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?
If you enjoyed this video, you might also enjoy:
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!
Sometimes Note-Taking Isn't Just about What You Write...
In a previous post I shared with you a student's Sir Ken Robinson / RSAnimate-inspired visual note-taking exercise comparing the spectre of death in A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman. Here's what my student, Lucila, did with the theme of marriage...
The minimalist nature of the notes themselves are part of the beauty and importance of this example. Note for instance how cleverly Lucila has shown Blanche literally drowning in a glass of whiskey, and then look more closely still to see what the whiskey is composed of.
The text looks at Blanche's desire to escape the past, but it's run together and becomes very difficult to interpret--as though it is visually expressing slurred speech, a hazy memory, and a desire to forget. Blanche is colourful and so are the letters. Blanche tries to make sense of the past and fails just as the letters do.
No doubt the student could have managed to articulate these things if asked to engage in a more traditional brainstorming exercise, but I doubt that it could have captured so forcefully, so expertly, so profoundly something that is at the heart of Williams' play.
We could look at the visual note-taking that the student has done and at first glance we might think she has expressed very little.
But how very wrong we would be!
But the animation is just so entirely engaging in this video -- it provides so much to both the visual and auditory learner alike -- that it speaks volumes to teachers about our need to give students opportunities to put their thoughts down on paper in a way that makes sense to them. We can get them to organize their ideas to form a coherent comparative essay later, but for now it is so much better to allow them to express their understanding in a way that looks more like the thoughts themselves and less like some linear model that does not mimic how they think. This is the beauty, I think, of something like RSAnimate. It shows us a kind of visual note-taking that is rich, powerful, and inspiring--exactly what we want our lessons to be.
I won't repeat my previous post by sharing Catherine's work with you, but I will show you my own. Inspired by the RSAnimate version of Sir Ken's talk many moons ago, I decided that my lesson plans needed to have something of the visual in them. So, I started creating lessons that would use a hybrid of comic book narration bubbles, a flow chart, and visual imagery. Throw in some colour and a pinch of Photoshop and you have an array of visual lesson plans that students will respond to.
Every year at least one student asks me why I do this. Is it that I'm just such a comics fanatic that I have to do visual lesson plans in this way? Do I have hours of time to spend on these aesthetic touches?
"No," I tell them. "I do this because learning is beautiful."
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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