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!
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by Glen Downey, Comics in Education, www.comicsineducation.com
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...
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.
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