The more you look into what is happening with comics in education, the more likely you are to find great things. Carlos Salazar is teaching an elementary ESL class in Detroit and is raising money to bring comics to life in his classroom and develop literacy skills in his students.
Mr. Salazar is trying to buy academically rigorous comics for his ESL classroom at Southwest Detroit Lighthouse Academy. Please take the time to read his project proposal at DonorsChoose.org by clicking on this link.
And remember, if you have a great project that you're working on which brings comics and education together, don't hesitate to get in contact with us. We'd love to promote it!
Carlos reached his fundraising goal. Congratulations! I look forward to hearing more about how his efforts go in the coming months.
If you're interested in using comics in the classroom, you might also be interested in:
Three Great GNs for Teaching Literature in Context
This coming year, I've decided to do something rather bold. Now to me it doesn't seem bold, but no doubt some of my fellow IB educators will feel otherwise.
For 2014-15, I've decided to replace each of our current texts for the Literature in Translation unit in the Language A: Literature course at The York School with graphic novels from the PLT (Prescribed Works of Literature in Translation).
Those of you who love graphic novels and want an opportunity to teach them in a context other than in Unit 4 (The Options Unit) can do so in Unit 1. For those who are teaching the Language A course in English, there are currently four graphic novels you can choose from:
I won't be teaching these graphic novels until January 2015, but I can hardly wait. Although the contexts of these works are naturally all different (Aya, for instance, deals with growing up in the 70s in The Ivory Coast while Persepolis obviously deals with the Iranian Revolution in 1979), I think it's cool for students to have the graphic novel format as a consistent thread throughout the unit. The visual also gives them something else to focus on that is textual rather than contextual, an important feature for the Literature in Translation Paper that serves as the summative assessment for this unit.
If you're an IB Educator for Language A: Literature, let me know what works you're planning to do for the Literature in Translation unit. Depending on your titles, I can point you in the direction of some graphic works that might help to facilitate your students' understanding!
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Even if you're teaching Maus for the first time, there are more resources out there than you might think...
It can be both an exciting and daunting task for teachers if they're teaching a graphic novel for the first time, and that graphic novel happens to be Art Spiegelman's Maus. Although it is one of the most frequently taught GNs in the high school classroom (along with Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis), there are dozens of resources available to assist you in your preparations. Here are some good ones to get you started with your unit!
These resources should help you to prepare a unit that your students will thoroughly enjoy. If you still have any questions about teaching Maus, don't hesitate to ask us here at Comics in Education!
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Boldprint Kids Graphic Readers Help K-3 Students Learn Math
Math is one of those subjects that students will make judgments about pretty early on in their academic career. It's not so much the math they make a judgment about--it's their ability to do math. It's sad when kids make these kinds of judgments about themselves early on, or when parents makes such judgments for them (e.g. "Don't worry, I wasn't very good at math either").
A great resource for the K-3 math classroom is the Boldprint Kids Graphic Readers series from Rubicon/Oxford. These readers speak directly to the most common curricula found in the primary grades.
What's the Problem, for instance, looks at rudimentary problem solving of the sort that students in Grade 3 would engage in, while Hoop Shot helps to support students doing the measurement unit in Grade 1. Indeed, all of the readers in the series are designed specifically to provide a visual narrative that helps to support a child's development in one of their core subject areas, like mathematics, science, and social studies.
You can find this award-winning series at their official website.
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If you're thinking that comics and graphic novels are only for the English or Social Studies classroom, think again. One of the best graphic novels you can get your hands on is actually about the history of mathematics. In Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papdimitriou examine the life of Bertrand Russell as well as some of the most important and influential mathematicians and thinkers of the 20th century.
The book isn't only about Russell's life as a mathematician and pacifist, however, but of the group of artists and illustrators trying to put it all together, and so the narrative switches back and forth between the actual present, the present of the narrative, and the recollections of Russell's own past, including his work with Alfred North Whitehead on Principia Mathematica.
Of special interest to math educators will no doubt be the part of the story when Russell's attempts to establish a progressive school for young people that does not subscribe to traditional models. Needless to say, things go horribly awry when the students realize that they are not bound by traditional rules!
The book was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for Graphic Novels and received widespread critical praise. Although it plays fast and loose with historical accuracy at times, it is thoroughly engaging, and a great way to show students how the math they are studying didn't just fall out of the sky one day. It came from the likes of the mathematicians and thinkers shown below!
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This is the first in a series of posts that are intended to give English educators some new ways of thinking about how to incorporate graphica into their curriculum. One way of making inroads with colleagues who are resistant to visual narrative in the curriculum is to show them how these works speak to, reinforce, support, augment, and otherwise work well with canonical literature dealing with similar concepts or themes. As you read these posts, please feel free to send me your ideas. I'd love to publish them on our site!
I like this roster of text choices, not only because the two novels and the choreopoem are written by women, but because the list will present students with engaging and challenging material. This is especially true of both Beloved and For Colored Girls and teachers would be well advised to ensure in advance that their students can handle the issues presented in these works.
I love the addition of The Silence of Our Friends, a semi-autobiographical work that looks at race relations in Texas circa 1967, with a white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood befriending a black family living in one of the the city's poorest wards. They come together when five black students are unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman.
The other graphic title I've included here was written in 2013 and was accorded numerous honors that included consideration for Graphic Novel of the Year. That's March, Book 1, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, who also happens to have illustrated The Silence of Our Friends!
Of course, the amount of time that you have with your students and the specific demands of your curriculum will decide whether you can take an approach as suggested by the above list. However, we shouldn't underestimate the extent to which 21st-century students appreciate a curriculum that makes sense to them, and seems to be put together with the express purpose of fully and authentically developing their understanding of a particular issue or theme.
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Each year, students at The York School in Toronto undertake Challenge Week excursions, travelling all over the GTA and across Canada to engage in experiential learning activities. Last year, I had a group at The Brickworks in Toronto (where TYS has a classroom) for a week-long experience called “Write of Passage.” It featured aspiring Grade 10 writers working with experienced poets, food authors, and playwrights. This year, I’m with a group at Maker Kids in Toronto, an organization that allows students to get hands-on experience building just about anything they can think of. Located at 2241 Dundas Street West in Toronto, Maker Kids is a unique space, as its website notes:
MakerKids is one of the only makerspaces for kids in the world. It’s a non-profit workshop space where kids can learn about and do things like 3D printing, electronics, and woodworking. We offer workshops, camps, afterschool programs and more at our location in Roncesvalles in Toronto, and participate in external events in the GTA and beyond. We enable kids to build their ideas with real tools and materials; our goal is to inspire and empower kids to think, design, experiment and create.
When we asked students what they wanted to make, it didn't take long for one of the groups to say "Hovercraft." The short video below shows a 3-D printer having a go at one of the casings for the high speed lift propeller.
What is so impressive about Maker Kids is the visual and tactile learning environment in which students are immersed. Here the goal is to have them dream big and to ask for anything that can help bring their dream to reality. On just the first day of our excursion, our students were imagining designing everything from piano gloves to iPhone accessories to hovercrafts and miniature helicopters. Important in fuelling this hands-on, tactile learning experience is all of the signage around the space that encourages students to pursue their ideas.
It strikes me that this visual stimuli – not just the encouraging posters but all of the equipment that surrounds them – does something for the students that is not unlike what I see comics and graphic novels doing for reluctant and struggling readers. It gives them a more immersive kind of experience and helps to reassure and encourage them in their process of attempting to make meaning from their experiences.
Maker Kids has a wealth of programs for kids but also sets aside time for parents and educators. For more information about their programs, you can check out their website at www.makerkids.ca.
Some Amazing Inventions by Some Amazing Students...
As an organization that has a passionate interest in visual narrative in education, and a love of all things that marry visual art with the written word, we're over the moon with the Doodle 4 Google contest. Cedar Creek Publishing sent me a tweet this morning about it and I went to the site to check out the artwork. Talk about phenomenal!
All of the entrants should be immensely proud of their work. The contest is divided into grade categories and has students redesigning the Google logo. Here are the rules for this year's contest, courtesy of Google!
This year's theme:
Okay, okay ... so who did we vote for?
There were so many wonderful illustrations, but these are the ones that Comics in Education voted for!
My Time Machine (K-3 Category)
In Graphic Detail
by David Booth and Kathy Gould-Lundy
Award-winning educators, David Booth and Kathy Gould Lundy, look at the use of graphic novels in this activities-based book designed for the K-12 classroom. Exercises involve not simply reading and writing but help to develop the student's ability to express their learning through visual art and drama.
Learning to Read with Graphic Power
by David Booth and Larry Swartz
This book is designed to develop core literacy skills by having students engage with visual narrative. Using examples from the award-winning Boldprint Kids Graphic Readers series, the book shows why graphic novels should be in the classroom and how they can connect to pre-existing literacy programs.
Teaching Visual Literacy
by Nancy Frey and Douglas B. Fisher
This resource by Nancy Frey and Douglas B. Fisher is an everything-you-need-to-know look at comics, graphic novels, cartoons, and manga as a way to foster and develop thinking and visual literacy skills in the classroom. It shows readers not only that a picture is worth a thousand words, but how visual imagery can inspire and engage reluctant readers.
Wham! Teaching with Graphic Novels Across the Curriculum
by William Brozo, Gary Moorman, and Carla K. Meyer
As part of the Language and Literacy series, illiam Brozo, GaryMoorman, and Carla Meyer give readers a resource for teaching with graphic novels across the curriculum. Focusing on the high school classroom, the book shows teachers how to incorporate graphic novels into content area instruction while motivating reluctant and struggling readers.
When they ask me how I was inspired to write for the Rubicon / Scholastic series, my answer is always two words:
When my son was very young he was fascinated by Ancient Pompeii...not just the fateful events of August 24-25, 79 CE, but the vibrant city bustling with life that preceded it. He was similarly fascinated by gladiators and fullers and senators and emperors, and he was so interested in the people, places, sights, and sounds of the ancient city that we had to do something about it.
So, we decided to take a trip to the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa/Hull, where the plaster casts were being exhibited. These were the same plaster casts that were created by archaeologists who injected plaster into the air pockets of the volcanic debris that had hardened over the course of more than 1600 years. By doing so, the archaeologists were able to bring to life the forms of those who perished in one of the worst pyroclastic surges in the history of Volcanic eruptions.
So that's what I did.
What follows, then, are the books I wrote for the Timeline series, entirely inspired by my son's self-directed learning. Writing them was tremendous fun and I could always count on a certain someone to provide me with an endless assortment of ideas about how these stories should be told.
by Glen Downey
Illustrated by Liam Thurston
Cato is a young slave boy in the bustling Roman city of Pompeii. When Mount Vesuvius erupts without warning, Cato is separated from his mother. Will they wurvive the terrifying day and be reunited?
by Glen Downey
Ilustrated by Andrew Barr
Young Marcus is a slave whose only chance for freedom is to compete as a gladiator in Rome. Will he survive to see his mother again or suffer the fate of his father?
by Glen Downey
Illustrated by David Okum
In 15th-century London, young Will works at a tavern where Prince Hal and his companions hang out. When royal duties call, will Prince Hal rise to the challenge?
by Glen Downey
Illustrated by Glenn Brucker
It is the Ice Age in North America -- the land is covered in ice and snow. Bruno, a little bear, is being hunted down by a sabre-toothed cat. While his sister Ursula looks for him, she meets some interesting creatures of the Ice Age.
The Great Siege
by Glen Downey
Illustrated by Mike Rooth
The young scribe Joshua leads a quiet, scholarly life in the libraries of the Byzantine Empire. However, as the Ottoman Turks lay siege to the city of Constantinople, many lives are changed forever. What will happen to Joshua?
Escape from East Berlin
by Glen Downey
Illustrated by Leo Lingas
Young Hans Kappel and his sister Marta live in communist East Berlin but yearn for the freedom of the West. When they hear the American President speak about freedom, they devise a plan to escape...
by Glen Downey
Illustrated by Anthony Brennan
It is 1920. Virginia's life is turned upside down when she finds out she has diabetes. Scientists have been working around the clock to find a treatment -- but will they make a discovery in time to save Virginia's life?
by Glen Downey
Illustrated by Leigh Dragoon
A young slave girl named Lizzie escapes from her owner with the help of her friend Elijah. When Elijah is killed, Lizzie has to trust others to guide her on that secret path to freedom, the Underground Railroad. Will she get to the Promised Land before she's caught?
by Glen Downey and Jayn Arnold
Illustrated by Mike Rooth
The year is 1513. The great Leonardo da Vinci is old and bitter, and has many enemies. Can the young apprentice Matteo help Leonardo believe in himself again? Will Leonardo be able to stop his enemies' evil plans?
...Apparently that they understand something about the elements of farce.
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.
In the End, There Are Five Books You Need...
Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud
Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
The Comic Book History of Comics, by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey
Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know, by Paul Gravett
Making Comics, by Scott McCloud
Though written a few years ago now, the English translation was published this past year, and we should be nothing short of thankful for it. In this critically-acclaimed work, Davodeau recalls the experience of learning the craft of wine making in the Loire Valley from vintner, Richard Leroy. At the same time, Davodeau gets Leroy to learn the art of writing, drawing, and publishing graphic novels. The story is brilliantly told, and from it we come away with a genuine understanding of how much people from different backgrounds and occupations can learn from one another by seeing what is actually involved in what they do.
I would strongly encourage teachers to read this graphic novel. It strikes me that Davodeau and Leroy engage in precisely the kind of authentic learning we want for our students. For instance, it's one thing to know that winemakers use barrels and that barrels are made by coopers. It's another thing to watch as Leroy pays a visit to the cooper's and hangs out there all day making sure the barrels are made just so while Davodeau looks on nonplussed. Indeed, both men learn from one another how passionate they are about their respective professions and how this is a fundamental quality they both share.
Talking with students about this graphic novel and sharing it with them is important, I think, in preparing them to be initiates for the world of lived experience.
They're Thoughtful, They're Visual, and They're Very Pragmatic
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m interested as much as the next person in the present of education. I’ve been to enough conferences and listened to enough keynote speakers to know that the present is pretty interesting. After all, this is the 21st century, and our classrooms are comprised of an exciting new breed of student: the 21st-century learner. I quite like them, in fact.
I can’t help but think, though, that much of what is said about the 21st-century learner, despite being well-intentioned, doesn’t always accord with the needs of the 21st-century learner. Now on the surface it seems to. We talk about how these learners have a different “operating system” than learners once did, and are hardwired to inhabit a visual culture of fleeting images and an aural culture of soon-forgotten soundbites. We’re pretty certain, as well, that they need to complement their "superficial" understanding of a broad range of subjects with deeper investigations of the important few. Talking about these things with one another in the office, discussing them at department meetings, and sharing them at conferences all make us feel like we have a handle on 21st-century education…
But this is a post about 22nd-century education.
Perhaps more accurately, this is a post about the future of education, and about how much or how little we are doing to prepare for it.
I was inspired after much procrastination to post this because of something that happened in my class last term. I learned a fundamental truth about the way in which my students deal with the visual world they inhabit. It reconfirmed my belief that the manner in which students negotiate this world must be an essential component of any secondary school curriculum. I think you will see why in a moment.
In preparation for a Grade 11 unit on poetry, I gave my students the image below to consider:
Then I decided to push them further. I said that I could only begin the poetry unit once they told me who the woman in the photo was, where the photo was taken, and on what day. I teach in a laptop environment, and I allowed the students to use any technology they had at their disposal.
How long do you think it took them to discover her identity?
Perhaps more pertinently, how many clicks do you think it took them?
If you’re imagining a process of keyword and image searches that quickly narrowed things down, with only a few minutes and a handful of clicks required to answer the questions, then you likely understand something about 21st-century learning.
If you’re intrigued, surprised, horrified, or delighted by the fact that the answers can be found in two clicks, however, then read on.
It took about 30 seconds before a student got up, walked over to me holding his phone, and read off his litany of responses: “It’s Mary Surratt, sir, And the photo was taken on July 7, 1865 in Washington, DC. She’s about to be hanged for the Lincoln Assassination.”
“But…how…?” I asked. I mean, it was only 30 seconds after I set them the task.
“Google Goggles, sir. Just took a picture of the image with my phone and the app compared it with the images in the Google Database. Then I just clicked on the link that came up.”
That’s right: two clicks.
I have a feeling, then, that just as we're beginning to get a handle on 21st-century education, the next century has already begun. Apparently, we needed to begin getting ready for this back in the '50s or something,
So although this site will usually focus on the use of comics and graphic novels in the classroom and their wider applications (in visual brainstorming, in recognizing similarities and differences between literary forms, genres, etc.), I still want to hear from educators, students, and parents about where we we need to go in educating today's learners. I want to know how we can transform the real and virtual spaces in which our students learn and break out of the traditional environments we’ve inherited in order to produce the next generation of learners…
Well, the next after the next, anyway.
Having Students Take Notes in Their Own Way is the Key
They are exercises in brain-dumping.
Think of the activity as less about drawing and more about freewriting, but with some license to use the visual and without the need to avoid lifting the pen from the page. Here, Kailey has amassed an excellent amount of information about the opening scene of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Her only direction was to think about a few basic concepts: character development, staging, humour, and dialogue. She was also encouraged to ask questions right on the paper about things that were happening in the scene that she might not fully understand.
The results are so staggering that I'll likely be transferring this to the exemplars section of the website so that I can generate a slightly larger illustration to show you what she came up with.
Please try these exercises with your students! You may be quite pleasantly surprised not just with their artistic skills, but by how much knowledge and understanding they are able to articulate when given the freedom to express their ideas in this manner.
Activities Inspired by the Visual Can Yield Amazing Results
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:
- The student takes about five or ten minutes to brainstorm a series of adjectives that describe him or her. They can do this on their own.
- Now--as a Think, Pair, Share activity--students are put into partnership to whittle their lists of adjectives down to ten. The partner can be useful in saying things like "Well, I think your kindness is a more important feature of your character than your shyness, so I would keep 'kind' and get rid of 'shy,'" for example. Once they have shared with a partner, things can be redirected into a class discussion about how easy or how difficult it was for the students to come with their lists.
- The second part of the activity is not terribly challenging, but it must be conscientiously done. The student should identify a living or non-living thing that comes to mind when they think of each of the adjectives. If the student thinks "loving" is a characteristic he or she has, then a heart or similar symbol might be chosen. Once students have their ten items, they go on to step 4.
- In this step, the students must produce a collage of the items they chose, whether by hand or using technology. Their goal is to attempt to render the items in such a way that the items visually represent them.
- When the collages are completed, students take turns presenting them, ultimately addressing the question of whether or not they feel the final piece does or does not represent them. They then submit a reflection piece that describes the process they went through in putting the assignment together.
What are some neat results?
As a side note, I did my own collage to see what I would come up with. The result is below:
Shot / Reverse Shot
Extreme Close Up
Graphic Novel *
The Mysterious Underground Men (1948), by Osamu Tezuka
Although we sometimes think of New Treasure Island (1947) as the first manga comic, Osamu Tezuka's The Mysterious Underground Men is the one that the author himself considered the first of his "story manga." It tells the tale of Mimio the Rabbit who tries desperately to prove his humanity while helping his friends deal with mysterious creatures under the earth dead set on taking over the surface world. The work is amusing, exciting, and, in the final analysis, heartbreaking, serving to shape with its ending the course of manga in the nearly 70 years since its publication.
A Contract with God (1978), by Will Eisner
Generally considered to be the first graphic novel in the North American tradition, this 1978 classic by Will Eisner showed a generation of readers something that they had forgotten: that it did not simply have to be the Sunday funnies or feature an assortment of costumed crusaders. Eisner sets his collection of stories on the fictional DropsieAvenue in the Bronx, and what he achieves in telling stories of the very real human dramas that unfold every day on our city streets--stories of triumph and of tragedy--changed the course of comics history. In some ways, A Contract with God is peerless in the canon of visual narrative, and is a must read for anyone undertaking a serious study of the genre.
Maus (1986), by Art Spiegelman
If you are an educator who has taught a full-length graphic novel in your middle or high school English classroom, the overwhelming chances are that you taught Art Spiegelman's Maus. Telling the story of Spiegelman's father as a Holocaust survivor during the war, the novel uses the ingenious and sometimes controversial device of anthropomorphized animals. The story is not only about the horrifying experiences of Spiegelman's father, however, but about the relationship between father and son that develops over the course of the novel, and the latter's efforts to tell his father's story as a visual narrative.
The Dark Knight Returns (1986), by Frank Miller
Few would argue that The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller is the single most important Batman story ever told. It is ten years after an aging Batman has retired that the crime and violence on the streets of Gotham are in desperate need of his glorious return. With Carrie Kelly, a female Robin at his side, Batman must work to defeat rival mutant street gangs, face off against two of his greatest foes--the Joker and Two-Face--and then go up against his longtime ally, Superman, in a battle that only one of them can survive. The Dark Knight Returns is often seen as being almost singlehandedly responsible for the resurgence of interest in Batman and for the film franchise that followed.
Watchmen (1986), by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
One can't underestimate the importance of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. A decade ago, Time Magazine compiled a list of the Best 100 novels from 1923 to the present, and Watchmen was on it. Powerful, compelling, and complete with characters who burn into the retina of our collective memory, this graphic novel simply must be read by any student of the genre. Chronicling the fall from grace of aging superheroes, this Hugo-Award winning graphic novel is one of the most frequently studied works of visual narrative in the postsecondary academy. It also underscores the profound contribution to the genre by creative genius, Alan Moore.
Finder (1996-present), by Carla Speed McNeil
With her webcomic Finder, Carla Speed McNeil introduced us to the remarkable world of her wandering protagonist, Jaeger. In the first volume of the series, Jaeger becomes involved with a family trying desperately to recover after escaping a psychologically abusive father. Although McNeil chooses a science fiction setting for her series, her characters are all too human in their depth and complexity, and the series itself explores important issues about family, identity, and the self. The series has garnered no small amount of critical praise across the various volumes that have been published in web and print form over the course of the last two decades. Finder is, when all is said and done, a superlative achievement.
Transmetropolitan, Volume 1 (1997), by Warren Ellis and Darcik Robertson
The brainchild of the irrepressible Warren Ellis, Transmetropoltian, Volume 1: Back on the Street tells the story of Spider Jerusalem, an investigative reporter living in the 23rd century who returns from his self-imposed exile to a civilization whose corruption and degradation drove him away in the first place. Now, as a reporter for The Word, Jerusalem sees it as his mission to confront the injustices of his society in the way only he can. As a post cyberpunk comic, Transmetropolitan speaks volumes about how Ellis sees our ultimate salvation not in the hands of costumed heroes with superhuman powers, but resting with the common man willing to stand against the forces of corruption.
Persepolis (2004), by Marjane Satrapi
Educators who have taught a graphic novel at the high school level that was not Art Spiegelman's Maus have likely taught Persepolis, the compelling graphic narrative by Marjane Satrapi that chronicles her life in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution. With her we see the revolution through the eyes of a child who must very quickly grow up, confronted as she is with the terrifying events that shaped the country she loved so much. What is so profound in Persepolis, however, are the important things it has to say about family, and about how it can be the only thing to hold onto when the rest of the world is going crazy. Satrapi's use of the symbolic is an especial strength of the narrative, as is her understanding of the limitless potential of the visual in telling such a story.
Building Stories (2012), by Chris Ware
Hands down the best graphic novel of 2012 and arguably the best novel of 2012, Chris Ware's Building Stories is in some ways difficult to fathom. Developed and written over the course of ten years, the novel is comprised of a series of fourteen differently formatted, sized, and bound pieces that tell an interconnected series of stories from a Chicago three-flat occupied by a curious cast of characters. Building Stories garnered four Eisner awards on its own and was on the Top 10 book lists of most major reviews, including the New York Times, Time Magazine and Publishers Weekly.
Boxers & Saints (2013), by Gene Luen Yang
Many had Boxers & Saints on their list of the Best Graphic Novels of 2013 and with good reason. This pair of graphic novels tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the 20th century. Told from the perspective of a young person on either side of the conflict, it shows the world the immense talent of Yang, who previously impressed with American Born Chinese. In Boxers, Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy, grows up to lead his people against the Christian influences that he sees as threatening his homeland. In Saints, Vibiana must decide whether to remain true to her Christian faith or abandon it in favour of rebellion.
Use Visual Note-Taking Strategies for Better Results!
I was never big on taking that road myself. When asked to solve a math problem, I always wanted the solution to look cool for some reason. I think this had to do with my formative reading experiences being so tied to comics, detective fiction, adventure stories, and the manuals and gamebooks of fantasy role-playing games. I wanted the journey to be exciting!
A few years back, I was teaching at a school that held a math contest for students and faculty. I found the questions really challenging, and that's with ten undergraduate math courses under my belt!
I managed to win the contest (which I think my colleagues found strange given that I taught in the English department), but the way I answered the questions had something to do with it: Here were my responses, and I apologize in advance for having no longer any clue what the questions were...
Q1. Killer Geometry Question
Q2. Fractals -- It was brutal
Q3. Hypocycloid Question (I nearly died)
Q4. I honestly don't even remember this one...
Critical Thinking Questions
- When I read a graphic poem, how do the illustrations make my experience different? Are there certain poems that illustration would help me understand better than others?
- Does graphic poetry have to be more than just an illustrated poem? Can it be less?
- Does graphic poetry detract from the poem by providing a visual interpretation that might not be in accordance with the reader’s?
Self-Awareness and Metacognition Questions
- When I read graphic poetry, do I actually enjoy the experience? Do I personally prefer this experience to the one of just reading a poem itself?
- When I write and illustrate a graphic poem, how do I decide what kinds of illustrations I will make? How do I decide where the text goes on a page, and whether I use comment bubbles, thought bubbles, narrative boxes, or something different altogether?
Navigation Skills and Making Connections Questions
- If I were to create an animated poem in which the visual illustration actually moves and breathes, would that change the visual narrative I would construct?
- How can the visual component of a graphic poem echo the poem’s use of literary devices and figurative language, like metaphor and repetition.
- How is graphic poetry like a play in performance or the filmed version of a novel? Does it have similar advantages and drawbacks?
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity
Critical Thinking Questions
- Do I gain anything from not being able to represent every moment of what I am trying to depict?
- Would someone looking at my visual narrative be able to understand it? If they had a question, what would their question be?
- Is there something that I now understand about what I’m representing that I didn’t understand before I drew it?
- Is there something about the way in which I drew or represented this visual narrative that says something about how I feel towards the subject?
- Am I better able to represent my narrative in pictures or in words? Why?
- Is there any illustration that would benefit from having some clarifying text associated with it?
- In each panel, is it easier for me to show my audience what I mean with a picture or would it be easier to simply explain it?
- What is the usefulness of being able to communicate in images alone as opposed to words alone or words and images?
- Is there a way for me to better understand how I can translate my ability to write to my ability to visually represent ideas and vice versa?
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in this Activity?
Critical Thinking Questions
- When I am encouraged to explain my thoughts both with words and images, do I find this easy? Do I have a tendency to want to only words or only use images?
- If I am trying to explain a process or a set of steps with words and images, what benefits do I see in using both?
- How are other students organizing their ideas on the page? What can I learn from this?
- Could I see myself using this activity in other areas of my studies or in my daily life?
- Has the activity helped me to clarify what I am trying to express? Has the visual nature of it helped me to “see” something that I might have otherwise ignored?
Navigation Skills Questions
- Could I give this process, procedure, or set of instructions to someone and could they follow it?
- What might my classmates indicate are the strengths and weaknesses of my visual note-taking?
- How could I transfer these visual note-taking skills to a laptop, an iPad, or some other piece of technology? Would I be able to accomplish something similar given the right program or app?
- Do I consider the visual note-taking to be an end product in itself, or does it just allow me to get my information together so that I can create accurate and detailed notes, instructions, or procedures as written text?
- Does anyone else take notes, or describe processes or procedures in this way?
- Would there be an advantage to do visual note-taking collaboratively?
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity?
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.
Comics In Education
Reading For The Love Of It
The Graphic Canon
Visual Note Taking