Thursday, March 31, 2011

Learning with Laughter

While Mary Poppins espoused a spoon full of sugar to help 'everything' go down, I want to relay a different message:  Laughter works a lot better than medicine.  In my work as teacher and school psychologist, I have found laughter and listening to be the ultimate motivators and catalysts for learning, interacting and for building relationships of all sorts (human relationships, relationships with sports, fears, academic interests, etc.).

Research: A Laughing Matter

  • Laughing is a reaction (often to stress or some cognitive dissonance) which serves as an emotional balancing mechanism.
  • Laughter is believed to be linked with the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that produces endorphins.  Endorphins function as neurotransmitters - sending vital messages to the brain.
  • Laughter is infectious.  When shared, it binds people together.
  • Laughter has been shown to: trigger physical body changes strengthen the immune system, boost energy, diminish pain and protect us from damaging effects of stress.  (It's those wonderful endorphins at work).
  • A growing body of research suggests that when used effectively, laughter can improve student performance by reducing anxiety, boosting participation, and increasing motivation and focus on the material (Zak Stambor, Monitor Staff, June 2006, v37n6, p.62  
What we can do at home and at school:  Make learning fun, create opportunities to laugh.  Here are some suggestions:
    Francehorrible.JPGFront Cover
  • My husband was introduced to Shakespeare through the Beatles. They sang and laughed and looked at Shakespeare's influence on modern culture.  Then with increased motivation and memory paths, they jumped head first into Macbeth and Much Ado.
  • Tom Lehrer's New Math is a great introduction to long subtraction.  He also has a great song about base 10 and you see the clip above for chemistry and its elements.  Introduce these at home and school - they're fun.  Kids can make their own videos, comic strips, puppet shows exploring these topics further.
  • There are jokes and joke books for everything.  Use them.  Make your own.  Jokes can be fun and silly - the content can come later.  With the humor, you've started kids thinking and from there, there are no limits!
  • Memorize using song, limericks, and jokes.  My kids learned the state capitals this way - they still sing the song (years later).
  • Creating rhyming jokes is a great way to help kids learn phonics, as well as to help them memorize state capitals, math times tables, etc.
  • Create comic scenes and strips depicting the lighter side on the Dark Ages (Terry Deary did this with his Horrible Histories series), the life of a Monarch, promoting lab safety (or any safety issues), math gone awry (Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith or How Much is a Million by David M. Schwartz are great examples of humor and math.)
  • There is also the idea of laughing when sad or upset.  That is harder to do when your child is heartbroken or upset, but hugs and simple laughs can go a long way. Once the intense pain is soothed, then talk about it more rationally providing guidance and support.
  • Finally laughter at the dinner table, when sitting at home, walking, driving to school or clubs is worth the time and effort.
 This is just the tip of the iceberg.  What are some of the things you do to laugh and learn?  How are you silly with your kids?  Please share it with us in your comments.  Feel free to provide helpful links as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kicking back a bit...What's all this about Inference?

In my last post I summarized my C2E2 presentation.  What I would like to do this week is kick back, discuss some of the comments and take them a bit further, talking about the nearly unlimited opportunities you can make to read with your kids, talk with them and help them learn to think critically and evaluate the world around them.

What's all this about inference?
Inference is the act of drawing a conclusion by deductive reasoning.  Inferences are assumptions or images we connect or construe when reading, when talking with others, even watching television or movies.  Reading and writing poetry is an example of making inferences.  In poetry the reader provides images, similes, metaphors that the reader must interpret in order to fully comprehend the author's intent. Some people describe making inferences as 'reading between the lines' which is SO appropriate when talking about reading graphic novels.

We make inferences all the time - at work, at home, talking to colleagues and friends, in school, at play, when reading, when thinking about the world around us.  The thing about inference, though is that it is actually hard to teach and hard to learn.  Graphic novels are so helpful because they provide so many cues - text, art, and even page design all provide the reader with important information.

Types of inferences we make when reading graphic novels:
When we read regular novels, we typically make inferences about what the characters, places, events look like.  We are almost always told what the protagonist is thinking and feeling, and motives are often included by the narrator or third-person voice.  In graphic novels that is not the case.  When reading graphic novels we typically must infer:
  • Character motives and intent;
  • Emotions;
  • Time sequences;
  • What is happening 'beween' scenes (and in the gutters) that is not 'given' or provided by author/artist.
Kicking back with an example of the awesome power of graphic novels and making inferences:
This image s taken from I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly (Image comics).

Story Background:  Barbara is a fifth grader who tells anyone who will listen that she kills giants.  The reader is uncertain at this point if she really kills giants, if she lives in a world of her own, out of touch with others, or if this is one giant metaphor for her having to face huge scary issues in her life.

On this page, Barbara is arguing with her sister.  Barbara hit the school counselor and her sister was called to pick her up.  The sister is really upset.

Inferences we must make:
  • Why does Barabaras's sister have to 'do this on her own'?
  • Where is their dad?
  • Where is their mom?
  • Why are there words inked out?
  • What might Barabara's sister be saying?
  • Why can't Barabara hear them?
  • What is with the eye thing in the middle panel on the bottom?
  • Why is there a shadow over Barbara's face in the last panel?
This is just one page from one graphic novel.  Each graphic novel is different in part, because the stories, the art, and the page design are different for each book.  That is part of the thrill or reading these new books and formats.  As always, the quality and appropriateness of these books vary.  While I recommend reading them at home and in school, I strongly recommend that adults look through the books before giving them to kids to check for appropriateness of story and vocuabulary.  That said, graphic novels are well worth the effort.

How else can you help your kids learn to make inferences?
  • Talk about books you and your kids read (graphic novels, poetry, prose).  Ask them what the author intended when she/she wrote something vague or something different. 
  • When reading graphic novels:
    • Talk about how the art and the visual details add to the story.
    • Talk about how the choice of color palate helps explain depict emotion.
    • Discuss how the choice of text font and shape add to the story detail.
  • Talk about the titles of books and chapters.  After reading them, would you have chosen those titles?  Why?  Can you think of different titles?
  • Talk about metaphors and similes.  They are such graphic means of expression.  When you come across them, talk about them.
  • When going for walks talk and think about the things you see around you.  Why are they that way?  Why do you  think squirrels have busy tails?  What color do you think is the most popular one for the outside of a house?  Why?  
  • Design scenes and worlds for dolls/lego designs, trains, dinosaurs as you play together.  Talk about the choices your child makes when designing the scenes.
  • What is so great about jello - the taste, the texture, the fact that it jiggles?
These questions go on and on.  The point is to notice things around you, to notice things others say or write and to think and further analyze and understand them.  The more you model and practice critical thinking and inference, the easier it will be for your child to tackle the world around them.

What are some of the ways you practice making inferences together?  I'd love to hear some of your ideas or questions!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Jaunt at C2E2 2011...Departing the Text: Teaching Inference with Graphic Novels

I just got back from  C2E2 2011.  Not only did the panel go well,  I love conventions...walking around...getting free books...and pitching mine. It's all about books (at least for me).  I own a kindle and read it (and love it when traveling), but there is something about the touch, feel and smell of books and paper in your hand...

At the request of some of my readers, let me tell you about the presentation Talia Hurwich and I made, "Departing the Text:  Teaching Inference With Graphic Novels." (Katie Monnin who also contributed could not make it).  The turnout was good and the audience was as passionate about teaching kids,  reaching kids, reaching teachers and introducing the right graphic novels into classrooms as we were. 

Presentation highlights:
Getting to know the page: While I'm not sure there is a 'typical' graphic novel page since page design is actually part of the art, each page contains the following elements:
  • Panels - boxes of various shape, size and borders that contain varying amounts of text and art.
  • Text varies in size, shape and in presentations. Typically, the text is presented in narrative or dialogue form (and dialogue is often in a 'text bubble').
  • When there is more than one panel to a page (which is usually the case), the panels are separated by lines or space called "gutters." Gutters are actually important.
Gutters are where a lot of critical thinking takes place.  For one, they provide opportunities to pause,  reflect and digest the previous panel and "fill in" the gaps of time, action and emotion.  Gutters also allow readers to pause and fill chunks of 'data' that the author/illustrator did not provide which are also necessary for comprehension.

In order to read and comprehend graphic novels, readers must:
  • Attend to the text's content;
  • Attend to details in art - the foreground and the background, facial expressions, spacing and placing of objects;
  • Attend to the shape, size and presentation of  text (in and out of) the panels; and
  • Attend to the panel borders and the choice of color in the backgrounds.
Learning is most effective when it is personal, meaningful and interactive. Here's how graphic novels can play a huge role:
  • Graphic novels are particularly suited for learning because they involve the reader as s/he constantly engages with the medium - switching from verbal to visual stimuli and constructing his/her level of understanding.
  • Aside from the art often being literally stunning, it pops out at you and invites the reader to participate in the action.  TRIBES:  The Dog Years (by Michael Geszel, Peter Spinetta; art by Inaki Miranda - IDW Publishers) is one example. 
  • Readers are constantly making inferences when they read graphic novels.  
  •  Critical to reading and learning from graphic novels is that information is given everywhere, and "art" can include the use of illustrations, the design of the page, the font, size, shape, and presentation of the text.
Readers Must make INFERENCES in order to comprehend:

  • We make them when we leap - figuring out what happened within and between panels.
  • We must infer character emotions from faces,  from the color of the panel background, from body stances, from text (content, shape, size), and from panel borders and shapes.
  • We must infer motives from faces, body posture, text (content, shape, size) and from panel borders and shapes.
  • We make inferences in the use of figure/ground and foreground/background.
  • We make inferences about author/illustrator 'choices'.
  • Time is often 'weird' in graphic novels.  The art and design allows the author/illustrator to jump from one period of time to another, often with no formal 'direction'.  As a result, readers must infer 'where' they are 'when' integrating the art, the shading, the panel borders, the color and the text provided.
A special note about teaching social cognition - how to read faces, understand boundaries and personal space, validate emotions... graphic novels are a power house:  In social interactions, reading verbal and nonverbal cues is essential.  Graphic novels clearly can help. The facial expressions, how people are standing or interacting together, the color of the background, the tension in the bodies, smooth or jagged panel borders, text size-shape-and font, ALL show and teach us how one expression, word, stance can lead to a particular emotion or reaction in others.  SEEING is often so much more power than just reading or being told, and graphic novels do both.

Talia outlined a sample lesson plan for introducing Greek mythology using Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess by George O'Connor, published by First Second. For anyone interested, please let me know, we can email a copy to you.

Questions/concerns from the audience [Note each bullet is a topic for an upcoming post so stay tuned]:
  • How do parents, teachers, librarians know what to buy?  As with prose novels, there are junk and gems all around.  How do we know what to buy/read/recommend?
  • How can parent/teachers learn more about using and reading graphic novels to build inference skills?
  • Can I provide further examples of how to read graphic novel panels, pointing out opportunities for inference?
  • Do you have questions?  Please let me know in the comments.
Graphic novels are rife with teaching opportunities for kids with all kinds of strengths and weaknesses and they should be integrated in classrooms and read at home.  The key is finding the right ones to use.  I have made some recommendations in previous posts, and will continue to do so.

What do you think?  Any questions?  Do you want any particular information?  Please let me know.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Investing in luck Or..Providing a Greater Sense of Freedom and Power

My mother says that luck entails being at the right place, at the right time, and using the right words.  Taking her advice at face value (which I do), I believe we can help stack our luck, invest in it, so to speak.  Here are some suggestions on how we can help our kids stack their luck as they navigate school and friends.  I'd love to hear some of your ideas.  Please read through and let me know what you do! 

Investing in Luck is two-fold.  One: prepare your child for what to expect.  Two: demonstrate, model and brainstorm how to navigate.  Teach your child to understand where to be and when, and how to navigate social, academic, and classroom situations.

Prepare yourself, prepare your child.  Preview, brainstorm and role play.  The hardest and most important part:  Keep your anxiety LOW.  This should be tension free - more like an intellectual exercise.  Note:  You cannot anticipate everything but feeling comfortable with options helps.

Scenario #1: New school.  Visit before it begins.  Explore together.  Walk through the halls, look in classrooms, the gym, playground, nurse's office, and school office.  Explain when and why s/he might need to go to the office. Play a game.  One type of game may be to take turns thinking of reasons to go there (either real life situations - you forgot your field trip permission slip, can you call home...or silly ones if your child seems tense - you just got accosted in the bathroom by a purple alien who was begging for a grimple).

Scenario #2: Having a parent conference with a teacher/school administrator.  
  •  General or mid year conference:  Look through your child’s materials (school work, tests, doctor/specialist report, etc.).  Look for trends.  Do you like them?  If not, this is something to talk about.  Read teacher comments.  Any questions about them?  What about group placement? Does your child seem happy and eager to talk about his or her day in school?  If not, yep…another thing to discuss.
  • Specific topic/IEP/Disciplinary Conference: Gather information (test results, school work, past reports, etc.).  Find out who you are meeting with.  Google them or ask friends about their experiences with them.  Review all materials relevant to the meeting (Please see my blog about IEP’s if appropriate).  You my want to bring an advocate with you if you are asking for particular services.  Any relevant medical and/or psychological reports…bring them too.

Scenario #3:  Your child is meeting with a teacher/administrator 
  • Make sure he or she understands the issues (without passing judgements or raising anxiety).  Simply analyze and review what the factors are that brought him or her to this place and brainstorm options.  
  • Once options have been brainstormed, role play.  Act out different scenarios.  Which one is your child most comfortable with?  Go with that one.  Have your child visualize this (it will help). Note:  don't over process, this will make your child anxious. Discuss, review, and move on (hugs help).
  • Know that you cannot anticipate everything, but feeling comfortable with options helps. 
  • Keep anxiety low.  Easier said than done, but super important.  Don’t let your fears/anxieties show and don’t over think. 
  • Take cues from your child.  Don’t over think…just prepare.

Scenario #4: Big Report or Assignment Due.    
 Prepare.  As soon as you know of a major project or assignment:
  • Break down the assignment into 'manageable' parts based on time available and on intellectual demands.
  • Make sure there is a space for your child to work (see previous blog for more on this).
  • Coordinate when to make library/supply trips.
  •  Brainstorm different ways to approach the project.  Discuss what it entails, selecting the 'best choice' option.
  • Break down the 'best choice' into 'executable' parts. [Make a check list together of what this involves that your child can refer to as s/he works.]
  • Get everything down first, then later...refine and edit.
  • Edit some more.  I know kids hate editing but I can't stress enough how important it is. The first round of editing should focus on word choices and whether their point is getting across clearly.  Do the sentences make sense?  The second round of editing should check spelling, grammar, word omissions or repetitions. The final round should simply be a read through with to make sure it all still makes sense.
[Note: you should not be doing this for all projects and assignments.  Do this for the first ones of the year or for the newer larger ones your child may feel overwhelmed about or for a project/paper your child has not previous experience with.]

Scenario #5:  Social interactions.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to prepare your child for social situations.   Regardless of where your child is, playground, classroom, school bus, play date, cafeteria, mall, etc., there are your child must keep s/he must learn how to stand, sit, speak, interact appropriately with others.  Here are some suggestions on how to stack their "luck" when interacting with others:
  • Validate feelings but point out realities (see previous blog for more).
  • Brainstorm what may or may not have happened to contribute to the situation- to better understand it.
  • Discuss word choices and tones of voice.
  • Discuss concept of space and of respecting the space of others.
  • Discuss boundaries (setting them and accepting them).
  • Brainstorm options.
  • Practice/role play best and worst case scenarios.

    These are just some ideas and scenarios.. what do you think?  What do you do?

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    INSPIRING: Looking at the World From Another Perspective - Richard Feynman Style

    Thanks to both Stacey Johnson and to for inspiring this post:

    image fro Deviant Art:Breath by mechtaniya
    Richard Feynman was an accomplished teacher, traveler, painter, bongo drummer, and Nobel Prize winning physicist. He discovered the cause of the tragic 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, worked with Einstein and others on The Manhattan Project, pioneered quantum physics, and, was clearly -  an outstanding "character".  He knew how to stop and smell the roses. In his books and video clips, one of the things Feynman talks about is his relationship with his parents and his perception of learning and education.  I would like to share some of his stories and humbly translate them into modern-day parenting suggestions.

    Richard's Story Part I: Conversations with his father (future posts will continue the story): Meaningful interactions with his father:
    • His father would bring home little bathroom tiles of different colors and put them on Richard's highchair to play with.  The goal was for Richard to play with them in an effort to recognize, construct, and compare patterns.
    • Application:  patterns are everywhere, and we constantly decoding them.  There are patterns in phonics and reading, patterns in math, patterns in science (for example genetic code and DNA).  The more experience kids have making and interpreting patterns, the easier it will be to use and integrate them in and out of school.
    • When reading about Tyrannasaurus Rex he took Richard outside and pointed to the second floor of the building next door saying "that" is how tall TRex was.
    • Application:  The more personal learning is made, the easier it will be to integrate, learn, and remember.  By relating TRex's height to the height of the building, Richard's dad helped him better understand how large he really was, how scary he was, etc.
    • When walking together, his father would ask questions like, "Why do you think birds peck at their feathers?" to help Richard learn to observe and critically analyze the world around him.
    • Application: Observation is essential in science, in social interactions, in learning.
    • Richard talks about how his father would always read to him from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  'Everything he read would be translated as best he could into some reality...what it really means.'

    The Point: We all want to motivate and prepare our kids for school and life through 'lovely, interesting' interactions.  We want them to discover and savor the wonders of the world around them.  We want to give them as many "ooh and ahh" experiences as possible.  This not only helps them in school (as I hope to have demonstrated above), it teaches them to explore, to think, to learn, to love.

    How can we do this as parents and teachers?

    Take advantage of resources around you: go to museums, parks, historical sites, nature trails.

    Look for patterns in the world around you: traffic patterns, sidewalk patterns, tiles, gardens, the way things are arranged on shelves.  Talk about the patterns.
    • Are they pleasant?  
    • Is there some mathematical pattern behind them? 
    • How might you make them more appealing?

    Take walks together and:
    • Look for small things, or large things, blue things or yellow things... look at patterns, look at cloud formations and what they remind you of... Teach your kids to observe things they might normally overlook.
    • Talk about "the path not taken" create scenarios where a second path might take you. 
    • When you see animals and plants, talk about them. Brainstorm why they have specific colors, sizes, resources and why this might be so important.
    • If you live in a city talk about traffic, cars, sidewalks, signs...
    • When asking questions, don't always give answers.  Let your child brainstorm.  You may or may not want to ask more questions to help them navigate towards the solution.  Just know that learning is actually more effective when there is some dissonance - when the learner has to actively think and construct solutions.
    READ together!  Read picture books, novels, poetry, comics/graphic novels, plays... and talk about them:
    • Talk about the settings, the characters, the dilemmas they face.  Brainstorm possible options and story lines. 
    • Talk about the resolutions:  what they mean to the characters, how realistic are their solutions.
    • Discuss, for example, how a book might have been written from a different character's perspective. How might the story be different if it took place in a different location or in a different era.
    • When reading graphic novels look at the patterns.  How do the panel (sizes, shapes, borders) change.  Why?  Does the background color and art of the panels change?  Why?

    As Richard Feynman notes in his book (Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman):

    “That’s the way I was educated by my father, with those kinds of examples and discussions:  no pressure – just lovely, interesting discussions.  It has motivated me for the rest of my life…” 
    Richard Feynman, 1988.

    Again, my thanks to Stacey - please visit her blog at:(Dreams Like This  Let me know how you provide "lovely interesting discussions with your child.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    How Providing Space Can Help Your Child Achieve the Infinite...and feel BIG!

    To all my friends and followers:  I have found two wonderful blogs
    Each week a theme is posted and we are challenged to address it.  It is a lot of fun and I hope to be participating in it on a regular basis: accepting its intellectual challenge, while posting what I hope you will find interesting and provocative.  This week's theme:  Space and the infinite and Big.  I am attempting to combine the two.

    Two images (both from books) come to my mind as I contemplate 'a sense of space':
    • Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" - I think about it all the time and how important it is to have this space I call mine - a space to explore, accept, reject, manipulate, rest and create.
    • There is a wonderful picture book "Five Minutes Peace" where all a mother elephant wants is ...five minutes peace!  Even when soaking in the bath...
    In terms of "Big": Everyone needs to feel "big," special, and in control and our kids are no exception.  Whether they are competitive or not, they are placed in situations all the time where their work, their ideas, their physical prowess are compared to others.  We, as parents and educators need to help them feel "big".  One way is to respect their ideas, presentations, and quirks, and another is to foster a sense of self, which can be done by giving them 'space.' 
      Kids need a sense of space at home and in school:
      • A place that is safe;
      • A place they can work and manipulate curriculum materials;
      • A place they can let their minds wander to absorb something said or seen from the corner of their eyes;
      • A place where they can explore "Who am I?" "How does what I know and how I feel fit in with this?" "How do I react to...?"   
      • A place to heal (when needed), to absorb, to brainstorm, to plan...
      • A sense of space is needed to navigate around the school building, the gym and locker rooms, the playground, the neighborhood.  Kids have to know where they should and should not be - for all sorts of safety and social reasons.
      • A sense of space is needed when negotiating math concepts when playing with lego's blocks, train tracks, toys, books, and arranging clothing in drawers and closets.
      How do can space and the infinite meet?

      When a child has a sense and feels the security of space, he or she will be able to take more intellectual risks.  They will be able to more comfortably embrace "the infinite" world around them, "the infinite" possibilities in front of them.

      What can you do?
      • Help your child create his or her own space at home.  If they share a room with a sibling, work with them to design and create their space.  Maybe it means a tent (of sheets, chairs, or an their own camping tent); maybe it means a desk (with or without a screen).  As each kid is different their design will be different too.  
      • Help your child create a sense of space in school.  This can be helping provide materials to decorate a desk or a locker, maybe even decorating a book bag, or book cover.
      • Help your child learn to create a mental space into which they can retreat for brief moments when necessary to think, maybe to retreat to before impulsively reacting, maybe to retreat to when in need of energy or courage... 

      How do you create your sense of space?  How do you help your kids create their space?  I hope you'll share and brainstorm with us.

      Space and the power of infinite possibilities ... what a wonderful way to grow up learning about the world and exploring your place in it!

      Monday, March 7, 2011

      Promoting Expressions of Care... Or... Where Has Mister Rogers Gone?

      My daughter posted this You Tube feed and it really touched me:

      Mister Rogers Defending PBS to the US Senate in 1969

      I admit that in my house we occasionally made fun of Mister Roger's sappy low-budgeted show, and laughed as Eddie Murphy spoofed 'Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood' on SNL, but there was something warm and comforting about watching Mister Roger's Neighborhood.   More importantly, there were kids from disadvantaged and troubled homes who needed his soothing, reassuring love and constant commitment.

      This clip shows Fred Rogers passionately championing public television and the need to promote "Expressions of Care" while demonstrating that angry feelings can be "reasonable and manageable."  My daughter (in her 20's) who grew up watching Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and the occasional Mister Rogers, wrote the following reaction: "As a child watching his programming, I didn't quite realize how profound that man was, but man did we loose a leading light when he died."

      Just look, listen and feel his passion!  It is breathtaking.  Where are our champions today?

      Let's talk about bullying. It's time to model and teach our bullies more appropriate expressions of conflict while empowering their victims to speak up and not feel embarrassed.  Gifted kids should not need to hide their gifts for fear of ridicule.  New kids, kids of different ethnicities, sizes, and colors.  Rich kids, poor kids, just plain different kids should not feel they have to hide who they are. My kids, for example, should not have had to attend Johns Hopkins University's CTY (Center for Talented Youth) to feel like they belonged. Their schools and clubs should have been able to. Schools, athletic teams, social clubs need to focus on social as well as academic or athletic goals. We need to teach our kids to how to effectively communicate needs and desires and to feel compassion for those who may not be like them.  There are two blogs I came across that do just this, you may want to take a look at them:
      Now let's talk about graphic novels, and violence:  Fredrick Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent (1954) which protested the harmful effects violent imagery in mass media and comic books had on children. [Ironically, the early superhero comics were about standing up to bullies and fighting for the voices of the 'little guys'.] Wertham called television "a school for violence" and his book helped spark a U.S. Congressional inquiry into the comic book industry that led to the "Comics Code."   Comic book publishers were to submit their works to the CAA (Comics Code Authority) and those "acceptable" publications would receive a seal of approval.  This almost killed the comics industry until recently.  Now authors, publishers and readers are finding that comics are not just for adults and there are some truly wonderful, nonviolent fiction and nonfiction publications for kids of all ages.

      Yes, there are still violent graphic novels published.  There are also very violent novels, movies, plays, music and music videos published and produced as well.  It is up to us to promote the positive messages and argue the negative ones. 

      The Answer as I see it: We need to validate angry feelings while modeling and nurturing appropriate acceptable means of expression.  And while Rodgers' puppetry, educational /video clips, even his clothing are now way outdated, his message should not be.  We need to promote "expressions of care" in the way we behave, in how we communicate, in the shows we watch, the books we read and the songs we sing.

      What we can do as parents and teachers:
      • It is really important to validate feelings.  
      • If your child or student is angry, insulted, upset, embarrassed, overanxious, etc. acknowledge those feelings - even if you feel they are unwarranted.
      • IF  unwarranted, first, calm him or her down.  Once calm, talk in a soothing voice pointing out concrete examples of why he or she may be overreacting.  Listen carefully to what they are saying.  Continue to acknowledge their feelings while discussing other possibilities.
      • For a young child, help him or her express feelings.  You may want to role play responses (with puppets, dolls, legos, train characters - whatever they will best relate to, find 'fun,' and least threatening).
      • Brainstorm possible solutions and ways to respond.  For a young child who is reluctant to talk about this, you may want to role play with puppets or dolls.  When role playing help show your child how to use their words.
      • When brainstorming, or as a followup, you may want to discuss favorite book, movie, television characters who have dealt with similar issues.  Discuss how they resolved the problem.  Did it really help? Why? Can the strategy work for your child?
      • These discussions should be held privately with your child or student.  They can then be discussed later, more generically in the classroom as a whole - possibly using story characters (so students involved are not embarrassed or further upset).
      • If the problem continues, you may want to seek further help from school or medical professionals.
      • If you see bullying, name calling, shoving, break it up.  Don't let it go.  Talk to the parties involved.  
      • In your classroom do a lot of group work, mixing up students - helping them learn to work (and hopefully) respect each other a bit more.  Supervise group work carefully, monitoring dialogue between frequently targeted kids whenever possible.
      • If you find your child has been bullied, talk to him or her about it.  Talk to the teacher or responsible adults (coaches, playground/cafeteria supervisors - where appropriate). 

      These are only a few suggestions.  I'd love to hear what you do.  Let me know how you are promoting expressions of care with your kids.  Let me know how you are dealing with violence and bullying.  Let's learn from each other while supporting each other - while shaping future Fred Rogers'!

      Tuesday, March 1, 2011

      Reading, Graphic Novels, and Memory

      In my last post, I discussed how reading and comprehending graphic novels demand large chunks of attention: attention to detail, attention to background, attention to language, and attention to art and lettering (size, font, and shape).  This week I would like to focus on graphic novels and memory.

      Prose vs. Graphic Novels and the demands reading them place on memory.

      Prose Novels: When reading anything in print we have to remember:
      • The shapes and corresponding sounds of letters;
      • We have to remember the corresponding sounds of letter blends, 
      • We have to remember vocabulary (recalling the spelling of words to more efficiently decode them as well as their defintions), 
      • We have to remember what we just read and if it makes sense vis-a-vis what you read a few sentences ago (metacognition - keeping track of our comprehension), 
      • We have to remember rules of grammar and punctuation, and 
      • When reading we have to constantly keep track of plot, time, motives, names, places and events.

      Reading places demands on short term memory, long term memory, and active working memory.

      Graphic Novels:  When reading graphic novels, we have to remember:
      • ALL the demands on memory listed above for prose novels PLUS:
      • We have to remember not only the words we read, but the sequence scenes we view in the panels.  
      • We have to remember what occurred in the previous panel while constructing and inferring what was not included in the gutter.  
      • We also have to remember the artist's different use of font and panel borders.  (Sometimes, for example squiggly lines around a panel means someone is thinking, sometimes it can mean they are angry.  
      • We have to keep track of the particular artists' intent in the choice of letter fonts and sizes, and panel divisions and borders.  The art, while adding an emotional and very engaging component, also adds additional demands on memory.
      • When reading comics or a graphic novel series we also have to remember small sequences of the story over a long period of time.  With comics, only a small segment of the story is printed at a time, with weeks between issues.  The reader has to keep track of plot, motives, intents, etc. [And, while we do this as well with sequels for books, the stories in each prose novel book are complete and easier to remember than the small segments readers are given at each comic installment.  The disjointed story makes it more difficult to remember.]
      How to use graphic novels to build memory skills:
      • Read comic books in regular installments.  Read them together with your kids and:
        • Talk about them.  
        • Brainstorm where you think the author(s) will take the next installment.
        • Before reading the next installment, review what has happened so far.
        • Discuss how the art helps you remember certain aspects of the story.  
        • Discuss how the art provides cues to help your mind read and not have to think or remember reading strategies.  For example, different fonts and borders may help you realize this is a flash-back. Also, different art styles within a comic can cue your mind in terms of which sequence panels should be read in.  Once you realize the artist's intent, it frees your mind to focus on other issues.
      • Whether reading these books together or individually, you may want to create story maps to visually "see" where the story is going (and help remember details). 

      There are now many kids non-fiction and historical fiction graphic novels.  Pairing these graphic novels with science, social studies, history and language arts in the classroom will help provide graphic images as well as complementary content that will help make the educational content more meaningful and easier to recall.  Here are a few young adult nonfiction and historical fiction graphic novel suggestions (recommended age ranges vary):
        •  American Born Chinese (Yang, G.)  a perspective of growing up as a multicutural minority student (recommeded for middles school and above);
        • Laika (Abadzis, N.)- provides a Russian perspective to the Space Race (third grade and above);
        • Mouse Guard (Petersen, D.) - perspective of life in the Middle Ages (fourth grade and above);
        • The Olympians (O'Connor, G.)- provides a wonderfully visual account of Greek myths (third grade and above);
        • Persepolis (Satrapi, M.) - the story of childhood in Iran (recommended for mature middle school - high school);
        • Kampung Boy (Lat) - about a Muslim boy growing up in rural Malaysia in the 1950's (middle school and above);
        • Malcolm X:  A Graphic Biography (Helfer, R.D.) - critiques the Civil Rights Movement and Malcolm X's life (recommended for high school);
        • Campfire Graphic Novels have published re-tellings of classic stories such as Treasure Island and Moby Dick and some of Shakespeare's classics (Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, for example) that you may want to check out.

      Most of all, you want to enjoy the reading experience!  Let me know what your favorite non-fiction and historical fiction comics/graphic novels are.