Nobis and Cook: Connecting Comics and Essays

Nobis and Cook: Connecting Comics and Essays

Mitch Nobis and Rick Cook are teacher consultants from Red Cedar Writing Project, and presented a number of ways that they connect graphic novels and expository writing in their writing classes. They will also be presenting a similar session at Bright Ideas.

  • Thinking about what comics are and how they fit in to the curriculum
    • People’s perceptions of “graphic” novels
      • Is it a long comic?
      • Are they just for entertainment?
      • Rick showed up and found out that he had to teach Maus, Mitch always wanted to teach it.
  • Why Comics?
    • Comics offer a way to teach visual literacy
      • Now, Michigan high school content standards address visual literacy and graphic novels
      • Comics are connecting an old media with new technologies
    • Comics offer an engaging meium for memoir
    • Comics invite expository porse and demonstrate how to read with exposition in mind
      • How can comics and graphic novels, especially a vignette, turn into something traditional like an expository essay
  • Comics and Literacy Response
    • Check out McCloud’s Understanding Comics for more on all of this
      • Iconography – everything is a visual representation of something else
        • In a way, we are so involved because we identify all comic characters
      • Closure – the gutter between panels lets you step in to the story and make meaning between the panels
      • Paneling – thinking how motion works between panels
        • From one image of a person to another image of the same person
        • From one moment to another
        • From one idea to another
      • Amplification through simplification
        • Comic art moves from complex to abstract and, in so doing, makes things more general
        • Comics are popular with kids for this reason, because they can connect so easily
        • Universality – we all look like that
    • One of McCloud’s main points is that iconography combined with closure makes something a comic
  • Looking at Maus with McCloud as a lens for visual/literary response
    • Utlizes students familiarity with the graphic medium
    • Capitalizes on the “breaking the rules” nature of using comics in schools
    • Introduces academic discussion of graphic techniques and symbolism
    • Provides scaffolding as students arrempt literary analysis responding the the visual with the verbal gives students a “blank slate” to fill with original responses
      • They are able to go from image to words, whereas they are used to going into the author’s words
    • Introduces using “text” as evidence
    • Text / Terms = Effect
      • By looking at the text, and talking about it with the terminology of visual literacy, they can discuss the effects that the author acheives
  • Comic Prompts for Expository Writing
    • Missouri Boy by Leland Myrick is a graphic poem that covers many adolescent themes
      • Chapter 1 is a prologue about how his grandmother is dying as his mother prepares to give birth to him and his twin brother
      • Writing When You Don’t Know: Visual Memoirs and Research Writing
        • Writing personal experience
        • The move from personal to public
      • Generating prompts = exploring what you want to know more about
    • Moving from personal to public
      • How does Myrick’s birth at the time of his grandmother’s death influence his relationship with his mom?
      • Find broad generalities such as “how do our origins/environments affect who we are?”
        • Context specific: how does farming breed character (it is not the story of growing up on the farm, or the statistics about farming, but the half-way point between the two)
        • How does the structure of school influence laziness, work influences personality, growing up in a church affects morals, etc.
        • How do concrete things have abstract meanings?
          • How is an iPod a shield?
          • How is a football field home?
          • How is a photo a story?

Notes from Christopher Paul Curtis’ Keynote

Notes from Christopher Paul Curtis‘ Keynote

These are partial notes, as I was taking lots of pictures at the beginning of the session. Curtis shared some stories about his youth and talked about how some younsters get the “Scarlett B” on their forehead and how he didn’t have one. One story that he shared was when his parents bought a set of encyclopedias and that his sister would read from them to him.

He then went on to discuss how he liked reading as a child, but he didn’t like fiction. He would spend time reading Newsweek, Time, and Mad, among others. SRA brought about some great memories, including attaining the level of “plaid.” He couldn’t find a book that “touched him” as a child because there were no books for, by, or about him — from an African-American perspective. For the level of a book being “touching,” there has to be something about you in the book. Many of the books that he read, didn’t give him the “I know where you are coming from” feeling.

Today, he knows that his books, Jacqueline Woodson’s, and Walter Dean Myers’ offer something to a young child who will know the wonder of reading well before he did. Perhaps some time in the future, an African-American can reference one of these books when asked, “What book touched you as a child.”

He talked about himself as a writer and referened his parents, both of them avid readers. His mother is 82 and still “knocks off one book a night and two packs of cigarettes.” His mother was protective, and he shared a story about how trick-ot-treating was off limits in Flint during his youth. Instead, she would go to different rooms in the house and they would go door-to-door. By the kitchen, the thrill was gone. (He told the story better than I am typing it, of course!).

What makes me work as a writer? In the Watsons Go to Birmingham, he talks about how he modeled Byron off of himself as a young man. He talked about a scene in the book between the son and the mother that verges on child abuse and reflected on how that fits in only because it is contextual and related to the spirit of the times. (NOTE: I find that this makes for an interesting point, given the current issue with censorship in Howell.)

As a writer, you are a powerful person. You can speed things up. You can slow things down. You can also use your imagination. Right now, he is working on what is currently his favorite book. It is called Elijah of Buxton. This is a place in Canada, a site of the Underground Railroad. This was a utopia for the excaped slaves. He adopts the persona of a young boy concerned with his place in the community.

From there, he read from his upcoming book, much to the enjoyment of the audience.

Doug Fisher’s “Improving Adolescent Literacy: Strategies at Work”

Doug Fisher’s “Improving Adolescent Literacy: Strategies at Work”

Fisher outlined a program that he and teachers at their high school (he has been on loan from SDSU) use for literacy achievement.

Some Foundations

  • Reading time every day — practice makes permanent as it relates to SSR
  • Rationale for choosing strategies:
    • Is it research based?
    • Is it transferable across content areas?
    • Will these strategies have high utility in college?

Literacy Strategies

  • Seven literacy strategies that teachers use in every class, all day, from K-12, that all the staff members agreed to:
    • Writing to learn
      • Not process writing like in ELA
      • Helps clarify students’ thinking and used as a daily assessment
      • Kids are only expected to write 6.5 minutes each day, on average, in high school content area classes
    • Read aloud/shared reading
      • These happen in every class, every day (5-7 minutes in a block of 90 minutes, and the teachers shares/models his/her thinking). Comprehension modeling happens in every classroom and kids can apply these ideas to all their other classes.
      • Good selections
      • Connected to the class
      • Access to the text?
      • Four categories of read alouds
        • Comprehension only
        • Vocabulary — thinking through it and getting contextual clues to solve word parts and meaning or access other resources. Thus, we should never tell students to “skip it” when they come across a difficult word. We would never model skipping; we model solving.
        • Text structures — teachers noticed and explained when they noticed certain text structures like cause and effect, problem and solution, etc. This works for both informational texts and narratives, too.
        • Text features — what do you add as a writer to improve comprehension? Graphics, titles, headers, fonts, etc.
    • Anticipatory activities (building background)
      • KWL
        • In 1998 when this began, high school teachers didn’t really know about this strategy. Fisher talked about a teacher who did the KWL for his students and thought that “the students don’t know anything.” He talked about how this is a shift in teachers’ thinking, not just implementing a strategy.
      • Discovery
      • Anticipation guides
      • Questions
      • Quick writes
      • Discrepant events
      • Demonstrations
    • Vocabulary development
      • General words used in everyday language with agreed meaning across contexts
      • Specialized (academic) vvocabulary are words with multiple meanings in different content areas
      • Technical, discipline-specific vocabulary that is dependent to field of study (photosynthesis)
    • Reciprocal teaching
      • Built by a class to class habit
    • Graphic organizers — students must do this work. Teachers shouldn’t just make a Venn Diagram and then expect students to fill it out.
      • Concept maps
      • Diagrams
      • Text structure charts (cause/effect, temporal sequence, problem/solution)
      • Students’ #1 choice — most helpful for remembering information
    • Cornell note-taking
      • Every class uses this note-taking structure with a major column, minor column, summary space at the bottom of the page
      • Note-taking is the single greatest predictor of college success
      • They teach this starting in kindergarten

Model of Instruction
One of the things that is very absent from school is a “gradual release of responsibility” from teacher to student.

  • Focus lesson – “I do it”
  • Guided Instruction – “We do it”
  • Collaborative – “You do it together”
  • Independent – “You do it alone”

We can not have the “do it yourself” model where teachers give a few instructions and turn kids loose. We also need to consider time for kids to collaborate with one another so that they can consolidate what they are learning. We need to increase the amount of time that students are using academic language with one another. Fisher gave a great example of learning how to work with his cell phone and how the sales person led him through “guided instruction” so that he could learn how to do it. Everything that I have learned how to do, he explained, has come from this gradual release model.

He is worried that reading strategies are becoming “curricularized” for large chunks of time (for a four week unit, for instance). He talked about how a student read “Stone Fox,” and how the kids had been predicting “everything, man.” The student will necer mobilize predicting on his own because it has always been a teacher-driven aspect of his learning.

You have to do this work with interesting and engaging text. For instance, see Phineas Gage.

Jim Burke’s “Teaching: The First Ten Minutes”

Jim Burke’s “Teaching: The First Ten Minutes”
Presentation at MRA 2007

Jim Burke
began by inviting participants to think about the actions that students must engage in to be successful in their core academic work. He then talked about how students need to continue a number of academic skills in classes that have traditionally not been heavily focused on those skills. for instance in health.

He showed us a matrix of “academic essentials” that he invites students to use as they analyze texts. He discussed how this matrix can be used as a kind of mental weightlifting in which students push beyond what they initially are able to do into harder tasks. They move beyond what they are typically able to do in order to build up mental muscle.

Then, he shared a “time use evaluation” model, asking us to think about how we divide up our class periods and how many “teaching moves” we make in a period. The goal for the first ten minutes, then, is to consider what you do, how you do it, and why so that the initial class time is purposeful and focused. We don’t want to do “drive by literacy instruction,” where we are so focused on checking off the standards that we forget what good teaching consists of. It is not a model of responsive instruction. Burke suggests that kids work well with about three instructional moves per class.

Some examples that he shared came from the Academic Workout series that he has created for First Choice Publishers. One example is a “types of questions” overhead. The four types of questions that readers can ask of texts are:

  • Right there — factual questions that use the same wording from the passage
  • Think and search – interpretive questions that require searching and skimming
  • Author and you – answers to these questions are not directly in the texts and require inferential thinking
  • On your own – answers here are based on your own experience

As a lesson, he would have the overhead up for students at the beginning of class and give them three minutes to take notes on the types of questions. Then, he shows a model and works with the class to generate a question about that text at each level. Finally, he moves from the first ten minutes into the rest of the lesson where students would do their own independent reading and develop their own questions. Through this process, students develop academic language.

For another example, Burke showed an image from Cameron Clapp’s website and asks students to create a list of nouns, verbs, and adjectives describing what is going on, and then develops that into a full paragraph. He gives another example of a painting of a soldier with a number of elements that inspire thought and discussion. Questions could include:

  • Who is this? Where is he?
  • Why is he carring a gun different from the bullets he has over his shoulder?
  • Why is he wearing three dog tags?

He begins his teaching with the idea in mind, “What do I need to do to help kids be successful?” He gives another example of a structured conversation that happens in the first ten minutes that can then help students structure the next task. For instance, having students talk about a text before they begin writing an essay. He then moved in to possible examples based on his current teaching with Crime and Punishment.

Possible Beginnings for Your Class

  • Open with a question: “What is a crime?”
  • Post a quotation: “THe past is not dead; it’s not even the past” William Faulkner
  • Visual: painting, photo, ad, video, infographic
  • Text: Nietzsche, poem, article, excerpt
    • Bring one powerful paragraph back over and over again through the course of a unit so students can track their thoughts and opinions about it over time
  • Opinionaire: “When is an action a crime?”
  • 4Rs: Read, retell, respond, relate
  • Mini-Lesson: summarizing, questioning, compare/contrast writing
  • Discussion: share and compare
  • Generate: types and examples of punsihment
  • Priming the mind: questions to consider and background
  • Write: compare similarities and differences
  • Quiz: explain a line from the chapter
    • Reflective reading quiz: generate five words about tone, character, etc and choose the best word to describe tone/character/etc and why it’s the best
    • This embeds the language of testing (“choose the one that best describes”) in the context of an authentic lesson

He also mentioned the Linda Darling-Hammond article about making homework purposeful, such that students want to do homework so they can come to class engaged and ready to work. Other research:

  • Nystrand in RTE (2005): Nothing has more significant benefits in comprehension and engagement than structured use of classroom conversation
    • The average teacher only allows for one minute of conversation in class per week, although even that one minute makes a difference
  • Wilhelm (2006): talks about organizing your class around an inquiry. Rather than just reading Romeo and Juliet, ask “What makes a good relationship?”
  • Reading Next (2004): teaching for meaning, not just to get through things

Telling the Technology Story in K-12 Schools

The past week or so has been crazy. Yes, busy crazy for me personally, for sure.

But, I am talking about another kind of craziness.

I am talking about the number of teachers that I have talked to who have been fighting filters, trying to get equipment to work, and generally trying to make meaningful use of technology in their classrooms.

After last week’s Teachers Teaching Teachers about infrastructure, and being invited to talk with the group again this week, there are two stories that I feel I need to tell. The first comes from a research project about blogging and podcasting in which I am collaborating with an RCWP colleague, Dawn Reed. The second, from another RCWP colleague, Stacy Schuh who was trying to figure out who to get colleagues in her school to use blogs.

First, Dawn and I have been working for the past few months to create an opportunity for students in her speech class to blog, podcast, and offer peer response to one another. In so doing, she has run into multiple layers of complications in regards to allowing audio content over her school network, having the appropriate equipment in her classroom for students to listen to podcasts, getting technical support, and having parents sign off on a consent form for students to post their work online (or, perhaps, getting students to take the consent form home for parents to sign…). In short, she feels that:

Basically, I need help to get around what our technology is set up not to do.

Now, this is not a matter of Dawn throwing up her arms in frustration at the first sign of a problem. Instead, I feel that this comment speaks to the deep and sometimes unseen forces that school infrastructure — both social and physical — can have on a teacher’s ability (and willingness) to engage in technology-based work with her students. These roadblocks that she has encountered are indcative of how we refuse to change what Tyack and Cuban would call the “grammar of schooling”: the ways in which the traditional school day, quarters, semesters, and years are structured as well as the generally restrictive and skill-and-drill ways in which we view using technology in school. These visisons continue to propel our decision making processes about why and how to use technology, even though the changes are happening faster than we can keep up with if we are willing to innovate, let alone if we are not.

Second, Stacy a teacher at RCWP — who works at a public charter school — has essentially become the webmaster for her school because she was able to get the free Lunar Pages account for K-12 educators. The school didn’t have a website, nor did teachers have email, until she set up the site a year ago. She has had her students blogging this year on a Word Press blog that she installed on the site.

Recently, she wanted to create a blog for her colleagues but everything in her school is filtered (Blogger, Edublogs, etc) except for the domain that she created through Lunar Pages because it is, essentially, the school website. So, as she and I were trying to think through all the options, I just suggested that she install another Word Press blog. She did. And they are blogging now.

As I think about these two teachers and the infrastructure problems that they are encountering, I think that someone needs to help out. Perhaps NWP — or at least local sites — could team with a hosting company like Lunar Pages to make things easily available to teachers that can help them do their work better and empower them to make their own decisions related to technology. Then, teachers would have control over their domains, both classroom and web-based ones.

Link to "Multiliteracies Meet Methods” Article

The article that Jeff and I wrote for English Education got a mention in a recent NCTE INBOX:

Teacher educators can find useful strategies in the English Education article “Multiliteracies Meet Methods: The Case for Digital Writing in English Education” (TE). The article provides a rationale for teaching digital writing and explores the rhetorical, interactive, and pedagogical implications of such teaching.

Quick, grab the PDF while you have free access to it! :)

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Visions of Online Learning

Are we, as educators, approaching this in the right way?

To deal with the growth, the University of California is launching an extensive effort to make sure applicants’ online high school courses are on par with traditional classroom instruction.

More students across US logging on to online classrooms – The Boston Globe

To be honest, I am not sure that I want online courses to be “on par” with traditional classroom instruction. While I do not want to get in a finger-pointing, name-calling game, the fact of the matter is that “traditional classroom instruction” is becoming more and more a relic of education’s past, not a model to emulate.

Moreover, what is it about the “online experience” that makes it an online experience? If it is simply listening to video versions of lecture and completing the same homework assignments that have been given year after year with Word or Excel instead of a pencil, paper, and calculator, then we are going about it all wrong.

Shouldn’t, instead, the purposes of online learning be to engage students in reading and writing tasks that require multimedia authoring, collaboration with others with whom we typically would not or could not work, and engagement with materials that are fresh, relevant, and contextually useful to one’s own inquiry?

This is not to say that there is not a place for some traditional “content” in online learning. However, my experience as an online instructor was one where I simply monitored students as they were supposed to work independently through a prescribed set of curriculum. One of our coordinators called it the “nag and brag” version of online teaching, only to touch base with students when they did something wrong, fell behind, or did a great job on something.

This, to me, is the failure of our current paradigm about online learning. We do not need to replicate traditional classroom experiences. Instead, we need to think about what it means to engage with content and collaborate with others in ways that will both catch the attention of and expand the abilities of our students.

I hope that Michigan, as the first state to adopt an online learning component, is able to move beyond the traditional visions and be, instead, visionary. Perhaps we are moving in the right direction.

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Notes from Brian Winn’s “Serious Games” Talk

Brian Winn, an Assistant Professor from Comm Arts and one of the directors of the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab, gave a talk on “Serious Games.” Here is part of his bio:

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, Co-Director of the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab, and a Principal Investigator in the Communication Technology Lab at Michigan State University.

I design, create, and research interactive media design, including game design, digital game-based learning and interactive health communication. My expertise is in designing engaging serious games that balancing learning, pedagogical, and gameplay objectives. My award-winning interactive media work has been presented, exhibited, and experienced around the world.

Notes from the talk, “Making Learning Fun: Getting Serious about Games”

(Note: Check out a recent interview with Brian on the Spartan Podcast site)

  • Play, Games, and Learning
    • Play as problem solving
      • Playing is a form of problem solving used by many animals
      • Uniqueness of games
        • Imposes formal rules on top of play
        • Adds goals and objectives
        • Thereby play is structured for a particular purpose
      • Merlin Donald, Origins of the Human Mind
        • “Human children play rule-governed gaems by imitation, often without any formalized instruction. They invent and learn new games, often without using language.”
    • Why do we play?
      • Ring around the rosie: Cognitive development: mimicry, coordination, self-awareness, spatial relationships, empathy
      • Childhood socialization
      • Chess, checkers: mental sport
      • Olympics: celebrate athleticism, peace amongst nations
      • War games: preparation for war, tactics
    • What types of problems are there?
      • Survival
      • Education
      • Business
      • Political
      • Military
      • Health Care
      • Science
      • Entertainment
      • More…
    • Why we play digital games”
      • You learn something from any game: characters, rules
      • But, does the thing that you learn transfer outside of the game world?
      • Most digital games attempt to solve the entertainment problem, nothing else
  • Serious Games Movement
    • Serious games are any game whose chief mission is not entertainment
      • They can also be entertainment games reapplied for missions other than entertainment
        • Ex: Civilization in the history classroom
    • But, why serious games?
      • We are all products of our environment
        • Baby Boomers: TV, typewrite, memos
        • Gen X: Computes, email, early video games
        • Gen Y: Web, IM, interactive games
      • Games are a way of life for many people: the average 8th grader plays video games 5 hours per week
    • Why are we interested in games?
      • They are engaging and goal-oriented
      • They are challenging and provide rapid feedback, adapting to what the player does as he/she plays
      • They build individual expertise
      • They have a social aspect to them; most games throughout time have been multi-player games
        • The image of the computer game is that we have one player on his/her own computer, bust as networks have grown, so have interactive games
        • Humans like to tell stories and games provide a rich context for sharing experiences. Even if they are not in the same game, they can share experiences about that game (player walk throughs, reviews)
    • In a typical game:
      • Player adopts a character, perceives task to complete tasks, picks up vocabulary, explores and test boundaries, adapts to the game, realigns expectations and judgments through each exploration, reappraising the cause and consequence of their actions.
      • Replace “player” with “student” and “game” with “subject matter.”
    • But why Serious Games?
      • Parallels with progressive pedagogy
        • Active, constructivist learning
        • Problem-based learning
        • “Authentic Professionalism” (Gee) and communities of practice
      • Where are serious games being used?
        • Education: Higher Ed and Pre-k through 12
        • Government: Fire fighter training
        • Healthcare: educating someone about how to stay healthy and games for exercise
        • NGOs ad corporations
  • Case Studies
    • Life Preservers
      • NSF Funded Game
      • Education Goals
        • Framed by national science standards for middle-school science
        • Evolution, adaptation, and natural history
      • Design Goals
        • Accurate science vs. fun gameplay
        • Appeal to both boys and girls
      • Research Goals
        • Due to play style differences between genders
        • Girls will explore more, boys will just try to win the game
        • Girls will learn more than boys from the same learning game
      • Mixing science fiction with science fact
        • Initially, we were going to try to be completely factual, but to create an engaging experience, we needed to do some science fiction for story, but the science facts come in throughout the game
        • Based on the concept of invasive species and how we stop them or what happens once they are in an ecosystem
        • Learning objectives: to understand the “tree of life” diagram and interact with it; look at the different aspects of the species and think about the adaptations that went on with each creature.
        • Mixes interactive tutorials with mini-lessons, and can be played in one class period
    • FFC: The Fantastic Food Challenge
      • Developed for the MI Food and Nutrition Program
        • Developed to teach low-income adults the knowledge, skills, and confidence to feed their families nutritious meals
        • Based on the concept of Yahtzee, you roll and take food items and place them on the food pyramid
        • Designed to be a gender-neutral game, and the audience was not familiar with computer technology in general
        • Based on our research, the people who played the game learned more than just reading on the website or brochure
    • Voyage Beijing
      • The idea behind this was to understand culture as important in business communication and negotiation
      • Based on the explosion of US business in China and meant to simulate a business person’s first experience going to China
      • Sets you up with a role as a manager and lays out the story that you need to go to China to resolve some quality issues in your product development
      • Designed as a virtual experience to understand knowledge about China (what is the time zone, can I use the ATM, do they speak English) and you get more “knowledge” experience
      • Also, you get “impression” as you interact with people and that can go up and down
      • You can create and add to a journal focusing on names, places, and cultural references
  • Issues: Practical, Cultural, Design, Research
    • Cultural: “Educational” games are not fun, like broccoli dipped in chocolate
    • There are few examples of fun educational games and many boring ones (like Math Blaster)
      • How do we change perceptions? Can you?
    • What is “fun?”
      • This is a highly contested question in the sense of the content, the persona designing, the person playing, the relationship this game has to other games, how many players are involved and many other factors.
    • Cultural problems
      • Clark Aldrich – “I think educational simulations (games) can be fun, but more importantly they must be satisfying.”
    • Designing serious games is hard
      • Integrating learning into play
      • Balancing content, pedagogy, and fun
      • Cues from entertainment games
      • What is important in terms of learning objectives?
        • Knowledge, skills, and attitudes
        • You can’t do everything in a game; it is a tool that can be added to a class with a particular, limited set of objectives
      • It is hard to make games: design, programming, art, production, content, pedagogy
      • Not too many good, easy-to-use, affordable tools: Brian uses Flash and Director mostly
    • Games are expensive to make
      • Commercial games cost from $1 to $25 million over 1-3 years
      • Life Preservers, for instance, was made over six months and on a grant
    • Assessing effectiveness
      • How do you show learning? Is a score on a game the same as a score on a test?
    • Serious games have competition from other forms of media and there are many cultural preconceptions about games that we have to overcome (games are for kids/boys/etc)
      • More and more people are beginning to consider games as a way to learn, and the positive value of gaming in education
      • Decision makers are not gamers (average age of gamer is 31)
    • Gaming is a young “industry”
      • “Serious Game Developer” isn’t in the yellow pages
  • Resources