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!
And remember, if you have a great project that you're working on which brings comics and education together, don't hesitate to get in contact with us. We'd love to promote it!
Carlos reached his fundraising goal. Congratulations! I look forward to hearing more about how his efforts go in the coming months.
If you're interested in using comics in the classroom, you might also be interested in:
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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Boldprint Kids Graphic Readers Help K-3 Students Learn Math
Math is one of those subjects that students will make judgments about pretty early on in their academic career. It's not so much the math they make a judgment about--it's their ability to do math. It's sad when kids make these kinds of judgments about themselves early on, or when parents makes such judgments for them (e.g. "Don't worry, I wasn't very good at math either").
A great resource for the K-3 math classroom is the Boldprint Kids Graphic Readers series from Rubicon/Oxford. These readers speak directly to the most common curricula found in the primary grades.
What's the Problem, for instance, looks at rudimentary problem solving of the sort that students in Grade 3 would engage in, while Hoop Shot helps to support students doing the measurement unit in Grade 1. Indeed, all of the readers in the series are designed specifically to provide a visual narrative that helps to support a child's development in one of their core subject areas, like mathematics, science, and social studies.
You can find this award-winning series at their official website.
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Of all the series I have worked on, I have a special place in my heart for the 21 volumes of Graphic Poetry. Published by Rubicon / Scholastic, the series went on to win two major awards, including the 2010 Textbook Excellence Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association and the 2011 Teachers' Choice Award from Learning Magazine.
I'm especially fond of one title in the series: Margaret Atwood's "This is a Photograph of Me" and "Girl and Horse, 1928," probably because I teach a unit on Atwood's poetry to Grade 11 students in the IB program at The York School in Toronto.
For the Atwood unit, we study recurring motifs and themes in her poetry, with a culminating assessment that involves students creating a visual piece that speaks to the same motifs and themes we explore in her poetry.
When my student, Kersti, got up to do her presentation, I was exceptionally impressed by how she was able to capture the spirit of "Girl and Horse, 1928" in a wonderful painting she did. Her explanation of the choices she made in putting the piece together were equally impressive.
I have to admit that I was a wee bit pleased with myself for having shown the class the adaptations of Atwood's poetry in the above volume from the Graphic Poetry series. The projects they produced, like Kersti's, were so excellently done and I figured that they were inspired in part by seeing how poetry can be successfully married with visual art.
However, what happened on a subsequent assignment absolutely floored me. Kersti chose to interpret Atwood's "Flying Inside Your Own Body," a poem that discusses the freedom a woman enjoys when she dreams and the rather terrifying reality she inhabits when she awakens. When Kersti stood up, this is what she showed us
"Okay," I thought. "She's managed to capture something of the final part of the poem. The restrictive, claustrophobic, isolating world that women can experience when they wake to discover the dream of flying inside your own body is illusory. "But what about the dream? What about the freedom and the joy that's described at the start of the poem? Where are they?"
Then, to the surprise of everyone, she opened the painting...
That's right... She opened it. And there, inside, was the speaker of Atwood's poem. Kersti's explanation of the choices she made in her interpretation were brilliant--the tattoo, the necklace, the symbolic touches in the background--and students couldn't stop complimenting her on her work.
So, this is why we teach visual narrative in the classroom. This is why we celebrate it...
...And this is why I started a website called Comics in Education.
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.
In the End, There Are Five Books You Need...
It is incumbent upon teachers wanting to incorporate comics into their classroom practice to familiarize themselves with the resources below. These are among the finest books about the genre of visual narrative and will help to provide a foundation for educators wishing to explore comics and graphic novels with their students.
Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud
There are lots of great books written about comics, their history, and the world of visual narrative. Perhaps nowhere else, however, does an author make these things more accessible and engaging than Scott McCloud does in Understanding Comics. McCloud makes the case for looking at comics as part of a historical tradition, examines why the genre speaks to us, and provides readers with the kind of insight into visual storytelling that is difficult to findelsewhere. Understanding Comics has been consistently regarded since its publication as the preeminent work of its kind, and is often the only or among the few works on comics to be found on the bookshelves of K-12 educators.
Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
It's always great when you can get a look into the mind of a genius, regardless of what genre you happen to be exploring. This is what happens in Comics and Sequential Art by the late Will Eisner. Taking us through the principles of graphic storytelling by drawing upon his own work, Eisner not only reveals essential principles of the genre, but at the same time shows us the peerless talent that would give us works like The Spirit and A Contract with God. There's a reason why the most esteemed awards in the field of visual narrative are called the Eisner's, and this insightful look at comics helps in no small measure to show why this is.
The Comic Book History of Comics, by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey
Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey tell the remarkable history of graphic novels in comic book form. With an introduction by Tom Spurgeon, The Comic Book History of Comics looks at the work of some of the quintessential figures in the history of visual narrative, including Jack Kirby, R. Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Fredric Wertham, Roy Lichtenstein, Art Spiegelman, Herge, and Osamu Tezuka. The authors cover a wide range of topics, but the strength of the book is its ability to provide a comprehensive overview with engaging details in an economy of space. Reviewers have noted that both the concept and execution of what Van Lente and Dunlavey undertake are nothing short of remarkable.
Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know, by Paul Gravett
This reader-friendly, highly visual history of graphic novels by Paul Gravett does a great job of looking at the language of the comics medium, the history of the form, and the work of some of its greatest practitioners. The book also looks at the impact of Japanese manga on North American comics, as well as the influence of European comics in translation. Of special interest to educators will be Gravett's examination of the wealth of themes explored in contemporary graphic novels and the trials the genre has had to undergo in achieving recognition.
Making Comics, by Scott McCloud
In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud opens up the reader's eyes to the world of visual narrative, but in Making Comics he focuses on writing and illustrating--everything from the broadest conceptual considerations needed in planning a visual narrative to the finest details. Indeed, McCloud's explorations include not just the necessary tools of the trade, but an examination of the various ways in which people become involved in the comics industry. Once again, McCloud returns as his cartoon self and uses his wonderful sense of humour and genuine insight into the medium to show readers how they might undertake to become a maker of comics. All in all, it is a more than worthy successor to both Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics.
Just in case you didn't have reason enough already...
In a lecture called "Fostering Inquiry One Comic Book at a Time" that I delivered at the 2014 Reading for the Love of It Conference, I discussed the importance of teaching visual narrative in the K-12 classroom. What I talked about, though, was actually inspired by a pair of articles I wrote for the Sequart Organization at the start of 2013. Here's what I said in "Changing Attitudes to Comics in the Classroom:"
In 2010, I assigned a rather curious task to a group of twenty-two graduate students at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) while teaching a course called New Literacies: Making Multiple Meanings. The students included K-12 educators with a range of experiences and backgrounds, as well as those working in education in a non-teaching capacity. The purpose of the activity was to determine what they saw as the basic skills needed to access “new literacies.” Pairs of students were assigned a given literacy, and then came up with a thoughtful analysis of the skills that would be needed for someone to possess, for example, information literacy or health literacy. The following week, just as one might do in a middle school classroom, I had the students fill up a blackboard with the skills they came up with for their given literacy. Then we simply circled the skills that appeared over and over again. The following five were repeated multiple times:
Given that 21st-century students in our K-12 classrooms spend a considerable amount of time immersed in a visual culture outside the classroom, it seems absurd to avoid teaching visual narrative to academic students as they develop the above-mentioned skills. Having students navigate through different genres and across different platforms of learning as they critically think about and make connections between poetry, novels, short fiction, visual narrative, epistolary writing, discussion boards, blogs, and hypertext fiction seems like a no-brainer. Are students’ self-awareness and metacognition really better served by avoiding comics and graphic novels in the academic English classroom? Isn’t visual narrative an ideal starting point in exploring with students both the traditional “print” genres of the novel, short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, and the world of writing that hypertext and the web has opened up for all of us?
If the skills that my students identified are crucial ones for access to the range of 21st-century literacies our students need, and if studying visual narrative helps foster these skills, we would be remiss if we kept comics and graphic novels out of our classrooms.
Interestingly enough, the five skills listed above are ones that a certainly category of individuals has developed better than any other, and studying these individuals gives students insight into how to develop the skills themselves. What category would that be you might ask?
Comic book superheroes.
Visual Brainstorming Once Again Proves Its Worth
I love this recent example of visual brainstorming submitted by my student, Ben. It's the product of a short article he read about Giussepe Pinelli, an anarchist whose death was the inspiration for Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which I blogged about a couple of days ago. There are so many wonderful touches here that bring together a diverse array of cultural phenomena, including comics, social media, and good old-fashioned brainstorming.
The dialogue balloon, "In order, there is chaos... In chaos, there is order. #anarchy #yoloswag," wouldn't look out of place by any stretch in the Twitterverse, but neither would his lists look out of place in a free-writing or brainstorming assignment. Somehow, the comics-inspired illustrations bring it all together, and blend historical events with Pinelli's own view of himself in an insightful visual brainstorming exercise.
What blows me away, however, is the crossed-out list on the left hand side of the paper. So many times as teachers we encourage students to cross out and continue when they make a mistake rather than white something out or erase.
We are very wise for telling them this!
Not only is it a time saver, but teaching kids that it's okay to cross out pays dividends in a situation like this in which the crossing out becomes a rhetorical strategy that shows a deep understanding of the circumstances surrounding the play and the underlying themes of the play itself.
We can't get to the bottom of the mystery about what happened to the ill-fated anarchist. The only thing we can be sure of is that he was very likely misunderstood.
So, as I've been saying over the last few weeks since starting this blog...Do this exercise with your students.
You'll be so glad that you did!
The trick, of course, is getting it to come out!
For those who are yet to be convinced of the power of visual brainstorming, or who are wondering why teachers haven't all been doing this since the first time students were made to sit down in chairs and listen to grown-ups in school, I present to you this latest effort. It comes from my student, Hannah, who apparently had quite a lot to say about Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist.
I'm not really sure what to call this one. "Crazy Town" comes to mind, I think. It reminds me of the maps I poured over of Ancient Pompeii when I wrote Fire Mountain for the Rubicon/Scholastic Series Timeline.
The fact is that it allowed Hannah to express a wealth of information about the first scene of Fo's play--that's right: it's only the first scene being represented here and not the whole play. Even the British flag demonstrates an understanding of how Fo intended the play always to be set in the very moment that the play takes place. And that's just one small piece of the brainstorming. You can see at the bottom left hand corner, for instance, that an Oxford English Dictionary makes an appearance to show a definition of farce...
You see. Students do still use dictionaries.
A Great List for Teachers
If you're interested in comics, graphic novels, and visual narrative in general, and are equally as interested in their implications for classroom teaching, you should certainly consider following as many of the accounts below as you can. These are folks whose tweets frequently focus on the comics industry, comics in K-12 education, or academic scholarship related to comics.
A great strategy for those new to Twitter--like educators wanting to learn more about individuals and organizations involved in either comics and education or the wider comics industry--is to follow the people that the folks above are following. After all, they must have a pretty good reason to be doing so!
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.
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...
Once again, many many thanks...
Comics in Education wanted to take moment once again to thank you for the crazy support you're giving to our new website. We've now officially reached 20,000 of you and couldn't be happier. As always, our mission is to nurture and develop a love of visual narrative in the K-12 classroom, and we can see how many of you want to do the very same thing.
We wanted to take a moment to remind you about both the "Our Supporters" tab and the one for "Corporate Support." If you are an individual or business whose goals align with ours, we'd be happy to feature your icon, accompanied by a brief description and a link to your work in comics and/or education. As always, you can find both of these pages under the "About" tab on our website or just click the links above. This service is free of charge and lets the wider comics and education communities know of your support.
If you are interested in additional services that Comics and Education can provide, like interviews, author visits, product reviews, or advertising, please contact us here for a brochure.
Once again, thank you for your support of Comics in Education. We'll let you get back to all of the great work you're doing, and please come and see us any time you like!
Comics in Education
PS. Please feel free to comment on any of our blog postings, especially if there is a question you have or a suggestion for a future post. A feedback feature can be found at the bottom of our postings and we'd absolutely love to hear from you!
Perhaps you were a comics fan when you were a kid and haven't read them in a while. Things have probably changed a bit since then. Or maybe you'd like to use them in the classroom with your students but feel like you don't have a great background in reading them. The following list should help get you started on the road to becoming an expert on the hottest and most exciting genre on the market!
The Mysterious Underground Men (1948), by Osamu Tezuka
A Contract with God (1978), by Will Eisner
Maus (1986), by Art Spiegelman
The Dark Knight Returns (1986), by Frank Miller
Watchmen (1986), by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Finder (1996-present), by Carla Speed McNeil
Transmetropolitan, Volume 1 (1997), by Warren Ellis and Darcik Robertson
Persepolis (2004), by Marjane Satrapi
Building Stories (2012), by Chris Ware
Boxers & Saints (2013), by Gene Luen Yang
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.
We Salute You!
Comics in Education wanted to take a moment to thank once again for all of the wonderful visitors to our website. We've now officially reached 10,000 of you and more are visiting the site every day. Our mission is to nurture and develop a love of visual narrative in the K-12 classroom, and we're delighted that so many of you out there are as well.
In truth, we expected you would be, but you're doing such wonderful things!
In addition to the "Our Supporters" tab we now have one for "Corporate Support." If you are a business or organization whose goals align with ours, we'd be happy to feature your icon, company description, and a link to your business. You can find both of these pages under the "About" tab on our website or just click the links above. This service is free of charge and lets the wider comics and education communities know of your support.
If you are interested in additional services that Comics and Education can provide, like interviews, author visits, product reviews, or advertising, please contact us here for a brochure.
Once again, thank you for your support of Comics in Education. We'll let you get back to all of the great work you're doing!
Comics in Education
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.
Word Origins Can Be Graphic
If that is indeed the case, and I'm fairly confident it is, it's foolish not to capitalize on the inherent usefulness of the visual. So, the next time you're studying word etymologies with your students, consider having them create visual etymologies. This is great as both a collaborative activity or as an individual one. Do it, and you might just give your lesson a bit of swag.
You absolutely rock!
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Comics in Education
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!
If our recent awesomeness on the larger ice surface in Sochi showed the world anything, it's that Canada continues to produce some of the finest hockey players on the planet. I was in between sessions at the Reading for the Love of It conference in February, where I was presenting on comics in education, when I decided to do the patriotic thing and watch our women's hockey team go down to what appeared to be inevitable defeat in the finals at the hands of the Americans. There were only about five minutes to go in the game. Not long after, about 300 of us were absolutely losing it in the foyer of the Sheraton Conference Centre.
While Canada continues to produce great hockey players, however, you might be surprised to discover that we also apparently produce some of the finest comic book stores in the world. I'm not just talking about good stores but great ones. If this is the case, then, why aren't we taking our students to them?
When we teach Shakespeare we'll sometimes take our kids to a play. When we study poetry with them, we might invite a local poet to do a reading. However, if we're teaching a graphic novel, how many of us are doing a field trip to the local comic book store?. I mean...why shouldn't we?
Here are three of the best in Canada:
THE BEGUILING, Toronto, ON
When I first took my three boys to The Beguiling, I did so with the promise to them that they could buy any book they wished. However, I found myself having better luck than they did as I lost myself in the tightly packed aisles filled with graphic novels and autographed Chester Brown titles (he's rather fond of the place, as it turns out). However, my kids are pretty traditional Marvel and DC junkies and I was having trouble finding these until someone behind the counter kindly directed us upstairs.
"Oh sorry," I said to the guy. "I didn't realize you had an upstairs." But sure enough they did, and so I rather sheepishly made my way up to the second floor with my kids. When I got to the top, I stopped.
"Dear God," I thought to myself, "they have everything."
I think the mark of a great comic book store is that it's packed, with narrow aisles that make it like an awkward social mixer for nerds like me. It should feel claustrophobic, and you should be sitting there in a corner with your Hulk-obsessed twelve year old 45 minutes after arriving trying to figure out which of the twenty Hulk comics he should buy because they're all, of course, awesome.
And that's exactly what The Beguiling is. It's awesome.
STRANGE ADVENTURES, Halifax, NS (and elsewhere)
A colleague of mine recently told me that she was moving back to Halifax. Most people in this situation would instinctively know the right thing to say. Not me.
"Oh my God," I said, "You're moving to Halifax? They have like one of the best comic book stores in the world! I'm so freakin' jealous!"
Strange Adventures is now a small franchise, with shops in Halifax, Fredericton and Dartmouth, but like with The Beguiling, negotiating the narrow aisles in the Halifax shop a few years back was an absolute joy. You went down into what seemed like a small bunker and then were just overwhelmed with an awesome array of titles. When it comes to Strange Adventures, it's hard to do much better. You want a comic book? It's there. You want a book about comic books? It's there. You want a weird board game? It's there. And when you're in the store, you can't possibly deal with nicer people.
You also can't help but feel that as comic shops go, this one is pretty amazing.
THE DRAGON, Guelph, ON
And then, of course, there's The Dragon. I ran into the owner, Jenn Haines, when she gave a session at the 2013 For the Love of Literacy Conference in Burlington, ON. The Dragon advertises itself as a women and kid-friendly comic book store that sells graphic novels, board games, self-published comics, manga and a whole host of other things. Oh, the other thing you should know is that in 2012 it won the Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award.
Yeah, it won that one.
Haines has worked as an educator (at the Linden School in Toronto) and the store just looks and feels the way an awesome bookstore should look and feel.
So, if you're in the neighborhood and want to check these stores out, click the link below and you can find them.
If you're not in the neighborhood, or if the stores I've just described are at least a plane flight away, let me be the first to say how very sorry I am.
Still, if you love comics and want to inspire your students to love them to, take them to a comic book store today!
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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