Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Comics and Graphic Novels as Attention Trainers

This past weekend in The Wall Street Journal Weekend Review, Jonah Lehrer writes that while managing and focusing attention in school and in work is important, the more creative thinkers have been found to have attentions that wander and roam:
"Those undergrads who had a tougher time ignoring unrelated stuff were also seven times more likely to be rated as "eminent creative achievers" based on their previous accomplishments..Such lapses in attention turn out to be a crucial creative skill."
He does go on to note that these studies conducted were with college students, and results may be  different with younger subjects.  Furthermore he acknowledges how important it is for school-related success to execute mental control over attention.

So where does this leave us?  I see two correlates:
  1. In school, it is important for our kids to hone attention to what is being said by the teacher and to attend to the tasks directed by him or her.
  2. Finding time to daydream, to depart the text, to brainstorm, to pursue creative venues is equally important.
There are many ways to help your kids pursue creative, brainstorming activities: 
  • Read aloud and brainstorm alternative endings and titles to the chapters or to the books.
  • When reading, brainstorm sequels.
  • Make cakes and cards for parties instead of buying them.  Create and design the cake, invitation, and decorations.
  • Build forts in the snow, in the house (with chairs, sheets, blankets, boxes...).
  • Design and Create - don't buy costumes for Halloween or other costume parties.
  • Brainstorm unusual Sunday activities, or unusual family meals (experiment!).
  • Take advantage of local historical sights, museums, nature trails, and events.
  • Read all sorts of books, articles and of course, graphic novels, comic books!

As I am in comic book/graphic novel mode (see my "Note" to the right), let's talk about how comic books and graphic novels can help:

Attention and Graphic Novels:  When reading graphic novels, the reader MUST ATTEND to verbal and visual stimuli:
  • to the words,
  • to the font shape;
  • to font sizes, 
  • to the illustrations, 
  • to the color of the fonts and illustrations, 
  • to the foreground and background of the illustrations
  • and even to the way the panels (dialogue and picture 'boxes') are laid out on the page. 
This is a lot to attend to and to take in.  Reading these texts in an exercise in controlling and managing attention.  And, because they are so visually appealing and of high interest, readers find these texts extremely engaging.  So, not only will you kids be attending to various stimuli, they may be able to sit longer than usual because they are so motivating.

How to use graphic novels to build attention:
  •  If you read graphic novels together (which I recommend):
    • Talk about the art -  how it makes you feel, what you noticed immediately, what took time to see and understand.
    • Discuss design components and the page layout.  Discuss changes in layout and why the illustrator may have made those changes.
    • Ruminate about how word size and fonts all contribute to the story.  
    • Look for and discuss details. 
  • You may want to create your own graphic novels for favorite book and stories. Doing this forces you to focus on the essential dialogue and story elements.  It provides opportunities to brainstorm about design and layout as well. 

A note of graphic novel selections:
  • Please see my blog post of October, 13, 2010 for lists of graphic novel genres, kid friendly graphic novels and publishers, and a brief history of modern comics.
  • Also please note that especially for younger kids - adults should be involved in selecting graphic novels.  There are some wonderful ones, but they have various levels of violence and sexual innuendo.  There are many with little or none:  (Laika, Zeus, Athena, Robot Dreams, American Born Chinese all published by First Second Books), The Bone Series and Ghostopolis (Scholastic) have some minor violence but is appropriate for younger readers,  These are just a few suggestions.
  • WHEN IN DOUBT SEEK A LIBRARIAN'S ADVICE - most good librarians not only know their graphic novels, they are strong advocates.
Let me know what you and your kids are reading.  We can start a dialogue and recommended reading list.  And, know that the next few weeks will be delve further into the pros (and cons) of graphic novels

Monday, February 21, 2011

Addressing Diverse Needs In The Classroom

Earlier today I wrote a blog about addressing diverse needs in the classroom and Dr. Mel Levine's theoretical contributions to education.  I understandably received controversial comments.  In my effort to more sensitively and more accurately express myself I was editing the post and accidentally wiped it out  and cannot quickly replicate it, nor am I sure that now is the best time to do so.

My intention was to draw attention to parts of Levine's theory I found helpful,  and not to eulogize the man as the accusations against him were and are inexcusable.  I am sorry the post was erased and with time, I will post what I found intriguing about addressing all kinds of minds in a classroom again, in a more sensitive well written post.  The post was not intended to be about the man but about his theories of looking at a learner's profile, to teach to strengths while boosting weaknesses, and to teaching kids, parents and students to advocate for student needs.  His writings and the work done by Schools Attuned have helped many struggling students.

My apologies.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How To Make Learning Math + Science + Reading = FUN

Before getting to my post I just want to give a SHOUT OUT to my fellow She Writers on this festive Blog-Hop weened!  And, while I have no blogging tips to add - I hope you like my other tips!

A few months age, The Wall Street Journal's  Friday Journal (November 5, 2010) splashed the headline: "The Turf War for Tots:  In TV's battle for the hearts and minds of preschoolers, it's Mandarin and math vs. stories and sparkle"  Executives at Nickelodeon's Nick Jr. and Walt Disney were jockeying for market position following "starkly different" points of view:
Nick scheduled programs emphasizing "learning" such as "Dora" and spin-off "Go Diego, Go" (teaching kids Spanish) and "Ni Hao, Kai-Lan" (with 6-year-old cartoon Kai-lan Chow teaching kids Mandarin Chinese").  Disney argued that "learning programing" emphasizes too much work and not enough play, focusing on story-telling  instead.

This is all fine and good, and as parents it is nice to have a wider options for our kids.  My question is: Why isn't LEARNING = FUN (period)?
  • Why does programing have to be either "learning" oriented or "story-telling"? Isn't story-telling a form of learning?  Isn't learning a form of story-telling (especially when learning about cultures)?
  • Why is everything in education presented as extremes (for example:whole language or phonics)?
    In my December 6, 2010 blog ("Our Education Dilemma") I mentioned an article by Paul Lockhart, a mathematics teacher at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, NY who laments about our current math curriculum which teaches students to memorize and apply formulas but which, in his opinion, should engage students by having them explore natural 'built-in' mathematical problems all around them instead.  Jon Scieszk's Math Curse does just this.  It was such a popular book he went on to write Science Verse detailing the poetry of science.

    If Scieszka and Lockhart can integrate math + science + humor = fun ... why can't educators?  Why is everything either or? Our schools are losing so many students.  How many times have we, as parents, heard from our kids that school or learning is 'boring'?  I certainly have. 

    So, here are some suggestions to make learning fun:
    • Learning must be meaningful.  Teachers and parents must constantly introduce topics in a way that makes whatever the topic is, meaningful right then and there. Here are just a few suggestions:
      • In math we have "manipulatives" - ususally blocks, discs, or shapes to "play" geometry or addition, subtraction, multiplication. division - but we also have to show them WHY these tools and operations are so important:  What's in it for them?  
        • Design and make different types of kites.  Fly them - which works best -why (this combines math and science).
        • Have your kids virtually 're-tile' a bathroom given a specific shape or sets of shaped tiles.  Re-tiling must involve geometry and math's various operations to be successful.  
        • Maybe, you have a football fan - why not teach base ten, base two, base whatever as "first downs"?  
        • Maybe you want to travel?  Have your kids select destinations and  convert local temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit  (working with fractions and conversion).
        • Convert time zones and compute travel time (using various modes of transportation).  You can be really creative and invent your own forms of travel and travel time.
        • They can do the same with various foreign currencies. Let them plan their trips, let the design their bathrooms - make it meaningful
      • In Science - it's the same idea - make it meaningful to them.  You may want to relate whatever you are studying to their lives, their bodies, their immediate universe.
      • Reading -again...fun!  Independent reading should be easy reading and it should be about meaningful topics and things they love.  
        • Let them select their own independent reading material and you can expand their horizons by selecting very different books (slightly more challenging) to read aloud.  
        • For reluctant readers - start with comic books or graphic novels.  They are coming into their own now and offer incredible art, relevant topics, serious vocabulary - and they really challenge cognitive skills such as inference (more on this in later blogs).
    •  Go on field trips:
      • Go on hikes (local and distant) - look for birds (with a book and binoculars), look at flora and fauna (again with book - or a camera/cell phone) - hunt for unusual things you can research later. Or, go on hikes talk together, have fun.
      • Go to local (and distant) museums.  There are so many different types of museums now.  There are local historical sites, art, media, cultural, music, spiritual museums - explore - make their learning more personal.
    This world is such an wonderful, colorful, vibrant, fascinating place - let's take advantage of it!

    Have fun!  Let me know what and how you are helping your child explore his or her world!