Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics, and Graphic Novels
Last night I presented my first ever webinar. It was the final session of our MLTI online conference Pictures Sounds Numbers Words and, I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive at first. Although I have attended many webinars, I had never conducted one and I really didn’t know what to expect.
I was fortunate to have a few factors in my favor that made this a really enjoyable experience. My session was the last of a four-day event so I was able to attend several others first and get a real feel for environment. I had a pretty good idea of what would work for me and what wouldn’t and I had plenty of time to practice.
We promoted the conference through our various social networking sites so by the time I had tweeted it and written about it on Facebook, most of my colleagues and friends were aware of it. As the session was starting and I scanned down the list of attendees, I saw that they were mostly members of my huge MLTI network. It was like having a conversation with a group of old friends.
Of course, another factor that made it easy was the great content. I was able to talk for an hour about something I really believed in – that comics have a place in a well-rounded literacy program. As I watched the chat room fill with great ideas from the participants, it hit me. We’re finally allowing students to talk in class! Although we all know that learning is social, and discussion is powerful, teachers still ask students to be silent and give their full attention while the teacher is talking. It just seems too distracting to allow side conversations but in this webinar, the side conversations made the content so much richer.
If you’re interested in watching me and my friends talk about comics and literacy, check out the recording of this session and, while you’re there, drop in on some of the others.
Pictures Sounds Numbers Words
MLTI is offering an online conference for educators, May 4-7. This is an exciting new venture for us. For the first time we are running a conference that includes no face-to-face workshops; everything is online.
Former Maine Governor Angus King will be the keynote speaker, opening the conference on Monday, May4. There are 28 sessions scheduled for the four days of the conference – something for everyone. Registration is not required but is encouraged. To receive a certificate for contact hours you must pre-register.
My session Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics and Graphic Novels will be the last one on Thursday night. This will be my first webinar and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to reach a larger audience than I would with a traditional face-to-face workshop. The one-hour time frame may be a challenge for me, but I want to make the participants aware of the possibilities, with the hope that they will follow-up with some hands-on work on their own.
As we were discussing how to market this, I came across a tool that has some possibilities for story-telling with comic characters. (Thanks, David P.) Xtranormal is a tool for easily making movies from a your written script. While it can’t really be classified as a comic creator, it serves the same purpose. I like it because it allows those students who may not have strong drawing skills to create a visual piece using their writing. If you create an account, you can save your movies on the Xtranormal site, or you can export them to a YouTube site.
As I was trying it out I had the online conference on my mind so that became the content for my first movie:
It’s early Saturday morning and I’m finally finding a minute to reflect on the annual ACTEM Conference where I presented this week. One of my sessions was Promoting Literacy with Comic Life and, I must admit, I was feeling uneasy about it. It was a one-hour session and I’m finding it harder and harder to do a good session in that short time period. I’m also fighting a cold and had two other sessions to prepare so I was afraid I was giving it short shrift. In a one-hour session, with as many people as I had in the room (I’m guessing around 50 or 60) I couldn’t really give them a hands-on experience so I opted to talk more about the “why” than the “how.”
I distributed my Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics, and Graphic Novels notebook which now resides on the ACTEM server as a web notebook as well as a downloadable NoteShare notebook. We talked a lot about teaching with comics in general before we turned to a discussion of Comic Life. The crowd was very receptive to the idea of using images and text, both as a medium for conveying content and another way for students to demonstrate their learning. Once again, I found two subgroups among the participants who really get it: librarians and foreign language teachers. I think librarians, for the most part, understand that comics and graphics novels are legitimate reading material and they belong in their collections. Foreign Language teachers (and ESL teachers) have always used images for teaching vocabulary and they know how powerful dialog combined with pictures can be.
When it came time to talk about Comic Life, I wanted to do something different so we attempted to make a comic of Act I, Scene ii of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s the scene where Quince has gathered all his players to begin working on the play they will perform for the duke. I had my colleague Phil help me, and we got some volunteers to wear various hats and took a bunch of pictures of them in various poses. We downloaded the pictures to iPhoto and then opened Comic Life and began making a comic of the scene, translating the Elizabethan language into modern English. It would have been better if I had a longer period of time to do it but I think they got the idea.
The best part of the session was when I asked the participants for ideas they had for using Comic Life. We always learn from the collective wisdom of the group.
I attended the MLTI Summer Institute in Castine last week and my 3-hour session on Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics and Graphic Novels went well. The participants were a very diverse group of teachers but I think everyone left with some ideas for introducing comics and graphic novels into their curricula. Mark, one of the participants, live blogged the session using Cover It Live and you can see the results on his Cooked on Education blog.
I distributed a NoteShare notebook that is now available on the ACTEM NoteShare server. If you have NoteShare, you can view and download it there. (Contact me if you need directions.) If you don’t have NoteShare you can view it in your browser. It’s in the Barbara Greenstone Collection and it’s named teach_comics. The password is actem.
I think the most powerful part of the session was Andrew’s Monster Party comic. It’s a 6-page “silent comic” that tells a simple story. Here’s the first page:
I wanted to display it on the wall in the room as well as in the NoteShare notebook so I uploaded each page to the Block Posters site and blew it up to 4 sheets (portrait) by 4. I printed it and then mounted each page on a 30″ x 40″ foam board so I had six big panels which I lined up on the tray of this huge white board that stretched along one wall of the room. That got everyone’s attention.
We spent a long time talking about all the possibilities for using wordless comics. We brainstormed a word list to use as a word well and then everyone took some time to write the story. We then talked about the 6 traits of writing in the context of the stories they wrote. You could also use a comic like this to teach vocabulary to ESL students or in a foreign language class.
The teachers loved it so I suggested to Andrew that he create more of these silent comics. We’ll see if he takes my advice…
I’m preparing for a session I will be leading at an MLTI Summer Institute and I realized that it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything to this blog. My session is all about promoting literacy with cartoons, comics and graphic novels. Maybe I’ll find a way to use this blog as I try to stir up a little interest in the topic. I’ve done a short (one hour) presentation on this topic in the past but this one will be three-hours long with opportunities for some hands-on work.
I think many teachers are still skeptical about using comics in their teaching and my challenge will be to prove that comic art has a legitimate place in a well-rounded literacy program. I hope the topic will appeal to teachers in all subject areas. I’ve been thinking a lot about using comics for teaching ESL students. I may start with this quote:
“I’ve always said that I learned the English I know through two sources — Marvel Comics and Finnegans Wake.” – Umberto Eco