I’d like to invite my dear VCFA friend, Deb Gonzales to Quirk and Quill today. She has a long list of accomplishments.
She’s been a teacher, a school administrator, an educational consultant, a curriculum designer, a former adjunct professor, and a writing workshop instructor with an amazing Austin organization called Badgerdog Literary Publishing. She’s even taught PBS’s Barney kids in a one-room off-set Montessori classroom.
She earned her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Art in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She currently works on about a zillion free-lance projects and is a proud contributor of ReaderKidZ, a website committed to fostering a love of reading for kids ages K-5.
New Zealand’s Giltedge Publishing has published several of her early-readers. She’s also worked as a curriculum coordinator for Giltedge correlating their amazing products with American academic standards. As a freelance writer, she designs Book Discussion Guides, Reading Group Guides, and Teacher Guides.
Since Deb just completed a A CCSS Annotation Educational Guide for Lara’s Gift FINALand did such a fabulous job, the focus of this interview will be on her work creating Book Discussion Guides.
What is your step-by-step process from start to finish for creating a Teacher’s Guide? How long does it take?
Deb Gonzales: I make the kind of guides that I found to be useful when I was teaching. I keep the educator in mind every step of the way. I know, from first-hand experience, how busy they are. I try to make the guides fit into the curriculum as easily as possible.
I also work to make each guide as unique as the book it is complimenting. I work to balance discussion questions with a follow-up activity of some sort. My intent is to keep the educator and reader connected with the book long after they’ve closed the cover.
This takes a lot of time on my part, probably too much. I work slowly and carefully, in attempt to honor the author and/or illustrators’ hard work. I’ve been privileged to work on some really great projects, and am eager to work on more!
Can you address some of the changes in Core requirements? How are they different from what was previously in place? What are the pros and cons of these changes in your opinion?
Deb Gonzales: I’m very experienced in aligning curriculum with various state standards, most especially those of Texas, California, and New York. I’ve been doing it for years now for a number of folks. It’s interesting to note how various states go about meeting basic educational requirements in both similar and contrasting ways.
I find working with the Common Core to be fascinating. It not only coordinates the various states’ efforts, it offers a systematic way to raise the academic bar. The basic thrust of the Common Core is to move beyond the basics by elevating thinking and reasoning skills. My challenge is to also do so in my guides. There is always something to learn. I like that.
How much research goes into the material you build into a Guide?
Deb Gonzales: This depends on the book I’m working on. Fictional picture books and chapter books usually don’t require as much research as non-fiction and historical fiction. That being said, I once worked on a fictional picture book about colorful moods and became lost in research about color theory! This happens often while researching for the MG & YA novels as well as non-fiction picture books. I just can’t help it. The topics are just so darn interesting.
Writers constantly revise their work before it gets published, how many revisions do you do on average before your Guide is finalized?
Deb Gonzales: That depends on the guide, too. I tend to work backwards, in that I begin developing the activities and then work on the discussion component. I find that this concrete thinking helps me to abstract questions about the story. I like to pull key quotations from the text and build questions around them. This is the aspect of guide-crafting that requires revision. There is usually so many great threads pull from, I have a hard time deciding where to begin.
What do you enjoy most about creating Guides?
Deb Gonzales: The variety of books that I get to work with. As I said earlier, each one is so different and requires a new way of thinking. I also enjoy working to coordinate a shared vision with the authors and illustrators. Oftentimes, they don’t know what a guide can do for them but they know they need one. Then, after the project is completed, they see the value of the guide and how they can help promote their books. Many times the authors and illustrators have found some of the activities in their guides to be useful content for school visits and program presentations.
What is your biggest challenge in creating a Book Guide? How do you overcome it?
Deb Gonzales: Biggest challenge? Time management. As with everything else, it’s a struggle to balance time to devote to my guide work, my own creative work, and the rest of my life. I tend to get happily lost in all of it – a great problem to have, right?
Sure is! How did you break into creating Teacher Guides?
Deb Gonzales: I come to the field of education as a Montessori teacher, trained to teach preschoolers to 6th grade, with additional studies in the field of Special Education. Both disciplines require a firm foundation of knowledge in cross-curricular lesson development. Add my years in directing arts and crafts programs for kids of all ages, plus my MFA from VCFA, and I’ve got a wealth of experience to bring to the guide creating table.
I first began correlating curriculum when I held the job as the on-set teacher for the Barney Show cast for a semester. Back in the early 90’s, PBS hired me to teach the cast in an elementary-aged Montessori classroom just outside of the rehearsal hall. I had eight students – first grade to seventh – to plan a semester’s worth of classwork to plan for. No two kids came from the same school district, so I contacted them all to find out what would be required to pass to the next grade-level. To meet the multi-level, cross-curriculum, I used Montessori materials, their textbooks, and anything else I could gather to meet their individual district’s criteria. It was one of those huge, high-profile, trial-by-fire jobs that turned out great.
In addition, in the late 90’s, I worked as the Educational Director and Test Coordinator for a new Charter School for Accelerated Learning in Dallas. Here I learned so, so much about computerized curriculum, text book purchasing, and standardized testing procedures. Once again, I was busy correlating academic elements for a wide range of high school curriculum. It was tedious work, but someone had to do it.
This background, and over 35 years in the field of education, has created a foundation from which to create academically sound guides. Funny how life unsuspectingly prepares one for their career journey, isn’t it?
Yes, it is, Deb. What advice would you give young people (or adults!) interested in a career creating Teacher Guides?
Deb Gonzales: Stay open to new ideas. Avoid the cookie-cutter approach to making these things. Schools are looking to incorporate new literature into the curriculum. Homeschoolers are looking for fresh new books to offer their kids. Libraries love the activities that accompany well-made guides. Have fun with it all and give it your very best effort, always.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Deb Gonzales: I’m thrilled to say that my daughter has now joined me in this enterprise. Together, we’re working to come up with some new formatting and a few other extras which will make the guides even better. More news to follow.
For now, thank you for this interview. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my passion. Working on guides reminds me of a proverb my high-school counselor had posted in her office that went like this: When you find your true vocation, life is like a paid vacation! That’s me and my guides.
And it shows, Deb.
For more information about Deb Gonzales or a look at her guides, please click here.
You won’t go wrong working with Deb on your next book guide! I give her 5 stars and you will, too!
Thank you for joining us, Deb!
To download the Teacher’s Guide that Deb Gonzales created fro Lara’s Gift, CLICK HERE.