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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Don't underestimate the appeal to visual learners
If you're not up to the challenge of ordering Oxford's graphic novel versions of Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet for fear of your colleagues' admonishing stares, consider the wealth of YouTube clips from Shakespeare, the Animated Tales. This series covers some of the most beloved of Shakespeare's plays and is an excellent way to help students improve their understanding of the Bard and his work.
The series ran on BBC 2 from 1992 to 1994 and consists of twelve half-hour long programs. The series even inspired the Shakespeare Schools Festival, an annual event in which students perform half-hour long versions of Shakespeare's plays. If you're interested in the series, it can be ordered online. Here are the plays that are featured:
What younger students will enjoy about the series are the different approaches to animation in each of the videos--approaches that attempt to match well with the play in question (you can see this just by looking at the still frames above).
And heck, whose to say that some of our older students couldn't benefit from having a look at Shakespeare, the Animated Tales?
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A nice way to acquaint your students with a new text they'll be studying is to use something visual. It's especially powerful if this visual piece is done by a former student who has studied the work. We've all used video clips and the like to kickstart a unit on Shakespeare, so why not use a piece of visual brainstorming to do likewise.
As we can see in the example above from Hannah, such a piece doesn't take a long time to create and it can capture some of the essential learnings and enduring understandings that are takeaways from the unit. Hannah's example deals with Karel Capek's War with the Newts, a science fiction novel written in the 1930s that satirizes the rise of Fascism, Nazism, as well as racism in America. In the story, a race of sentient newts is discovered, and through a series of circumstances paralleling the events following the end of WW1, the Newts eventually rise to a position of power.
A great pre-reading strategy is to give students a piece of visual brainstorming like this and to ask them what they think the novel will be about. This can be done in combination with showing them the short video clip below. The result is that students are required to activate their prior knowledge and make predictions prior to reading, which are both excellent strategies to better ensure that they eventually grasp the enduring understandings of the unit.
Try it with your students and let me know how it goes!
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I've talked about the importance of establishing that visual narrative is a tradition--one that arguably dates back to a period that predates either the oral or written traditions as we know them. However, not everyone is convinced that cave art, Egyptian hieroglyphics, or something like William Hogarth's "A Rake's Progress" is an ancestor of contemporary comics and graphic novels unless they've been fortunate enough to read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. However, as I was shown by Laura McRae from Havergal College at the 2014 CITE Conference, it's pretty hard to argue against the Bayuex Tapestry being such an ancestor!
Take a look at the fantastic animated video Laura showed me that was originally created as a student project at Goldsmiths College. If you can't see the connection between the Bayeux Tapestry and contemporary comics after watching it, I might never be able to convince you that visual narrative has a long and proud tradition.
Thanks for showing me this, Laura!
Chaney also gets into the whole idea of how we tend to process cartoonish representations of the human form in a different way than we would still photography. Photography suggests an image captured in the a past that no longer exists. We know that something in a photograph is not happening to the person "in the here and now" because the photo had to have been previously taken. However, Satrapi's cartooning shows us a character that we, as readers, are willing to believe is in "the present" of the narrative. This is such an insightful idea and one that can generate really excellent discussions with students.
Chaney's talk and the ideas it raises also allow for a lot of cross-polination depending on the other writers your students are studying. For example, Margaret Atwood's poetry is filled with references to the problematic nature of photography: how photographs capture an instant in time, but don't tell us what happened to the subject in the time before or the time since the click of the camera's shutter. Think, for instance of "This is a Photograph of Me" or "Girl and Horse, 1928." Satrapi also focuses on photographs as a visual record, with a memorable full-page panel of her father taking photos of the violence, and other panels in which a character is looking at a photograph from the past and pointing out something about it.
Chaney's talk, then, is a wonderful starting point for such discussions. Be sure to check it out!
There are so many great videos out there just waiting for you to share them with your students. The trick, sometimes, is finding them. While I enjoy sifting through countless videos on YouTube that are student reenactments of great works of literature, I would prefer to know what's out there in advance. What follows in the coming blog posts is a collection of great YouTube videos that are either animated or focus on visual narrative in some way. They can really help you make successful curriculum connections with your students and help foster engagement. We'll start with the one below by Lynn Tomlinson.
So begins Emily Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz -- when I died --," a chilling poem that focuses on one of her favourite themes: Death. Even more chilling, perhaps, is this 1989 adaptation of the poem by Lynn Tomlinson. Here, the incessant buzzing and shifting, animated canvas seem spot on with Dickinson's own sensibilities.
When I teach this poem to my IB English students, I find Tomlinson's video to be eminently helpful. Above and beyond generating great discussions about the mood that it establishes, the video also shows students that the poem really works best when it's subject to a very matter-of-fact reading. So much of Dickinson's poetry is like this in fact. I really love the way the poem is delivered, especially when the fly appears on the scene. It takes students no time at all to realize that the windows failing are the speaker's eyes, and then they soon discover that nearly every time Dickinson makes reference to windows, our ocular faculties are in play. Soon after, they make the connection between "Eye" and "I" that pervades so much of Dickinson's writing.
Some educators would argue that the video serves to interpret the poem for students--that they have less of an opportunity to think or to imagine by virtue of watching it. This, however, is a red herring, because young learners profit far more from listening to a solid reading of the poem first and seeing it in some sort of context. We don't go to a performance of Hamlet and come away complaining that the director ruined Shakespeare's text by interpreting it (unless, I suppose, the interpretation is dreadful). We don't fret about the sanctity of a screenplay for a film when we go and see the film at the theatre.
As educators, we need to get away from handing out the poem to students, asking Sally to read it (because Sally likes reading out loud) and then asking the class what the poem means. That stopped being cool last century.
Note that this post and others in the "Visual Narrative and YouTube" series will become permanent fixtures of the website under the "Classroom" and "Curriculum Connections" tabs.
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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