I am delighted to bring this interview with writer and teacher’s guide creator Marcie Colleen to you today. Marcie is, as you will see, a woman of many talents, and I’m grateful to call her friend (although we haven’t yet met in person).
I got to know Marcie through our mutual involvement in Julie Hedlund’s 12×12, and through that and other online venues, particularly Facebook, I’ve come to value Marcie’s talents as well as her warmth and enthusiasm. I asked her today to talk specifically about the amazing teacher’s guides she creates. I know you’ll learn a lot from what she has to say.
You’ll note from what Marcie says in the interview, and from the biographical material at the end of the chat, that theatre is an important facet of her life. She puts her knowledge and love of theatre to use in many ways, including an SCBWI workshop next Sunday in Princeton, New Jersey. Space is limited, and today’s the deadline for registration, but if there’s any chance you can attend, I know it will be an excellent event. (So wish I could be there, Marcie!) Check out this post at the SCBWI-NJ website: From the Gut: An Acting-for-Writers Workshop. Also, Marcie recently did a fabulous guest post with a taste of the way she uses acting techniques to enhance the writing process at Tara Lazar’s blog: Three Acting Tips for Writing with Emotion.
Now — on with the interview.
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Beth: Marcie, some of my readers are aware of your writing journey, others may not be. Could you share something about your varied work experiences and how you came to the world and work of writing for kids?
Marcie: My journey has been more like a long and winding road, however, it all makes total sense when looking back on it.
First, I had always believed that I had a book in me, that I was supposed to be a writer. This is kind of goofy, but I remember seeing Back to the Future and getting all emotional when the dad received “the box” of his sci-fi novels at the end of the movie. I clearly remember wanting a box like that. The problem—I had no idea what kind of writing I was made to do.
Fast forward through five years as a high school English and drama teacher, four years at New York University studying Educational Theater for my Masters degree and seven years working within the theater community of New York City providing educational programming. All the while the desire to publish a book was there. I tried writing non-fiction, memoir, adult fiction. Nothing felt right.
Finally, after leaving my career to take time off to explore writing, I was nannying one night and a picture book idea hit me like lightning. At that moment it all became clear. I remember being so excited to share with others that I had decided to be a children’s writer and their response was a nonchalant “of course, it makes sense.” And they were right. It did make perfect sense. Finally.
Needless to say I have never looked back.
Beth: What led you to start creating teacher’s guides?
Marcie: In my career days writing curriculum was a passion of mine—especially when I worked on Broadway. I loved being able to take a seemingly frivolous Broadway musical, pull out the educational tie-ins, and create engaging activities for students to study. For example, the musical Chicago suddenly became a delightful look at the American Judicial System, the media’s role in justice, 1920s Chicago, etc. It was very satisfying work.
I really missed this work when I left my career. Therefore, making the jump to creating teacher’s guides for children’s literature seemed obvious.
Beth: That response segues perfectly into my next question! I have looked at some of the teacher’s guide samples on your website (http://www.thisismarciecolleen.com/my-teachers-guides.html). I am delighted to note that as well as identifying which subject areas the guide covers, you make use of art and drama throughout. Could you talk a bit about your reasons for including the arts in this way?
Marcie: The arts are in my DNA. They have always been a part of my life, my work. In fact my graduate degree work at NYU focused on how to use the arts to teach absolutely everything. I found this work engaging and energizing. I can’t imagine a classroom without the arts—be it an elementary class or a high school Science class. The arts bring learning to life.
Beth: I know the phrase “Common Core” can strike fear into a writer’s heart – and possibly into a teacher’s heart as well. How do you address that fear as you work with writers to bring those Common Core standards into play with their books?
Marcie: Well, first I encourage them to look closely at a few standards. To actually read them. When you take the time to do this, you will realize there is nothing to be scared of.
Here is an excerpt from the Grade 3 Reading: Literature Standards.
Key Ideas and Details
1. Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
2. Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
3. Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
Craft and Structure
4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
5. Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.
6. Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.
7. Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting).
Pretty basic, right?
When isolating a few of the standards it becomes clearer that:
- The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of benchmarks which focus on the development of essential skills at the most appropriate age and development stage for students.
- They are skill-based.
- They allow teachers to be unique in their approaches to instruction, not dictating what is to be taught or how. The focus is on results, not means.
And perhaps most importantly–EVERY book is Common Core compliant. I strongly believe that. Therefore, writers should stop thinking about it and teachers should feel empowered to bring a variety of texts to their students.
Beth: What age levels and types of books can you provide guides for? Do you work with only writers, or may illustrators contact you about their books as well?
Marcie: I provide Teacher’s Guides for Picture Books and Middle Grade novels. Both fiction and non-fiction.
I do not provide Teacher’s Guides for Young Adult novels. There is a very specific reason for this. A Young Adult Teacher’s Guide should be focused mainly on discussion questions. I believe that the author is the best person to create these discussion questions. However, I do provide consultations in which I will look at the guides or materials or ideas that authors have created and basically work like a freelance editor to make it the best it can be. So that is always an option once the author creates the discussion questions for their Young Adult novel.
Although my clients are mostly the author of a book, I have worked with a handful of illustrators and author-illustrators. As long as there is a book, I can create a guide!
Beth: I note that you also provide educational consultations for writers. Could you tell us a bit about what a writer can expect from such a consultation? How are the consultations conducted? Do you provide some sort of transcript/recording of the consultation that the writer can refer back to?
Marcie: Basically, an educational consultation is my version of a freelance editor critique of your manuscript. Only we will focus on your book, the curriculum tie-ins within your book, possible ideas for lesson plans/Teacher’s Guides, author visit ideas and the like.
After having sufficient time to look over the book and any educational materials, teacher’s guides or notes about education that the writer has, I draft up a strategy that the writer can take to make sure their book is a player in the educational climate. I will go over the strategy in detail during a one-hour phone call, answering any questions the writer might have. After the call I will send a Word document detailing what we talked about to the writer for easy reference.
Beth: How can a writer or illustrator get in touch with you to get started on either a guide or a consultation?
Beth: Thanks so much for this conversation-in-print, Marcie! I look forward to the day when I will be requesting Marcie Colleen teacher’s guides for my own books. (And just so you know, I’ve been singing “Long and Winding Road” since your first answer. 😉 )
Interview with @MarcieColleen1, teacher’s guide expert http://wp.me/p4PXqU-1mS via @BethStilborn #writers #teachersguides
Teacher’s guide creator @MarcieColleen1 interviewed by @BethStilborn http://wp.me/p4PXqU-1mS #writers #teachersguides
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More about Marcie: Education Consultant, Marcie Colleen, is a former classroom teacher and curriculum creator turned Picture Book writer. Her Teacher’s Guides, which align picture books and middle grade novels with the Common Core and other state mandated standards, have been praised by both teachers and librarians. Her Teacher’s Guide for Picture Book Month, Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms, validates the use of picture books across EVERY curriculum and provides teachers with a hands on approach to adapt any picture book for educational use. Her work with Picture Book Month has been recognized by School Library Journal and the Children’s Book Council. Marcie is also an Education Strategist, providing one-on-one consultation guiding authors and illustrators to best position their books for school visits and classroom use. Visit her at www.thisismarciecolleen.com to discover how Marcie can help you navigate the world of children’s literature and education.