palacio’s visit.
How Can We Make the Author Feel Special?
My final two slides for any author prep ask: 1) what informed questions can you ask an author/illustrator that will help you in your writing; & 2) how can we say thank you? Our district could be one of the luckiest out there to collaborate with Anderson’s Bookshop, which often provides us with invaluable author visits throughout our school year. As a thank you to the company and the visiting author, I always ask the students how we can give back and make the authors feel special.
I brainstorm a few ideas myself, but I often leave this up to the students and they come up with great ideas! (e.g., Sharon Creech – book of recipes for Granny Torrelli Makes Soup; Mike Lupica – autographed football for The Underdogs, etc.) We don’t often have a ton of time to prepare for an author visit, but if we do (as in the case of Andrew Clements) students have performed scenes from an author’s work which we show as an introduction for the visit. The feedback from the authors, publishers, and Anderson’s has been nothing short of amazing and is a major reason we continue to host authors every year.
Set-Up Photo Studio
While the author thank you idea for R.J. Palacio did start with me, I could not have done it without the combined support of the students, staff, & parents. Based off my limited knowledge of photography, I set-up a make shift studio. My wife purchased a few yards of muslin which I propped up in front of my custodian’s work lamps to diffuse the light. I watched YouTube videos about three point lighting to help me position the lamps and counted on the overhead fluorescence to count as my third. I picked up a king size, black flat sheet for $15 at the local discount department store and hung it on the existing projector screen using black butterfly clips.
Attempt at three point lighting in our computer lab area.
Coordinate the Sessions
Once the setting was prepared, I corralled fifteen dry erase boards and markers. These were delivered to the classrooms an hour or so before students were to arrive in our library for the photo shoot. Teacher rotated three to five students down with their signs and the students had predetermined their poses.
Student demonstrates writing their #choosekind message for the photo.
I had our school’s permissions/denial list at the ready and had prepared many students ahead of time if they couldn’t be in the picture. A cooperating teacher came up with the simple idea of placing the board in front of one’s face if they did not have permission. We found the abundance of preparation to be very efficient in taking the pictures. There were very few retakes. Title and concluding slides were created in PowerPoint and exported as JPEG images. The video was prepared by doing a batch import into iMovie, changing the images to black and white, adding the transitions, and exporting to Vimeo. I found copyright free music on Freeplay Music and tried to keep a serious, piano theme to set the mood.
Probably the easiest reason I informed Ms. Palacio she could not have our work was the strict permissions we have in my district surrounding students’ images/video/names. In retrospect, I should have foreseen the potential for this to become a bigger work and either 1) had everyone do a second picture with their message in front of their faces, or 2) collected public release permission first.
If it weren’t for spring conferences and the cooperating teachers handing out the public permission slip I doubt we would have had the number of participating families. This extra step, however, did create a community buzz and I was approached by many families who thanked me for the work. They were also excited for the final video to be posted so they could share with their friends/family.
I hope this collection of insights help you to create your own Choose Kind video or something of the like. I learned a lot from this experience and will definitely focus more on permissions and social media publishing next time I undertake such a project. At the same time, however, if it weren’t for interest from everyone involved, I don’t know if I would have continued to pursue publishing this publicly. I owe everyone involved a huge thank you!
Retweets and reflections on Beebe’s Choose Kind video project.
The feedback from our school community, the Choose Kind movement, and the author has been nothing short of rewarding. I can see this being a great One School, One Book theme with the culminating video at the end. Hmmm…I think I’ll email them right now.