In the "Hands" of Students, it's so much more!
Recently, Erlynn Kirsch and Amanda Helfrich got in touch with Comics in Education about a fantastic project that their students put together. So here is what they did, in their own words...
Thank you Comics in Education! After reading a great post, the "Cave Art Activity", we came up with a similar activity for our 8th grade Ancient History students. For a final project on Pre-History we had students analyze Paleolithic cave-art and discuss how it could have portrayed humans' daily lives and emotions. Students researched the definitions of graffiti and graphic novels and thought about how it compared to pre-historic cave art. We discussed as a group the ideas of tagging public places, signatures on art, and leaving their mark on the world. Next we had the entire 8th grade create a mural, leaving their "mark" on our school Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church, VA. Students reflected personally upon how they wanted to be remembered and the type of "mark" they want to leave on history.
Below I have attached some pictures of our project and of student work.The worksheet we made is attached below.
Erlynn and Amanda also included work that their students put together while reflecting on this activity. It's clear from what the students wrote that they had a lot to say about it!
If you're interested in trying this wonderful assignment with your own students, Erlynn and Amanda have been kind enough to include the handout that kids worked on.
What a fantastic activity for students to be engaged in. Not only are they working together to produce a piece of beautiful visual art, but they are learning about their connection to ancient cultures and traditions, and the role that visual narratives plays in all of this.
Great job, Erlynn and Amanda!
If you're interested in this activity, you might also be interested in:
Of all the series I have worked on, I have a special place in my heart for the 21 volumes of Graphic Poetry. Published by Rubicon / Scholastic, the series went on to win two major awards, including the 2010 Textbook Excellence Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association and the 2011 Teachers' Choice Award from Learning Magazine.
I'm especially fond of one title in the series: Margaret Atwood's "This is a Photograph of Me" and "Girl and Horse, 1928," probably because I teach a unit on Atwood's poetry to Grade 11 students in the IB program at The York School in Toronto.
For the Atwood unit, we study recurring motifs and themes in her poetry, with a culminating assessment that involves students creating a visual piece that speaks to the same motifs and themes we explore in her poetry.
When my student, Kersti, got up to do her presentation, I was exceptionally impressed by how she was able to capture the spirit of "Girl and Horse, 1928" in a wonderful painting she did. Her explanation of the choices she made in putting the piece together were equally impressive.
I have to admit that I was a wee bit pleased with myself for having shown the class the adaptations of Atwood's poetry in the above volume from the Graphic Poetry series. The projects they produced, like Kersti's, were so excellently done and I figured that they were inspired in part by seeing how poetry can be successfully married with visual art.
However, what happened on a subsequent assignment absolutely floored me. Kersti chose to interpret Atwood's "Flying Inside Your Own Body," a poem that discusses the freedom a woman enjoys when she dreams and the rather terrifying reality she inhabits when she awakens. When Kersti stood up, this is what she showed us
"Okay," I thought. "She's managed to capture something of the final part of the poem. The restrictive, claustrophobic, isolating world that women can experience when they wake to discover the dream of flying inside your own body is illusory. "But what about the dream? What about the freedom and the joy that's described at the start of the poem? Where are they?"
Then, to the surprise of everyone, she opened the painting...
That's right... She opened it. And there, inside, was the speaker of Atwood's poem. Kersti's explanation of the choices she made in her interpretation were brilliant--the tattoo, the necklace, the symbolic touches in the background--and students couldn't stop complimenting her on her work.
So, this is why we teach visual narrative in the classroom. This is why we celebrate it...
...And this is why I started a website called Comics in Education.
This is how an artist should travel...
If you haven't read Florent Chavouet's Tokyo on Foot, then you've been missing out on a uniquely rewarding experience. Imagine you're an artist with a gift for sharing your own unique perspective on things, and you find yourself in Tokyo with time on your hands and art materials at your disposal. If you're Chavouet, you end up drawing Tokyo.
But not the stereotypical, Western view of Tokyo as a city of bright lights, Buddhist temples and Karaoke bars....
Instead, imagine that you draw the real Tokyo.
By recording what he sees, from the profound to the mundane, Chavouet does what so many great graphic travel writers do. As with my post the other day on Guy Delisle, Chavouet presents us with an honest, insightful look at the sights and sounds of the place he is visiting, perhaps without even realizing at the time what a profound effect these sights and sounds--and his recording of them--will have on his development as an artist.
You see, it's precisely because Chavouet records everything (i.e. that he doesn't make a judgment or shape Tokyo into merely what he wants or expects it to be) that he is so successful in Tokyo on Foot.
This is precisely the idea we should encourage with our students when they are trying to put their ideas down onto paper in front of them. Tell them that you want to see what they are thinking...really see it. They might just end up giving you something like this.
Thank you, Florent Chavouet.
Activities Inspired by the Visual Can Yield Amazing Results
This one I just had to share with you.
In the lead up to teaching Persepolis this year, I wanted to give my students as many opportunities as possible of working with the visual. If you read my blog post about the "Cave Art" activity, you'll recall that it required students to depict a day in their life, a challenging encounter, or their best moment on the planet, etc. as a cave art montage. In effect, the Cave Art activity is a kind of visual brainstorming about a moment in the student's own life. The above collage by Marwa is fantastic, looking like it sprang to life out of the Futurist movement in Western art.
There's a very cool variation on this activity that I alluded to last time. It has the following steps:
What are some neat results?
Perhaps the coolest thing about the activity is that regardless of whether they feel their collage does or does not represent them, the students are really only tasked with making a judgment and defending it. It's not a failure if it doesn't represent them nor is it an overwhelming success if it does. However, when I did this with my students this year there were some unexpected insights that resulted, one of which came from a student who suggested that although his collage didn't represent him, what did was the process he went through to put it together. These are the kinds of insights we want from our students.
As a side note, I did my own collage to see what I would come up with. The result is below:
As this site grows and develops, I guess you'll be the best judge as to whether or not this represents me. It's just crazy enough that it might...
Students create a storyboard or visual narrative that does not contain text. The exercise has wide application, whether in having students block a scene from a work of drama, visually relate the progress of a character’s story from a work of fiction, or visually represent the story of a particular historical moment. The exercise is similar to Activity 3: Visual Note-Taking, but the student is not permitted to use words in order to communicate his or her ideas.
Critical Thinking, Navigation Skills, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should perceive the challenges of communicating without words, translating the written or verbal into the visual, and developing a narrative that is comprehensible to their audience when said narrative must be interpreted in the absence of explanation. The aim of the exercise is to develop the student’s communication skills and transliteracy: the ability to demonstrate literacy across a range of platforms or mediums of expression by making meaningful connections between them.
Critical Thinking Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in this Activity?
As in the previous activity, students will have a dizzying range of questions that they will have to ask themselves at the outset of the activity: “How do I represent this scene from a play or short story without needing pages and pages of illustration?” or “How can I best capture the most important features of a historical battle in a way that a person examining it can understand?” My inspiration for this activity comes from Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress,” which Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics cites, along with hieroglyphics, cave art, etc. as a forerunner to the comics of today. I’ve always been impressed by the fact that little or no text (other than the naming of the individual paintings), the audience has little difficulty perceiving what is happening to the rake. As our global village shrinks and our students are immersed even further into a principally visual culture, being able to communicate with the visual takes on an increasing importance.
Students create a visual representation of an historical figure, famous scientist or thinker, literary character or individual related to the discipline they are studying and use symbolic elements in order to convey something about that character’s personality, mindset, nature, or temperament. Once they have done this, they write a reflection that explains how these symbolic elements help us to better understand the character in question.
Critical Thinking, Metacognition, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should understand something about how symbolic language can help us understand the visual representation of a character or individual, how symbolic language is similar to and different from orthographic language, and how words and images can have a genuinely emotive power in a given context.
Critical Thinking Questions
How Visual Narrative Can Foster Inquiry in This Activity
Some critics have argued that graphic novels derive their power from a rather unique quality—their lack of photographic realism. When looking at a photograph, for instance, we are acutely aware that we are only looking at a photograph. We are not witnessing the events taking place or the people affected by them in real time, because the photograph tells us that these things have already happened. In a graphic novel or story, however, things are not so clear. We are more likely to accept that when we see little Marji in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, we are actually looking at a “real person.” The cartoonish nature of the representation has the opposite effect we think it might. Because it’s obviously a cartoon, our minds don’t wrestle with the question of whether it’s the actual character or only his or her representation. So, we don’t tell ourselves that this line drawing isn’t really Marjane Satrapi. We just accept that it is.
Word Origins Can Be Graphic
If that is indeed the case, and I'm fairly confident it is, it's foolish not to capitalize on the inherent usefulness of the visual. So, the next time you're studying word etymologies with your students, consider having them create visual etymologies. This is great as both a collaborative activity or as an individual one. Do it, and you might just give your lesson a bit of swag.
Sometimes Note-Taking Isn't Just about What You Write...
In a previous post I shared with you a student's Sir Ken Robinson / RSAnimate-inspired visual note-taking exercise comparing the spectre of death in A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman. Here's what my student, Lucila, did with the theme of marriage...
The minimalist nature of the notes themselves are part of the beauty and importance of this example. Note for instance how cleverly Lucila has shown Blanche literally drowning in a glass of whiskey, and then look more closely still to see what the whiskey is composed of.
The text looks at Blanche's desire to escape the past, but it's run together and becomes very difficult to interpret--as though it is visually expressing slurred speech, a hazy memory, and a desire to forget. Blanche is colourful and so are the letters. Blanche tries to make sense of the past and fails just as the letters do.
No doubt the student could have managed to articulate these things if asked to engage in a more traditional brainstorming exercise, but I doubt that it could have captured so forcefully, so expertly, so profoundly something that is at the heart of Williams' play.
We could look at the visual note-taking that the student has done and at first glance we might think she has expressed very little.
But how very wrong we would be!
You absolutely rock!
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Comics in Education
But the animation is just so entirely engaging in this video -- it provides so much to both the visual and auditory learner alike -- that it speaks volumes to teachers about our need to give students opportunities to put their thoughts down on paper in a way that makes sense to them. We can get them to organize their ideas to form a coherent comparative essay later, but for now it is so much better to allow them to express their understanding in a way that looks more like the thoughts themselves and less like some linear model that does not mimic how they think. This is the beauty, I think, of something like RSAnimate. It shows us a kind of visual note-taking that is rich, powerful, and inspiring--exactly what we want our lessons to be.
I won't repeat my previous post by sharing Catherine's work with you, but I will show you my own. Inspired by the RSAnimate version of Sir Ken's talk many moons ago, I decided that my lesson plans needed to have something of the visual in them. So, I started creating lessons that would use a hybrid of comic book narration bubbles, a flow chart, and visual imagery. Throw in some colour and a pinch of Photoshop and you have an array of visual lesson plans that students will respond to.
Every year at least one student asks me why I do this. Is it that I'm just such a comics fanatic that I have to do visual lesson plans in this way? Do I have hours of time to spend on these aesthetic touches?
"No," I tell them. "I do this because learning is beautiful."
...it takes a school to nurture in them an appreciation for visual narrative.
Some K-12 educators that I meet on the conference circuit express concern about the lack of support they receive from their fellow colleagues, department heads, or school administrators when it comes to using comics and graphic novels in the classroom. This always dismays me a little bit because I know how important it is to have colleagues and administrators who are encouraging and even enthusiastic about what you're trying to do.
Before you start teaching visual narrative in the classroom then, it's important to have discussions with all the stakeholders at your school about how the institution does or does not celebrate the visual. I've walked into lots of high schools where the hallways are devoid of student creativity and expression, but I almost never walk into a kindergarten classroom without being blown away by how much wonderful, crazy stuff is on the walls.
You'll notice that there's no shortage of the visual in the images that follow. I teach at a school that celebrates student creativity in a way that never fails to impress a comics person like myself. Here are some images that I shared at a recent conference, where I talked about the importance of making visual storytelling and artistic expression a living, breathing part of school culture.
You see, it takes a school...
This is what you need to have at your school in order to create the lasting conditions for a successful appreciation, understanding, and love for the visual! It hardly makes sense to talk to your students about the importance of studying comics and graphic novels, and then have them walk out into a hallway in which there is nothing to look at.
I'd love to know what you think about this, and please don't forget to take a moment and answer our poll question!
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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