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Spotlight On: Avery Castellani at the Eastern Educational Research Association Conference

By Avery Castellani and Emmie Meeks

On February 9th, student researcher Avery Castellani, in collaboration with Drs. CD and Garcia, presented some of her Senior Capstone Experience (SCE) research regarding the importance of author/illustrator visits and similar experiences at the Eastern Educational Research Association (EERA) Conference in Clearwater, Fl. I have asked Avery to reflect on her experience, with the hope that her thoughts will bring some of that warmth to a very chilly Chestertown, or wherever you may find yourself indulging in BoB updates. See her responses below.

Q: Have you attended an EERA conference in the past? 

AC: No! This was my first ever time at EERA and my second conference experience overall. My first was also with BoB last year at NCTE in Columbus, Ohio.  

Q: Was this your first conference presentation? How did you prepare? 

AC: This was my first ever solo conference presentation. I was lucky enough to get some practice with conferences in general at NCTE, but I had spectacular fellow student researcher Riley with me during our poster presentation to lean on. This presentation, however, was a bit more in-depth than the poster one, meaning that I had to do a lot of script writing, slide prepping, and rehearsal (I had 15 minutes, which isn't as much time as it sounds like!). A PowerPoint presentation is also a lot different than a traditional poster presentation. You usually mingle and conversate to your comfort level during the latter, whereas the former is all eyes and all attention on you.

Luckily, I was already very familiar with the material I was presenting by virtue of it being a small chunk of my SCE/senior thesis. Dr. CD, who is advising that thesis, also helped me a lot along the way as far as editing and slide prep went. She was front row for moral support when I was presenting, which calmed my nerves significantly. Any remaining nerves were then channeled into what I hope came across as enthusiasm. 

Q: Why is the EERA conference a good place to showcase BoB research? 

AC: EERA as a whole exists for those in the education field to conduct and disseminate research that improves all forms of education, and I truly believe that our findings (both qualitative and quantitative) are applicable to so many different facets of the education world. To put it really simply, there's just not a lot of pre-existing research regarding one-time author/illustrator visits despite them being a fairly common phenomenon in education. 

They're extremely hard to measure for a multitude of reasons. They're brief (in the grand scheme of things), vary greatly depending on the author or illustrator that's presenting, and more. Young students are also a difficult population to work with from a logistical standpoint. So, the fact that we have the data that we do is incredible and representative of what a once in a lifetime opportunity this was from a research perspective as well as just in general. EERA was also a very broad sampling of what educational research is out there. It's such a large umbrella of research that the work I was presenting felt very at-home, but also very unique, which is a nice balance to strike. No two presentations in my morning group were the same, and the specific brand of whimsy that comes with BoB was fun to impart upon the others in the room. We definitely stood out in the best way possible. 

Q: Which school from the tour did the presentation focus on? Why did you select this school? 

AC: We focused on one of our larger schools from the Southeast that had a particularly high participation rate in surveys and beyond. My SCE consists of three case studies of different schools, and this school that I used for EERA was the one I knew I was going to choose from the beginning. I had the pleasure of interviewing their point of contact individual and was very touched by their personal account of the visit and just how much effort they put into making it a success for both their students and for Matthew and Robbi. Their dedication and thoroughness not only gave me a lot of things to report on, but a lot of interesting things to report on, which was important to me when making the decision. This school was just a standout in every way. 

Q: What impact do you hope your presentation had on conference attendees? What do you hope your audience took away from your presentation? 

AC: First and foremost, I really hope they had as much fun as I did. I hope it inspired them to listen to. I hope they looked at the photos from Matthew and Robbi at the school on the PowerPoint and felt the excitement those students were feeling radiating off of them. Like I said before, we have a real lightning bolt of a project here, and that's something we had an attendee tell us during the Q&A portion of the presentation. Hopefully it was, at the very least, a reminder to these other researchers that this niche of one-time literacy experiences is worth looking into, or that they have value inherently. Maybe there's values we touched on that they didn't consider beforehand, or that they needed to hear again. Maybe someone garnered ideas about how to implement a visit like this in the future, and they'll use it or advise someone else in using it. At the end of the day, I hope it comes back to the importance of experiences like this for students, especially those in Title 1 schools that are less likely to receive them. 

Q: Was there anything additional you learned about our research through preparing for this presentation? 

AC: I learned a lot about the intricacies of the visit through really examining the qualitative and quantitative data together. It was all information I was aware of before, but I was aware of it in a way where everything was a little more independent of each other, for lack of a better word. But for my proposal and for my larger thesis, I had to create a narrative that includes all of those nuances and how they work together to create the final product. I would describe it as being enlightened by the process, if anything. This dataset is really fun to work with in the way where, even if you think you know something, the further you look into it, the more complex it becomes. 

Q: After giving this presentation, what are you looking forward to in the future? What do you want to see this data achieve? 

AC: I am looking forward to finishing my thesis, which essentially means completing this process two more times with the other schools I've chosen. Then, I get to compare and contrast all three of the cases and make actionable recommendations for future implementation based on that analysis, which is very exciting in the grand scheme of things. I think being able to draw those kinds of really helpful conclusions is a testament to both how useful our data is and how far it's come. 




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