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:
We've discussed at some length on this forum the approaches one can take to introducing visual narrative to students or fellow teachers, and we've also suggested the importance of looking at it as a tradition. This really is a must. Students and educators alike tend to ascribe legitimacy to something that they perceive as part of a larger tradition. If you're wanting to teach the graphic novel in a serious way, then, I'd suggest spending a couple of weeks looking at the following with students.
Begin with a journey through the ancient world of cave art, with as many exciting stops along the way as you can. Even better, get your students to create their own cave art so that they can show themselves the power it must have held for ancient peoples who were desperate to tell their stories.
Make your next stop the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt, showing students the beauty and detail that went in to telling stories through symbolic imagery. As well, check out the "Word and Image" activity featured on this site that gives students opportunities to marry the verbal and the visual.
The Bayeux Tapestry
There is simply no way to dispense with showing students the Bayeux Tapestry, a remarkable example of a woven graphic story, created in France as a testament to the events that culminated in the Battle of Hastings. If they don't think it's a comic, you can always show them this!
Stations of the Cross
Many people look at a work of visual narrative every week without even knowing it. A great thing to share with students and fellow colleagues is the many manifestations of the Stations of the Cross, a story told in word and image that has been around for hundreds of years! While you're at it, show them the Wordless Narrative activity featured on our site.
A Rake's Progress
William Hogarth was on to something when he created a series of paintings that tell the story of a young man who wastes a fortune through reckless living. A Rake's Progress is not simply a brilliantly conceived work of art, but a fine example of visual narrative.
Next time we'll start with William Blake and then move into 19th and 20th century examples of visual narrative that can help you to reinforce with students and fellow colleagues its fascinating tradition!
If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy:
At Comics in Education, we conceptualize visual narrative as a broader category than what we think of as traditional comics and graphic novels. Its implications and applications for the K-12 classroom are likewise also broader. Take, for instance, the three novels below whose first chapters are rendered as Wordles. It turns out that these tag clouds can generate some exciting activities:
Novel #1, Chapter 1
Novel #2, Chapter 1
Novel #3, Chapter 1
Think about the great thinking and problem-solving activities that students can engage in with these Wordles. They can be used as a pre-reading activity in getting students to consider what the works they are about to study might deal with. Consider the following:
You can see that activities during and after reading also suggest themselves, and that analyzing the word distributions here can be a fantastic springboard into a fuller investigation of the styles of the three authors.
No doubt, some of you are yelling at your laptop or handheld and calling out the names of the novels as you read this. If that's you, then Tweet your answers to me @teachingcomics or @GlenDowney. The first person to get all three correct will be immortalized for their victory in this very blog post!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:
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 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!
Use Provocative Media to Jumpstart Visual Brainstorming
Depending on what kind of visual brainstorming or visual note-taking you'd like your students to engage in, it's good to give them a provocative piece of media to get their ideas going. As I've mentioned previously, when I introduce students to this form of note-taking, I like to show them the RSAnimations video of Sir Ken Robinson's famous TED Talk on Changing Educational Paradigms. Here, in advance of looking at how media uses language and image to construct a concept for its brand that people find attractive, I showed my students "This is a Generic Brand Video," a wonderfully subversive meta-commercial about how a lot of contemporary commercials work. After watching this video with my IB Language and Literature class, we engaged in a little visual brainstorming of a Suncor commercial that actually fit the bill of the one described by the above video.
Here's what my students, Kyle and Muhammed, put together after watching the video, discussing their take on it, and engaging in some visual brainstorming:
As an educator, some of the big takeaways from this are so important. Obviously Kyle and Muhammed had fruitful discussions even though they imparted to their visual note-taking and brainstorming their own unique signatures. Both addressed the disconnects between what the advertisement shows and what Suncor Energy is all about, but whereas Kyle preferred to compartmentalize things by keeping his image-and-text combinations at some distance to one another, Muhammed preferred a slightly more organic approach. He also took more liberties with the cartoonishness he imparted to his figures. Nonetheless, Muhammed seems to draw inspiration from Kyle's Suncor image while Kyle imparts Muhammed's cartoonish strokes to the sun figure.
So, by way of advice, let students talk to one another about what you'd like them to focus their visual note-taking and brainstorming on. It can help them learn from one another and then immediately demonstrate this learning in their work.
A question that sometimes arises among students when I teach Othello is whether or not Iago bears more than a passing similarity to Batman's arch-nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime--the Joker. I don't know who first came up with the idea of connecting these characters, but when my students initially mentioned it to me I found myself of two minds about it.
When I'm of two minds about something I find it helps to sketch things out. So I turn to visual brainstorming to see if that helps resolve things:
Let's see what you think...
Well, I'm not sure that this exercise resolves the issue entirely. There are some similarities in the ways in which both characters delight in others' undoing. However, one thing that the exercise works out is that Iago may, in fact, be a kind of hybrid of Joker and Batman, preferring to operate from the shadows like the Dark Knight but dealing out death and destruction like the motiveless malignity that is at the heart of the Clown Prince.
Give your students as many opportunities as possible to work through complex comparisons like the one above. Allow them free range to access their thoughts in this very visual way and it won't take long to begin paying dividends.
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.
...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.
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.
Activities Inspired by the Visual Can Yield Amazing Results
This one I just had to share with you.
In the lead up to teaching Persepolis this year, I wanted to give my students as many opportunities as possible of working with the visual. If you read my blog post about the "Cave Art" activity, you'll recall that it required students to depict a day in their life, a challenging encounter, or their best moment on the planet, etc. as a cave art montage. In effect, the Cave Art activity is a kind of visual brainstorming about a moment in the student's own life. The above collage by Marwa is fantastic, looking like it sprang to life out of the Futurist movement in Western art.
There's a very cool variation on this activity that I alluded to last time. It has the following steps:
What are some neat results?
Perhaps the coolest thing about the activity is that regardless of whether they feel their collage does or does not represent them, the students are really only tasked with making a judgment and defending it. It's not a failure if it doesn't represent them nor is it an overwhelming success if it does. However, when I did this with my students this year there were some unexpected insights that resulted, one of which came from a student who suggested that although his collage didn't represent him, what did was the process he went through to put it together. These are the kinds of insights we want from our students.
As a side note, I did my own collage to see what I would come up with. The result is below:
As this site grows and develops, I guess you'll be the best judge as to whether or not this represents me. It's just crazy enough that it might...
Students 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.
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.
If you've found this site useful and would like to donate to Comics in Education, we'd really appreciate the support!