Make Your Classroom a Place Steve Would Be Proud Of!
With the interest expressed in our Literary Terms posters inspired by pulp comics, the Comics in Education Store has put together a set of nine Parts of Speech posters featuring the world of Minecraft. Using hilarious examples and containing simple definitions and explanations, these posters are perfect for a junior, middle, or even high school classroom. They are Tablet-Sized (11x17") and sure to draw the interest of students who like their grammar with a dose of Minecraft.
The pedagogical value of the game has been recognized recently in courses like math and science, but why shouldn't it help students learn the fundamental building blocks of the English language?
Check out our Parts of Speech posters today in our store!
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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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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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.
The world of academia just got a little less flat.
While everyone was wishing one another a happy #StarWarsDay yesterday or enjoying #FCBD (that’s Free Comic Book Day for those who don’t get out much) the day previous, I'm guessing that considerably fewer were paying attention to what Nick Sousanis was doing at Teachers College, Columbia University.
He was defending his doctoral dissertation, written entirely in comic book form.
Writing a dissertation is challenging enough, but what Nick has undertaken is a step beyond challenging. His dissertation, “Unflattening: A Visual-Verbal Inquiry into Learning in Many Dimensions,” uses visual narrative in a way that may cause a few traditionalists to raise a Spockian eyebrow, but his work and its particular form are an important contribution to academia.
As Sydni Dunn noted in her Chronicle article on Nick's dissertation earlier this year, his work is being recognized by other academics as part of an important development in the evolution of research at the doctoral level:
Sousanis’ work is just one example of this evolution, says Sidonie Smith, director of the Institute for the Humanities at University of Michigan, who is a former president of the Modern Language Association. Smith has also seen dissertations presented as series of articles, as public blogs, and as interactive digital projects, to name a few.
In earlier blogs I’ve provided K-12 teachers with a a rationale for comics in education and in other posts have discussed both why we should teach comics and how we can explain to fellow colleagues and administrators the reason they should be included in the curriculum.
Nick’s work should help to make such conversations easier.
Next time someone balks at your suggestion of choosing The Silence of Our Friends or Boxers & Saints for a unit on cultural conflict because "comics aren’t academic," show them Nick’s dissertation and tell them that the 21st century has arrived and that they should put down their copy of Martin Chuzzlewit and come outside and play!
The 10 is a series of books that use a Top-10 countdown format and graphical text to explore fascinating topics from sports, science, history, pop-culture, and a wide variety of other subjects. Whether they’re exploring the ten smartest animals or the ten greatest sports showdowns, students are encouraged to engage in inquiry-based learning tasks that extend learning and discussion outside the classroom. In 2009, the series received the Teachers' Choice Award for Children’s Books from Learning magazine. Here are many of the titles that I wrote for the series.
THE 10 SMARTEST ANIMALS
by Glen Downey
Think you're smarter than your pet dog, Fido? Think again! From monkeys that do math to pigs that play video games -- you'll be shocked at just how smart some animals are.
What do you think it takes to win the title of world's smartest animal?
MOST DECISIVE BATTLES
by Glen Downey
History, as they say, is written by the victors. When the future of a nation and even the fate of the world can be decided on the battlefield, it's no wonder armies will do anything to come out on top.
What decisive battles would you put on the list?
HOTTEST HOLLYWOOD CARS
by Glen Downey and Maria Malara
Nothing makes more of a statement than an amazing car. From cool gadgets to luxury accessories to superhero drivers, these cars all stand out from the rest of the pack.
Which car do you think is Hollywood's hottest ride?
MOST SIGNIFICANT DOCUMENTS IN HISTORY
by Glen Downey
Whether they were carved in stone, written on bamboo, or woven into a belt, each of the documents in this book has played an important role in shaping our world.
What do you think is the most significant document of all time?
GREATEST HOCKEY TEAMS OF ALL TIME
by Glen Downey and Kirsten Tenebaum
Many great hockey teams have been assembled over the years. From the innovators to the trail blazers to the record breakers, there have been many teams throughout hockey's history that have stood out from the rest.
How do you pick hockey's most outstanding teams of all time?
COOLEST FLYING MACHINES
by Glen Downey and Sandie Cond
Ever since humans figured out how to fly, people have come up with all sorts of ways to take to the skies. The fastest jet in the world, the fanciest jetliner ever built, the stealthiest spy plane service -- these are some of the coolest ways to fly!
Which do you think is the coolest?
MOST REVOLUTIONARY MILITARY INVENTIONS
by Glen Downey
From giant bomber planes to invisible chemical and biological weapons, military inventions come in all shapes and sizes. Take a trip through time as we investigate which weapons have had the biggest impact.
Which military invention really was the most revolutionary... and deadliest?
MOST MEMORABLE TV MOMENTS
by Glen Downey
From a heroic sports finale to the debut of educational programming for kids, you'll be amazed at the way TV has allowed us to experience memorable moments. Find out why these moments had people around the world on the edge of their seats.
What do you think is the most memorable moment in television?
MOST UNFORGETTABLE NASCAR MOMENTS
by Glen Downey
High speeds, skilled drivers, and big prizes -- that's what NASCAR is all about. From a million-dollar prize to an unexpected crash, you'll find out what makes auto racing fans so passionate about this exciting sport.
What is it about a NASCAR race that makes it so memorable?
MOST SHOCKING SPORTS SCANDALS
by Glen Downey
Welcome to the wild world of sports! From cheating in games to bribing judges in competitions, this book ranks the shocking scandals that ruined some of the biggest names in the game.
Have we made winning the only thing that matters?
MOST MEMORABLE SPORTS SHOWDOWNS
by Glen Downey
The stakes are high, the crowd is pumped, and tension fills the air. The arena is about to turn into a battlefield as we relive the 10 greatest sports showdowns.
Are you ready to face some of the fiercest competitors in sports history?
MOST REMARKABLE WRITERS
by Glen Downey and Jayn Arnold
From tales of Middle-Earth to moving poems, exceptional writers have wowed us with their incredible talents. Find out how each of these 10 remarkable writers made their mark on the literary world.
Who is the most remarkable writer?
For more information on "The 10" click the button below!
If you teach with comics, be on the lookout for great resources like this one!
We are lucky to be educators at a time when sharing valuable resources is so easy. Here is a great blog post from Colleen Graves, entitled "Graphic Novels in the Classroom." It examines approaches to teaching a variety of graphic novels, like Maus, Persepolis, and The Arrival. There are also a host of links that Colleen has shared, so be sure to check those out as well!
The post focuses on a range of different activities, including those that allow students to take old stories and adapt them to a new setting, as in Colleen's idea for using fairy tales to this end:
I love how complex Jack and the Beanstalk became simply by changing the setting and modifying the characters. I’d like to share this with my students and then have them create their own fractured fairytale graphic novels in groups. Each group could have an art director, author(s), artist, and pencil artist. Groups would be given fairytales, settings, and character ideas and then they could work together to create their mash-up masterpiece!
Over the coming months, I'm hoping to gather and identify as many useful resources as this one from Colleen and share them with you. If you're looking on our site for classroom ideas, check out the activities tab or click the image below!
Books that Provide Teachers with the Ideas and Activities for Teaching Visual Narrative in the K-12 Classroom
Once teachers have read a few comics for their own enjoyment, done some additional reading about the genre, and found a good graphic novel to use with their students, only one thing remains. They need to do some reading about how to teach the genre to young people. Below are four excellent resources that teachers can use when they want to bring visual narrative to the K-12 classroom.
Over the course of the next few months, I'll be sharing a number of graphic novels that I consider must-reads for those educators wanting to give serious treatment to the genre in the contemporary classroom. These works may not always be at the top of everyone's reading list, but each will have the capacity to make a very real impact on teaching and learning in the 21st-century classroom.
Of the books I read in 2013, this one had the most to say to teachers.
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.
For more information on The Initiates, have a look at the following links:
We're Blushing for Goodness Sake...
We wanted to take a moment to thank you once again for your support of this site. We have only been in operation for a very short time, but we've already made connections with some wonderful educators out there. Receiving 50,000 visits in little more than two weeks is very flattering, but here at Comics in Education we'd like to think it has to do with one basic idea.
We want to foster and develop a love and appreciation for visual narrative in the K-12 classroom. We want educators--all educators--to see that comics and graphic novels represent a genre worthy of study, that they have a tradition, and that they can open up a young person's mind to different ways of seeing and interpreting the world around them. They can encourage a reluctant reader to read. They can encourage a second language learner to acquire a new understanding of the language they are learning. And they can help students to make connections among a wide variety of texts, whether literary, artistic, or cultural.
So many of you out there are doing wonderful things in comics and in education. We can't wait to see what you do next!
They're Thoughtful, They're Visual, and They're Very Pragmatic
[A version of this post was originally published in October, 2013 on a WordPress blog I started. I moved the entire contents of that blog to its present location here. It consisted only of this post. You can also read it on medium.com.]
This is not a post about comics or graphic novels per se. This is a post about the future of education that is happening right now.
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:
What I wanted them to do is to use their facility with visual images to teach themselves how well they could transfer these investigative skills to the study of poetry. I wanted them to find evidence, use context, interpret clues. And they were fabulous. They noted, for example, that the central figure appeared to be a woman, that her dress seemed turn of the (20th) century or older, that the men in the photo were ministering to her, and that the nooses suggested something ominous was about to happen.
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
In a couple of previous posts, I showed you examples of Grade 12 students doing a comparative analysis of Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire using a Visual Brainstorming technique that saw them employ a combination of words, images and symbols to represent their thinking. Although the examples I showed featured students with excellent artistic skills, it's important to remember that Visual Brainstorming and Visual Note-Taking are not simply exercises in illustration.
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.
The Flesch-Kincaid Scoring System
I was thinking the other day about whether those who write comics and graphic novels for the trade market consider the demographics of their intended audience--not in terms of the appropriateness of the content of what they are writing, but in terms of the language they are using.
Often when teachers want to use a graphic novel that was not specifically designed for the classroom--like Persepolis, Maus, or Watchmen--they are not initially sure whether their students will be able to make sense of it (i.e. whether it's of an appropriate grade level for their students in terms of the issues it address or its use of language). This got me thinking about whether there would be a good resource to talk about in this blog that all teachers and all writers should consider using when respectively teaching and writing.
Fortunately, there is, and the resource is closer than you think!
It's called the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test and it's what every educational publisher knows when putting together any kind of book for the classroom, including leveled comics and graphic novels. What the test amounts to is a pair of equations that can analyze both the readability of a given text and its associated grade level.
Here are the snippets courtesy of the one website I could find with a very readable presentation of the two tests: Wikipedia!
Reading Ease Test
Grade Level Test
What are the implications for teachers and writers? Well, those writing in any genre can check the basic readability of the physical language structures in their prose by using the Proofing tab under Options in Microsoft Word. The hyperlink above takes you to Microsoft's site. The reason very few people use this function, however, is that it is defaulted to "off" in Word. You need to check a box called "Check Readability Statistics" in order to turn it on. Then you'll be able to see something like this: when you spell check a document.
If you write comics or graphic novels, it's a bit more challenging to use the feature. You have to include on a Word page just your dialogue. Otherwise, the reading will be skewed. It's an especially valuable tool for those who want to write for the educational publishing industry, though, since it can ensure that the physical structure of the writer's prose is not way over the heads of the intended audience. In the above example, it is indicating that a student in Grade 11 lshould be able to understand the document on a first reading. Numbers over 12 indicate that a student would generally need to have a postsecondary education to ensure their understanding of the language structures.
For teachers, there are very practical uses for this. Have your students check the grade level of their writing. Are they in Grade 12, but the Flesch-Kincaid readability test is saying that the student is writing at a Grade 4 level? It might be the case that there is a lot of dialogue in the student's text--which tends to generate lower scores--or that the student uses a number of short, monosyllabic sentences. Is your student in Grade 4 and writing at a Grade 12 level. It might be that they are constructing run-on after run-on and aren't sure where to put the period!
Okay, now I've shown you the resource. See if it can work for you!
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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