Even Google Gets It

Probably by now you’ve heard that Google has come out with its own browser, Chrome. I’m a little bummed that there isn’t a Mac version yet but I can wait. What really intrigues me is that Google had artist Scott McCloud write a web comic to introduce it. How interesting that Google chose to use a sequential art piece to teach the public about their new browser! Apparently someone there understands how powerful comics are as teaching tools.

Or… maybe it’s just geeks reaching out to other geeks. I’d rather think that it’s geeks looking for the most effective way to get their concepts across to a broad audience.


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Every Four Years

I’m gathering materials for a session I’m doing next week at the Studywiz Spark Users Conference and I’ve run into a bit of a problem. It’s a one-hour (not nearly enough time) workshop to show participants how they can use Studywiz to support literacy across the curriculum. The “supporting literacy” part is not the problem; Studywiz certainly is built to support reading, writing, listening, speaking, inquiry, and all the technology skills that fall under that huge umbrella we call “literacy.” It’s the content that’s causing me problems.

I decided to create a unit in Studywiz on the elections. Although elections happen every year (and local elections sometimes more than once a year) people really pay attention during a Presidential election year. It’s one of those “teachable moments,” or rather, a real-life event that is rich with teachable moments. I thought I would use this content to do a little proselytizing about gathering a lot of reading material for a topic rather than relying on just one reading for everyone (usually a text book). My experience has been that most 8th grade Social Studies classes have kids whose reading abilities span a wide range and we test these kids so much that it’s not hard for a teacher in any content area to get a pretty good picture of how diverse her or his class is. And online learning environments like Studywiz make it easy for teachers to gather all kinds of readings and other materials on a topic and either allow kids to choose which sources they use to learn the content, or match kids up with readings that are in their comfort zone.

So, I set off on my quest to find reading material with Lexile measurements ranging from around 400 to 1400 that would help kids learn more about the elections, particularly the race for President. I headed to MARVEL first because I can search the databases by Lexile and I did find some articles but the pieces written for lower reading level were obviously written for young children and I knew 8th graders would not find them very engaging and probably would be embarrassed to be caught reading them.

Then I heard (probably on NPR) about plans to release comic book biographies of John McCain and Barack Obama. They won’t be out until October but I hope they are engaging and thought-provoking and serious about this very serious topic. I hope they are well-written and intellectually rigorous and they appeal to everyone, not just our struggling readers.

So now I’m on a quest to find other sequential art products we can use to teach about the election process. There must be more out there. Maybe someone among the millions of readers of this blog will know of some and can make some suggestions.

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MLTI Summer Institute

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…

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Long Time Between Posts

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

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Political Cartoons

One of my first attempts to use comic art in my teaching was with political cartoons. I’ve always liked newspapers and I used to do big newspaper units when I taught in a 6th grade self-contained classroom and when I taught middle school Language Arts. Of course we spent time with the daily comic strips but the political cartoons on the op-ed page were a great way to form ties with Social Studies classes.

I did that before the advent of the internet. Now huge collections of political cartoons are just a mouse click away. The most complete collection is at Daryl Cagle’s Professional Cartoonists Index. This collection is extensive with RSS feeds for individual artists and some collections. I’m going to try adding an RSS activity to my current events folder on Studywiz and see useful that might be. The Cagle Index also has at Teachers’ Guide site with some lesson ideas. The daily lesson plans are linked to the Class Brain site.

If you need to read up on political cartoons, the article A Brief History of Political Cartoons Part I can be very helpful. It covers the history of political cartoons from Leonardo da Vinci’s caricatures through late 19th century American politics.

A good way to introduce kids to political cartoons is with It’s No Laughing Matter: Analyzing Political Cartoons, an interactive lesson from the Library of Congress. It uses a collection of cartoons about school desegregation to teach about how political cartoons attempt to persuade us. It’s a good way to teach kids the vocabulary they need to talk about political cartoons (symbolism, irony, exaggeration, etc.) Be sure to check out the resources page of this lesson for more ideas and resources both from the Library of Congress collections and others.

Of course, getting kids to create their own political cartoons is a way to let the artists in the class really shine. I think I would try having kids work in pairs or small groups so kids can have rich discussions about the event or concept they will depict and they can collaborate on the drawing. This would also provide an opportunity to bring in the art teacher for an integrated lesson.

Here’s one of Andrew’s early attempts at a political cartoon. He drew this for an MLTI newsletter a few years ago.



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Comics and Literacy

I recently read an article in Edutopia about comics and literacy, A New Literary Hero: Comics Make for Colorful Learning by Ed Finkel. It brings up some of the points I’ve been thinking about regarding the use of comics as a tool for literacy. The article also refers to the Comic Book Project, a program out of Columbia University’s Teachers College. I took a quick look at that site several months ago but I’m ready now to look at it more closely. The project’s stated goal is “to help children forge an alternative pathway to literacy by writing, designing, and publishing original comic books.” I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this is in a future post.

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MLTI and Comic Life

In the fall of 2006 the Maine Learning Technology Initiative distributed new iBooks to all 7th and 8th grade teachers and students, replacing the four-year-old devices of the first deployment. These new laptops had some new software. One new title was Comic Life. I had seen it and even played with it a little beforehand but I really started thinking about it when it became available to everyone.

If you haven’t seen it, go to the Plasq site and take a look. It’s a tool that allows you to create comics using images from your photo collection. I knew right away that kids were going to love this but I wanted to have some solid rationale for having kids create comics (other than it’s fun). It turned out that there are lots of good reasons for using Comic Life in school and I’ll talk more about this in future posts.

Because of the sequential nature of comic art it became clear that teachers and students could use comics when explaining processes. Teachers could use it to demonstrate step-by-step directions. Students could use it as an alternative to the written science lab report. I needed an example of this so I turned to my resident artist (my son) and asked him to create a comic in Comic Life that would demonstrate a process and I suggested it would be cool if he used his drawings rather than photos. He agreed and made this little comic about how to make a comic with your own drawings:

Comic Life Tutorial

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

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