Author Visit: Michael Perry

New York Times bestselling author Michael Perry (Population: 485 – Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time) visited Howe Elementary School today. He spoke with our 4th and 5th graders about his new book for middle level readers, The Scavengers. Perry shared his process for writing, including the research he does prior to starting a book and his methods for revising his manuscripts once a draft is written. The teachers I spoke with thought he gave an excellent presentation. “The students were totally engaged in his stories and insights – you could have heard a pin drop in the cafeteria,” described one teacher.

I had a school administrator meeting, so I was unable to enjoy the presentation. Fortunately, Michael Perry was speaking at our public library the evening prior. This was the main reason he was in town in the first place: McMillan Memorial Library hosted our first ever community book club. It was titled “Rapids Reads” and focused on three of Michael’s books (Population: 485, The Scavengers, and The Jesus Cow) to read. The author visit at the library was the culminating activity.

The assistant director of McMillan Memorial Library, Brian Kopetsky, introduced the program and the author. It was nice to hear the purpose and the expected outcomes of hosting a community read. “We wanted to create a dialogue around a story, and through that dialogue we can come to discover our values.” One of the activities hosted by the library was a youth writing contest. To my pleasant surprise, two Howe students were the winner and the runner up!

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Next up was Michael Perry himself. He started off by sharing that he was very shy by nature and did not naturally enjoy speaking in front of others. Perry’s preferred lifestyle is writing in his second floor office in his farmhouse in Northern Wisconsin. “I will spend multiple days not talking to anyone. This recharges me and allows me to speak to audiences such as writing groups and community programs.”

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Next, the author went into his life as a professional writer (and part time farmer). He specifically spoke about the revision process as something he really enjoys.

I am a polisher. I love to revise and edit my work. For example, I will play what I like to call “desperate literary solitaire”: I will print off my manuscript, cut up the sections into smaller pieces, and then move the pieces around until they make sense to me.

Michael Perry did not attempt to glorify the life of a writer. It is his livelihood. He finds joy in his profession as a writer, yet he does not wait to be inspired.

My muse is Mr. Jim, the bald guy nine miles away sitting at the Chetek State Bank who holds my mortgage.

With regard to generating ideas to write about (Perry also writes a weekly column for the Wisconsin State Journal), he finds the best ones derive from his everyday life.

A lot my stories come from phone calls from my brothers.

As I listened to the various stories he shared about his family and friends, I found that these narratives relied on the language and the dialogue of the characters. Their words revealed who they were. What Michael Perry does, in both his speaking and writing, is to pace the narrative in a way that allows for unique phrases to provide a big pay off.

I wasn’t able to stick around for the entire event – my wife had Zumba. Perry read aloud from some of his work and also shared some personal thoughts on the book that I am reading right now, Population: 485.

It is your classic “Can you go home again?” book. What I can say about this book is that I am very grateful that I was able to write it. I got the opportunity to work on something for two years on a topic that I love – the small town of New Auburn and the volunteer fire fighting department.

This post does not adequately convey Perry’s humor, modesty, and honesty that I witnessed in person. If you can bring Michael in for a community read in your area, or to speak with your students, I highly recommend it. His observations about writing, small town America, family and friends, and what it means to be a part of a community are not to be missed.

 

Three Technologies Every School Leader Needs

This is not hyperbole. As an elementary school principal, each one of these technologies has improved my life, both personally and professionally. Total cost is around $400.

TrackR bravo (Set of five for around $100)

Starting your day without knowing where your wallet or keys are can be frustrating. My family knows this all too well. This is why my wife purchased these coin-sized devices for me. You attached them to your keys via a ring or your wallet with an adhesive pad. Then, connect them individually via Bluetooth with the TrackR app on your smartphone.

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Source: Flickr

The peace of mind in knowing that your valuables are now findable through a TrackR bravo is worth the cost, even if you never have to use it. The company also suggests using their technology with television remotes, a purse, and even pets. In addition, you can “crowdsource” your valuables by making your TrackR bravo’s frequency public. If someone else with the same technology on their smartphone is in close proximity of your lost item, you will be notified via GPS.

Livescribe 3 smartpen ($200, which includes a notebook, sticky notes, ink cartridge refills, and extra stylus tips)

I’ve given up on using an expensive stylus with my iPad to take notes during instructional walks and other observations during school. The battery dies early. The stylus loses it’s connection to the tablet. My writing is not accurately translated onto the screen.

I think I have found the solution in the Livescribe 3 smartpen. What I write on specially designed paper is translated onto the Livescribe+ app on my mobile device. I can also record audio while writing, which is combined with my handwritten notes to create a “pencast”. This multimedia file can be saved in Evernote, emailed, or saved in the app itself.

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I have used this technology many times this school year. For example, when I do a ten minute instructional walk in a classroom, I can put technology to the side and focus more on the teaching and learning happening with only a pen and paper. I feel more present now that I am not trying to make a stylus work or typing on my laptop’s keyboard.

Also, the Livescribe technology has allowed me to conduct interviews for my action research project around literacy engagement. I can have a conversation with students and staff without feeling like I have to write every word they say down. Instead, I will write key words which connects to the audio recorded at the time.

WordPress ($99 for a premium subscription)

You didn’t lose anything important and you documented some excellent learning experiences during your classroom visits. So how do you celebrate? I recommend writing about it.

WordPress is the best blogging platform out there. I don’t know of any educators who started using this tool and then decided to try Blogger or Tumblr for writing and reflecting online. WordPress’s advantages include an easy setup process and writing experience, many design themes to choose from, and lots of options to personalize your site.

While you can use WordPress for free, I do suggest the premium option. First, you can create your own domain, such as “readingbyexample.com” instead of “readingbyexample.wordpress.com” (my first URL). Second, multimedia is a lot easier to embed within your posts through tools such as Video Press. See the following video of me shamelessly plugging my new book as an example.

No more embedding HTML codes from YouTube. Just record a video, upload it to WordPress, and you’re good. Communication is more than just words to be read.

What technologies do you find essential in your role as a school leader? Please share them in the comments.

 

 

 

Reading Your Own Writing

Today is a publishing party. Okay, not exactly a party (we’ve got school tomorrow), but certainly a celebration. Five author copies of my new ASCD Arias book arrived at our doorstep today.

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It’s a surreal experience to see your own writing at the publishing stage. And it is a stage. The spotlight is on your work. Maybe because of this sense of disorientation, there’s also a sense of distance between what you wrote and what is in print. I had a digital book published last year on digital portfolios, also exciting. But holding something you created in your hands is an altogether different feeling. It’s real. So much for the death of paper.

After flipping through the pages and glancing at the front and back covers a couple thousand times, I actually sat down tonight and read through the first part of my book. I realized two things: It’s a book, and it was worth writing. In my desk are the five drafts that preceded this final edition. Others will read it and hopefully find what I have to share applicable to their own classrooms and schools about thoughtful use of technology in education.

I can see how this type of thing could go to one’s head. What you created has a specific identification, in the form of an ISBN number. It will live for some time in the publisher’s catalog, on retailer’s websites, and in print on people’s shelves. You can autograph it (the first one went to my wife, of course). Feeling my ego already expanding, I compared the thickness of my book to one of my daughter’s early reader chapter books.

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Effectively humbled! Reflecting on my second writing journey has helped me realize how challenging it can be to take a project from an initial idea to being published. I think that is why I don’t rate books less than 3 stars on Goodreads: Even if I don’t particularly like a book, I can at least respect the effort and persistence of the author(s) in preparing their text to be publish-ready. This is an important note for readers who rate books based on their own system, but fail to understand the process it took to get to the product.

Having your writing published is a feeling I would want for anyone who has a passion for both a specific topic and for writing. Nothing should prevent them from this experience. There are services online through Amazon and smaller companies that will print texts out at a reasonable cost. If I was a teacher right now, I would be seriously considering this option. Having your writing available for others to take seriously and read with respect could be motivating for anyone to put forth their best effort.

What I share here is more of a ramble than an essay (otherwise known as a “blog post”). Appropriate, as my blog is where it all started: Simply posting my ideas about literacy, leadership, and technology online, and allowing my reflections and experiences to fill in the ever-expanding whitespace. No limits. I wonder what I’ll create next? Whatever I write, I look forward to sharing it with others to read.

Read to Write, Write to Learn

I want to take a moment to relish in the moment. My first draft for my ASCD Arias book is complete. I realize that it is a school night, and that I have started writing this post at 10:10 P.M., Central Standard Time. The mix of satisfaction and adrenaline will get me through the day tomorrow.

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So why would I want to write, after I just wrote almost 10,000 words for this project? That number is actually relatively small – about 50 pages, as it is a short-form text. I think one factor is I can now write for mostly me, with a little consideration for my audience (see: You). I’ve written over 250 posts here. I love the comments, the shares, and just the simple idea that what I have to say can be available to anyone in the world. That alone is profound.

But to answer that previous question, I want to write because I love writing. And all of this blogging has come to some kind of a product. I have found with writing that at some point, I have to pull together the best of what I have to share in a concise and streamlined format for others. It may be a thesis, an article, an online contribution, or even a book. Although this is my second text I have written, with my digital book published last fall, I still don’t feel like an author. I’ve never taken a course in writing, and I don’t have an English degree.

Nevertheless, my lack of background has not dissuaded me from pursuing what I truly enjoy doing: Writing about what I am passionate about. The learning has largely come from the writing itself. I will post here, infrequently check out the statistics, and analyze why some writing I have published on my blog received more attention than others. Frankly, what I believe is the best of what I have to offer on my blog has not received the greatest amount of attention, and vice versa. While Five Cool Things You Can Do With Your MacBook Air continues to monopolize my views, it is the posts such as Swimming Without Water and Does Intervention Have to Be a Pull-Out? that did not garner a ton of attention but I continue to come back to as a learner and leader.

I think what this shows is that we have to write if we expect to learn, and we have to write what we want to write, or it will become just one more task to complete. Pulling ideas from different sources and experiences into one cogent piece is the best way I know to show understanding. When we allow ourselves the choice in what we want to write about, that motivates us to stay with the process and finish out the piece.

I am not sure what the point of this post might be, other than to document that I finished a project and I am now celebrating, at least internally. Anyone who has published something might laugh, noting that the first draft is only the beginning. I tend to disagree. What I ship off to the editor is as close as I can come to a finished product. My hope is that any suggestions will be minor in nature and easy to revise. If that is not the case, then I probably did not start with a good proposal in the first place.

If you, the reader, are considering a more substantial writing project, such as published work, I cannot recommend enough the importance of writing a lot for yourself online. Blogging is what has helped me more than any other practice, possibly with the exception of reading really good writing. This includes fiction as well as nonfiction. So read and write, and write to learn. Allow yourself to discover where this process might take you.