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:
I had the great fortune of having my kids--who absolutely adore Stan Lee--get their picture taken with the legend when he made an appearance at the 2012 Fan Expo in Toronto. It's nearly two years later and they still haven't stopped smiling.
Imagine my delight, then, in discovering the Stan Lee Excelsior Award, a prize given to one of eight graphic novels each year as selected by the real experts on comics and graphic novels: teenagers! Here's the description of the award from the website:
The Stan Lee Excelsior Award is the only nationwide book award for graphic novels and manga - where kids aged 11-16 choose the winner by rating each book as they read it!
You'll be pleased to know that the organizer of this award is Paul Register, the librarian at the Ecclesfield School in Sheffield, England. Ecclesfield specializes in visual and performing arts and I can't help but think that it shares a kindred spirit with my own institution, The York School in Toronto. As noted in the award description, Stan the Man himself has endorsed the award, and it's such a great way to help foster and promote the idea that a school--an academic institution--sees comics and graphic novels as worthy of study, appreciation, and recognition.
So hats off to Paul Register and the Ecclesfield school for the Stan Lee Excelsior Award.
...Apparently that they understand something about the elements of farce.
I know that as this series of blog posts on visual brainstorming goes along, you'll eventually become convinced that I've hired a professional artist to create the work I'm sharing with you. This latest example is courtesy of Grade 11 York School student, Kersti Muzzafar, and it appears she's taken to heart the school's motto: "Be yourself. Be great."
I mean, this is pretty great.
It's especially great, though, when you look at it a bit more closely and realize that Kersti has managed to capture the different kinds of characters, themes, and issues that would make an appearance in a farce: the fool, the inflexible character, the older man who lusts after the younger woman, disguise, deceit--it's all there.
This is a short post today and it comes with a simple message: Try as early as possible in the school year to learn these things about your students: what they can do, how they can express themselves, and how they interpret what we ask of them. I didn't expect Kersti to take this home and turn it into what was obviously a labour of love...
But that's what happens when we encourage our students to be themselves.
They end up being great.
Perhaps you were a comics fan when you were a kid and haven't read them in a while. Things have probably changed a bit since then. Or maybe you'd like to use them in the classroom with your students but feel like you don't have a great background in reading them. The following list should help get you started on the road to becoming an expert on the hottest and most exciting genre on the market!
The Mysterious Underground Men (1948), by Osamu Tezuka
A Contract with God (1978), by Will Eisner
Maus (1986), by Art Spiegelman
The Dark Knight Returns (1986), by Frank Miller
Watchmen (1986), by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Finder (1996-present), by Carla Speed McNeil
Transmetropolitan, Volume 1 (1997), by Warren Ellis and Darcik Robertson
Persepolis (2004), by Marjane Satrapi
Building Stories (2012), by Chris Ware
Boxers & Saints (2013), by Gene Luen Yang
Students read, examine, and create graphic poems, and consider both the implications of using the visual in connection with poetry, and whether an artist or poet/artist can visually represent the intricacies of literal and figurative language. The hope is that students will recognize the beauty of graphic poetry and thereby develop a greater fondness for and appreciation of poetry proper.
Self Awareness, Metacognition, Critical Thinking, Navigation Skills, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should see that there is something to be gained and something to be lost in marrying a poem with its graphic illustration. What is gained is a visual context that the reader can use to help him or her understand what is actually happening in a poem. What is also gained is the recognition of what art can and cannot do with pictures in order to mimic or represent the figurative. What is lost, perhaps, is precisely what is lost when the curtain rises for the presentation of play and we see the gradual unfolding of the directorial decisions that will define how the performance in front of us will interpret the stage directions and dialogue of the playwright.
Critical Thinking Questions
Self-Awareness and Metacognition Questions
Navigation Skills and Making Connections Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity
Reading graphic poetry can help students to make sense of some of the complexities of the poems they examine, even if those complexities are what is literally “happening” in a given work. In my experience, though, a student is far more likely to want to bring their critical thinking and inquiry skills to bear on a poem that they believe they understand than one they don’t. As students move through the process of reading, analyzing, and creating graphic poetry, it is essential that teachers encourage students to develop an ongoing dialogue with the work they are studying.
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 use a combination of words and images in order to create a visual narrative of a process, sequence, set of instructions, or procedure related to their study within a specific discipline. The instructor can have them create this to show the steps they have taken in a lab, to organize how they will prepare for a set of exams, to reflect on a strategy used in a particular sport or physical activity, or even to explore how they might handle and unfamiliar task.
Self Awareness, Critical Thinking, Navigation Skills
By the end of the activity, students should recognize the extent to which using a combination of words and images can help them to think in non-linear ways about a given task. There is much to be said when it comes to note-taking of breaking things down into a series of written steps, bullet points, or explanations, but going from the intricate web of ideas in a student’s head to the linear is not always easy. The visual note-taking, process description or instruction writing allows them not just to think outside the box, but to put the box aside and just to think.
Critical Thinking Questions
Navigation Skills Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity?
This activity is thinking and inquiry in their purest form—allowing the student to make sense of something without being restricted by the linearity of formal sentence mechanics. If a picture tells a thousand words, and there are a thousand words in the student’s head, do I really want to have them write them all down? The inspiration for the activity comes from the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70 m long woven fabric showing the Battle of Hastings and both what led up to it and what followed. This remarkable medieval comic doesn’t just give us insight into 11th century Anglo-Norman relations, but what the weavers perceived worthy of inclusion, and what they felt they needed to explain or refrain from explaining.
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.
The activities that follow will be permanently housed on our site. Feel free to use, reuse, and distribute, tailoring specifically for your own curriculum, grade level, or program!
Students create a piece of visual art that shows a day in their life in the manner of a cave drawing. It is up to the individual student to determine how much or how little they represent, how much of their canvas they apportion to a particular moment or event, and how they use colour, shape, and form to represent their activities or experiences. Once they have completed the piece of visual art, students then produce a written reflection in which they try to explain not simply what they have represented, but the process by which they came to represent it.
Self Awareness, Critical Thinking, Metacognition
By the end of the activity, students should come to understand something about how they have represented themselves and their activities and experiences, how they have chosen to budget their visual space to this end, how they have gone about deciding what to include and what not to include, and what their piece of visual art does and does not say about them.
Critical Thinking Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity?
Because students are creating a product that is ostensibly about them, that they generally care about, and that they are given a fair bit of freedom to put together, they tend to do a good job reflecting on what they have produced. However, the real power of the activity for me derives from what I learned this year from a student who was giving a presentation after engaging in a very similar activity. When asked to what extent the final amalgamation of images represented him, the student replied that he didn’t think it much represented him at all.
“However,” he said, “if people could have seen the process I went through deciding what to include and what not to include—how I put everything together—they would have learned everything about me.”
Visual narrative and visual storytelling show us so much about what a writer and illustrator are thinking, feeling, seeing, and trying to articulate—what they value as a story and what they want us to see and experience.
You absolutely rock!
Comics in Education would like to thank the thousands of visitors to its website in only its first week of operation. We wanted to let you know that we have a new page up on the site called "Our Supporters" under the "About" tab. If you are doing great work in the field of comics in education, want to celebrate visual narrative and the impact it has on popular culture, or hope to promote the great work you're doing in the comics industry, please consider sending us a message on Twitter or through our contacts page and we'll put a link to you and your work as a thank you for visiting our site!
If it sounds like free advertising, well...I guess it is!
Comics in Education wants earnestly to promote the use of visual narrative in the K-12 classroom, and for that we need an industry that is dynamic and receptive to the needs of all readers, from those who are young to those who are young at heart. Fortunately, we seem to have just that!
Thanks everyone for all your support!
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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