Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kid! Spotlight on Adora Svitak, age 12, Amazing Young Educator, Author and Speaker

by Kasy Dallman, Contributing Writer

Adora Svitak could read and write simple words at age two and a half. She read her first chapter book at age three and half and started to write short stories at age four. She then moved on to typing her short stories at age 6. A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora Svitak (now 12) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy. She has so far published two books: Flying Fingers, Dancing Fingers (co-authored with Adrianna Svitak).

Adora Svitak holding up her book: Dancing Fingers

AK:  Why and how did you get started writing?

AS:  A big part of the reason that I began writing was because I loved to read—authors were my role models, and I wanted to be like them. I was very into creating people and places—from a young age, I loved to imagine scenarios to act out or put together with dolls, and this imagination came through in my writing. Ultimately, writing gave me a power and reach that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

AK:  Why and how did you decide to start teaching classes online?  Was there one specific event that started her online teaching career?

AS:  For many years, I would teach in classrooms or at school assemblies. While I still do that, I’ve grown to be able to teach over distance learning (video conferencing or webcasting), using a variety of technologies. One of the things that spurred me to explore this option of teaching was that so many schools wanted me to teach, but I wasn’t able to because they were too far away. A school in Texas asked me whether I had thought about video conferencing. The video conferencing company Tandberg offered me a set for free, and that was really what got me into using technology to teach. Many companies have donated equipment for me to try out in my teaching.

AK:  Describe your speaking career.  How did it start and what do you enjoy most about public speaking?

AS:  My speaking career really began with my teaching; my frequent presentations to school assemblies and classrooms gave me the skills I would need to give speeches to larger audiences. One of my first appearances to a large crowd of adults was when I spoke at the Keller Williams Realty company’s “Inspirational Breakfast” program. From there on, I began speaking at various events, from corporate to educational. My biggest speaking engagement was at the TED conference. One of the things that I enjoy most about public speaking is the knowledge that you are having an influence on your audience, and a power to make change (for the better)!

AK:  Describe one of your favorite experiences speaking.  Where was it?  What was the purpose of the event?  What was the title and theme of the speech?  Please provide a link to the speech, if possible.

AS:  One of my favorite experiences speaking was at the TED conference in Long Beach, California—I was thrilled, and honored, to be speaking on a stage that hosted Bill Gates and James Cameron. What’s more, I learned a great deal from listening to other speakers, in an intense three-day conference. When you listen to Nobel Prize winners speak, walk past CEOs of multinational companies, and converse with founders, activists, and great mathematicians, it really makes you wonder: what am I doing here? My talk, “What Adults Can Learn from Kids,” can be found at http://www.ted.com/talks/adora_svitak.html. Because I was speaking to an adult audience, I focused on the potential of kids and why adults need to listen and learn from the younger generation.

AK:  Who or what are your main sources of inspiration?

AS:  I wouldn’t say I have one main source of inspiration; I get inspiration from all around. I get a lot of inspiration from other kids who are doing great things, from my favorite authors, and from my family members; ultimately, however, much of the inspiration that I have to do what I do comes from the work (spreading a message of learning and literacy) that needs to be done.

AK:  Do you have a mentor or teacher who has guided you?

AS:  I have had many mentors over the years. One of my key messages is that everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to teach, from each other. Through my traveling and speaking, I have had the privilege of talking with some of the world’s greatest thinkers and doers. The people I met at the TED Conference have definitely inspired me to explore new issues; on a daily basis, my mom and dad provide guidance and support. Truly, I feel like every one of the great people I’ve met has taught me something.

AK:  How do you work when you write?  Is it a daily ritual or routine, or is your writing time less structured?

AS:  My writing time isn’t very structured; usually, when I feel like writing, I sit down to write. However, there are times when I want to write, but I don’t have an idea at the moment—that’s when I tell myself, “I’ll just think of something and write it down, no matter what.” The important thing is to not be scared of how ridiculous the idea is or whether you feel like you have “writer’s block.” Sometimes the strangest ideas can produce great stories. After all, writing serious, contemplative fiction is great, but it can be a nice break for the mind to write a humorous short story about a larcenous skunk. Yes, I did do that.

AK:  How do you decide what teaching assignments to accept?  Describe what a typical online class is like.

AS:  I have a list of presentations and topics that teachers or technology coordinators can request for their students, or for professional developments, and if it works out with my schedule, I will teach the class. Teachers or schedulers can also request a custom presentation. The typical class involves video conferencing or webcasting. If all the technology goes smoothly (not always a given!) then I see the students on my screen, and they see me on theirs. We interact through discussions and asking questions over the video and audio. It typically runs about fifty minutes to an hour, with ten minutes for questions and answers. I love asking the students questions. One thing I’ve noticed is that I get the most responses out of younger students, and the hand raising starts to taper off around middle or high school.

AK:  What do you envision as the future of teaching and communication on the Internet?  Do you see it changing and improving in any way, and if so, how?

AS:  I myself go to an online public school, the Washington Virtual Academies, and I think that education is headed in an online direction. However, I think that there are also many good elements to brick-and-mortar education that the online environment cannot replicate, so the best educational environment would be a hybrid, or blended, system with the best of online (flexibility, learning anywhere) and brick-and-mortar (interacting on a face-to-face basis). I hope that education—particularly, quality education— becomes more open and accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford private schools or good neighborhoods. Some of the best elements of communications online, such as social networking, can be brought to the education front. As far as internet communications go, it’s anyone’s guess. I’ve been surprised by how much people are willing to lead semi-public lives; with new websites that track our every move, it seems like nothing is private any more. I’m not sure whether we’ll be moving closer toward public lives in the future. I hope to see a great expansion in the use of some of our greatest technologies to spread learning and bring it to the places that need it most.

AK:  What are your goals for the future?

AS:  I hope to continue writing books and teaching. I am organizing an event, TEDxRedmond, which I hope will foster discussion about the potential of kids to do great things and spread recognition of our abilities; I continue to champion youth issues in my speeches around the world. I’d love to expand my existing philanthropic work by bringing schools and educational technology to developing countries, and sometime in the future I hope to have done enough great work to win a Nobel Prize. Ultimately, I want to make a difference and help others.

AK:  What advice would you give other kids who might be interested in exploring their writing or teaching talents?

AS:  If you are interested in exploring writing or teaching talents, I highly recommend that you scout out as many opportunities as you can to share your talent. This might mean sending work to magazines or newspapers, taking part in contests, reading work in public, speaking to your school, or starting a website or a blog. Remember to persevere, no matter what the challenges; whenever there’s a will, there’s a way. Though you may not win all the contests (I know that I’ve had particularly bad luck!), or get your work published, there are always new opportunities.

AK:  What are some of your awards or other recognition?

AS:  For my teaching, I’ve won the Berrien RESA (school district) award for Best Teacher and Expert three years in a row. I was nominated for (though I did not ultimately win) an Edublogs Award for Best Student Blog.

AK:  Is there anything else you would like to add?

AS:   I encourage everyone reading this, whether or not you’re “into language arts,” to find out how you can make your mark on the world through reading and writing. I like to say: reading allows you to discover new worlds; writing allows you to create them. Our words can have power that we don’t think we have in everyday life—anyone can make a difference.

Related links:

My websites:

www.adorasvitak.com

www.twitter.com/adorasv

www.youtube.com/adorasvitak

www.ustream.tv/channel/adora-svitak

www.scribd.com/adorasvitak

www.tedxredmond.com (event I’m organizing)

http://www.writewithadora.com/videos.html (some videos of my teaching)

For inspiring speeches by great people, www.ted.com

www.adriannasvitak.com My sister Adrianna (co-author of Dancing Fingers)

www.pbskids.org Always a great source for children’s programming.