Sixth class students at Scoil Mhuire Fatima (Timahoe National School), Co Laois, recently took part in a Writers in Schools visit via Zoom with children’s author and illustrator Oisín McGann.
In-person Writers in Schools visits are on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions but this online visit was facilitated after the school’s sixth class teacher, Michael McEvoy, made an application.
“We wanted to treat our sixth class to something special in the final weeks of term as they have missed out on so much due to the pandemic,” explained Michael. “We had been doing social interaction sessions on Zoom and the children really enjoyed them. We thought it might be fun to have a special guest in one of our sessions so we thought about getting an author to talk to the children.
“I did some research and knew that Oisín McGann would be a great choice with the children. We had been reading his latest release, Race the Atlantic Wind, as part of our Kindle Club and I knew the children would love to hear from him. He writes a lot of material for the pre/early teen age group so I felt the children would relate to him.
“Also, the fact that he is a respected illustrator was a big selling point. The session went really well and there was great engagement from the children. Oisín was funny, informative and very obliging with his time. He gave the children great insight into the life of an author/illustrator. We could have spent another hour with him, such was the engagement with the children. I would like to thank Oisín and Anna Bonner from the Writers in Schools programme for making the session happen.”
Oisín said the talk with Timahoe National School was his first session with primary school students since the lockdown had begun, and the last of the school year. He had organised with class teacher, Michael, beforehand to do stretches where he’d talk and also two Q&A stints to encourage interaction from the students.
Oisín said delivering the session online differed from the usual in-person visit as it can be harder to read the room in an online event. But that the children had interesting questions, “so once they’d started and we found it was working, we kept going that way.
“It was an interesting and easy-going talk, though it made me very aware of two things: the need for the interaction not just for the children’s interest, but as a way of reading the audience, and the knowledge that you can’t count on questions for the success of any session. It was a valuable insight into what could very well be the format for Writers in Schools ‘visits’ for the foreseeable future.”
Michael related feedback from a few of the students who took part in the session:
Andrew Coyne said, “It was really great to speak with Oisín and to hear how an author works on a day to day basis. We actually got to see inside his office/studio which was really cool.”
Maggie Kavanagh said, "Oisín was really nice. We learned a lot about story writing and illustration. I really enjoyed when he talked about how the illustration in books happens."
Caoimhe Burke loved Race the Atlantic Wind and had lots of questions ready for Oisín. She said "it was really fun to speak with the author of a book I just finished the week before.”
The students had another important Zoom session after their Writers in Schools visit with Oisín – when they marked the culmination of their primary school experience with a virtual graduation ceremony.