Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The World's Gone Graphic! Gaining a Graphic IQ

 I realize that while my world of novels and books will always be there to entertain and enlighten, we are on riding the wave of a graphic revolution.

We have, we use, and we are bombarded with images everywhere.  And we increasingly need these images to better communicate and convince.

We see and seek  images everywhere.  From product identification and safety directions, to illustrations / art in blogs and in books.  When we communicate via email in short verbal bursts and often include icons to better express ourselves :-)

While this 'revolution' has been around for a while it has only recently hit me how extensive it is.  I now LOVE graphic novels, instructions are graphic, and road signs use more and more images to convey information.


Since reading my first graphic novel last year (Joe Kelly's I Kill Giants), I have read numerous outstanding educational graphic novels for kids - chalk full of extensive vocabulary, well-written dialogue, exquisitely inviting art, and exciting stories of fiction and nonfiction, science and technology, history, social conflict and the search of identities.

I have also learned that graphic novels are the fastest selling format of kids' books, and find myself the author of a book on how to integrate graphic novels into middle school curriculum.  Major publishers have now set up graphic novel divisions and while Barnes & Nobles don't quite know how to shelve them yet, they're out there!

Furthermore, librarians have realized that graphic novels bring kids and young adults back into libraries, and that graphic novels are bringing kids back to books and reading!  Graphic novels literally illustrate the art of story-telling.


We use graphic images in everything thing we do.  We have visual icons that relay safety messages and product information.  We use them to cross the street.  We use them to advertise.  We use them in presentations.  We use them to convince.

When was the last time you went to a presentation or workshop and just sat and listened?  To sell an idea or product we use Power Point, we teach with handouts, advertisers agonize over the most striking and memorable images.  We sell everything with images.

Look at your favorite blogs.  I don't know about you, but I favor some visual support when reading them.  The images are inviting, they help break up the screen, and they add a dimension to the message.


Because so many of our products come from other countries or are sold world wide, instructions must be universally understood.  While some companies will provide written instructions / warnings in multiple languages, many are instead simply going graphic!

It's this last point that really got me to this graphic revolution point!

My daughter just moved to Boston where she started work on Monday.  We went to Ikea to furnish her apartment and found ALL the directions were purely graphic!

The thing is that as bright as we both are (she graduated with honors from Williams College, I have a PhD and graduated from an ivy league school)...the directions were really hard to follow.  There were times we just didn't quite "get" what went where.  Here's just one page:

  • Communicating with images is here to stay! 
  • We as concerned parents and educators must teach our kids to "read" images
  • The International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NTCE) have included in their standards that "Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts"
EDUCATION MUST include and address this graphic revolution. 

We should never abandon our classics.  I love teaching Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Andrew Clemen's Frindle, but we also have to teach kids how to use Power Point, how to read graphic instructions/directions, and how to tell stories with graphic images, even how to "read" faces.  Hence, enter graphic novels - a wonderful bridge for both worlds.

  • Include graphic novels in your reading repertoire and in your read aloud repertoire with your kids.
  • Focus on learning to read the details in illustrations.
  • Talk about advertising icons - why do you thing a company / advertisers chose a particular image?  Was it effective?
  • Talk about art, the use of color, the use of particular shapes...what these images portray...what emotions they evoke.
  • Discuss design choices for school projects, for homemade cards, for household products...
  • Turn commercial time into a cognitive puzzle: Talk about your favorite/least favorite commercials.  What do you like about them?  What do you hate about them? (Here are two of my favorites - one serious [and notice - no words], one that made me laugh)

I am curious - how much have graphic images invaded your worlds?  How do you help teach your kids to cope with the images they're bombarded with?  How do you cope? Please let me know in your comments! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

education vs. Education: The Difference is in Expectations

BACK TO SCHOOL: With our kids starting a new school year, it's time to evaluate just what they are getting.  Is it an  "education" or an "Education."

education involves teaching kids a curriculum set to meet state standards.  "education" is typically teacher (and test) driven and its relevance is often missed by the students. "education" involves teaching facts from a textbook and worksheets with scattered tests and projects, and studying for state/national mandated tests upon which funding is determined.  For example, as a school consultant a few years ago (in a city school I choose not to disclose), I noticed the students there were given sample state tests in math and reading every few weeks.  Those students were getting an 'education' because there was no time to 'play' with the material - no time to integrate aspects of the curriculum into their lives to make it meaningful or for it to come alive.  No time to depart the text or to take learning tangents along lines students were interested in.  There was only time to cover what was on the test and practice test taking skills.

Education involves teaching kids a given broad "liberal arts" curriculum with the expectation that they critically evaluate and incorporate that curriculum - evaluating how meaningful it is to themselves and others, and expanding upon that core curriculum.   Education involves a wide breadth of issues and sources (textbooks, original sources and texts, computer/internet sources, graphic novels and classics) that are student driven and teacher facilitated.  Classrooms are interactive, and involve critical thinking, critical reading, and creativity.  While state and national tests are a given 'reality' - they don't dictate the curriculum, classes or content. For example, when my son was in sixth grade, the teacher told them that the book they were reading was based on Milton's Paradise Lost.  My son was so taken by the book, he read Paradise Lost and the teacher asked him to make a class presentation about it.  My son was receiving an Education.

The difference is in our EXPECTATIONS - Expectations in what our kids can learn and accomplish; expectations in what should be taught.

Expectations of what our kids can learn and accomplish:  While these vary from child to child, one thing remains constant:  Set the bar low, achievements will be low; set the bar high and students will rise to those goals.  The key: making learning engaging and taking cues from your students to facilitate learning and meeting challenges and expectations. 
  • IF they have NO trouble with the reading materials - increase the bar a bit.  Give them more to read; give them more to discuss; add depth and more analysis to the discussions; have them integrate more sources - using more extensive resources.
  • IF they find the material challenging - first, evaluate what is the challenge and adjust accordingly.
    • IF the reading material poses too great a challenge, switch it around a bit.  You may want to have them read fewer sources but notch up their critical analyses.  You may want to keep the reading material but provide resources to help them (for example: summarize what they will be reading BEFORE they read it; have appropriate graphic novels to complement the textbooks)
    • IF the reading material is fine, but the lesson demands are too challenging - switch them around.  IF there is too much writing, make sure that they write a certain amount but supplement the writing with other activities (creating a video, an interview, a diorama).
    • IF the class discussions are too challenging - ask the teacher to provide one or two discussion questions is advance that your student can prepare for (and be one of the first called on when the question is posed in class).  You may also want to record certain classes and review them together later.
In short, don't expect less from your kids and students - expect more, but monitor their work and their working process.  Tweak the working process - incorporating their strengths and affinities and involving multiple sources, resources and skills so ALL expectations are met.

Expectations of what should be taught: 21st Century Educational Leadership has some of the right answers.  They advocate for interactive, student driven education (that is meaningful and lessons that they can immediately relate to) with lessons that incorporate verbal, visual and technological literacies.

"Twenty-first century skills combining technology literacy, critical thinking, creativity and mastery of core subject matter are the lifeblood of a productive workforce in today's global, knowledge-based economy." - 21st Century Educational Leadership
This, however, is only part of the solution. Student driven education is essential - learning must be meaningful and relevant to students and they must play and interact with it.  However, there is something to be said about being well read... Being able to go into any social situation and join others' conversations - regardless of the topic.  Knowing classics in literature, philosophy, economics are as important as history, science and math.  Classic literature and philosophy represent where our ideas and ideals originated and are important in helping to determine and chart where we must go.  I firmly believe in integrating comics, computers, and classics. 

What do you think?  What type of education did you receive?  What type of education is your child receiving? How can we get our teachers to Educate (let me know if you want to continue this discussion)?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Deaf Ears? Or Teaching Our Kids How to Listen?

From: crosswalk.com

I had another post ready for this week, but as I sit hear reading the Sunday New York Times, another, possibly more pressing issue hit me:  Deaf Ears.  As the US  (and possibly the world) economy unravels and our political systems appear ineffective - our leaders seem to have blinders and deaf ears.

The article "Amid Criticism on Downgrade, S.&P. Fires Back" The article details that:
"The day after Standard & Poor's took the unprecedented step of stripping the United States government of its top credit rating, the ratings agency offered a full-throated defense of its decision, calling the bitter stand-off between President Obama and Congress over raising the debt ceiling a 'debacle'...Initial reactions from Congressional leaders suggesting that S.&P.'s action was unlikely to force consensus on the fundamental divide ...  Politicians on both sides used the decision to bolster their own long-standing positions...Officials in the White House and Treasury criticized S.&P.'s move as based on faulty budget accounting..."
MSNBC reported that  the White House is now blaming the Tea Party Republicans for this mess.  What bothered me most (aside from the overall economic and political "debacle") is that neither Congress nor the White House address the "debacle"  or assume any responsibility. Instead they are "bolstering" their own long standing positions, are arguing with "accounting," and blaming others.  

Blinders and deaf ears!

I am, however, neither a politician nor an economist.  I am a parent and educator and as I read this I realize how difficult it is for all of us to hear, accept, and address things we would prefer to ignore (or blame others for), and how important it is for us as 'responsible' adults, parents and educators to teach our kids to 'listen' to lessons and other opinions, especially when they are difficult to 'hear' , to learn how to assume responsibility, and to respond with veritas.

How to teach kids to avoid the blinders and deaf ears:
  • First and foremost we have to model appropriate behavior.  We have to listen to them, and don't interrupt them as they're attempting to explain their perspectives.  
  • We have to hear why they may not want to accept what we say and acknowledge their feelings.
  • We have to help them recognize our perspectives and problem solve resolutions. 
  • We also have to teach and model compromise.

    How do we help them hear what they don't want to accept?
    • When faced with a potential argument, speak calmly and ask your child to elaborate why they're upset (see this previous posting for more details: http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/07/power-of-argument.html)
    • Model - show (don't just tell) your kids how you appropriately  approach things you don't want to hear. Model compromising, when appropriate.
    • Brainstorm on how to listen better. Teach and model how to pause, process, think, respond; how to use and respond to eye contact; and not to use subjective 'feeling' words when responding.
    • Read books, watch news clips and together - talk about how characters may not want to face the issues.  Discuss why and brainstorm how to make them more effective listeners.
    • Illustrated books, comic books, and visual clips are effective because you can analyze what is said with body language and facial expressions (which don't necessarily reflect what is said).  Understanding these social nuances is important and these visuals help.
      Play listening games together:
        Telephone - requires a number of players: one person whispers something to the next who whispers the message to the next person, etc.  The last person in the chain must repeat the message (which often is completely garbled) 

        My grandmothers trunk - requires a number of players: The first person begins, "In my grandmother's trunk I found an ______ ("A" word such as alligator).  The next person repeats what the previous person found and adds another item to the trunk, beginning with the next letter of the alphabet.

        Going on a picnic - requires a number of players: The first person begins, "I'm going on a picnic and bringing an ______ ("A" word such as apple).  The next person repeats what the previous person is bringing on the picnic and adds another item to the picnic basket, beginning with the next letter of the alphabet.

        Work in pairs (for home or school) and have each member of the pair talk for one minute in response to a question.  The other person must listen and report back later what was said.  Each member of the pair takes turn as listener and talker, and each must later repeat their partner's response.

        Watch, read, and discuss related content together.  Have some fun - listen to the Monty Python clip above, for example,  from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."  Try to find all the ways the father is not listening to his son. Next, find all the ways the guards fail to listen to the father. Then brainstorm on how the father and son might be more effective in getting his message across.
          In closing I hope you enjoy these two clips from 1776  as we deal with our current state of affairs (which haven't actually changed much, have they?):

          Are you a good listener?  What do you do to get others to 'hear' you?  I'd love to continue the conversation.

          Tuesday, August 2, 2011

          San Diego Comic-Con 2011

          I just got back from my first San Diego Comic Con and all I can say is WOW!!!

          Wow - to the 140,000 + people there daily... to all the exhibits and panels...to all the freebies and cool promotions...and to the absolutely glorious weather!

          Comic-Con 2011 - What's NewI still wonder...How did I get to do something so cool? About ten months ago I was sitting in  my kitchen with my kids talking about blogging and literacy. Two of my three kids were preparing to go to the New York City Comic Con and I commented that as a literacy advocate and educator, I probably should give comics a second look - that maybe I should consider them a legitimate source of literacy and entertainment.

          My kids' reactions:  "DUH!!!!!!: (Articulate, huh)

          My son gave me Joe Kelly's I Kill Giants (for grades 5+ see previous posts for details) and I was blown away!!!!  I was amazed at the depth of the story, Kelly's creative use of metaphor, and the use of art to involve the reader.  My daughter hooked me into The Unwritten (a young adult book that weaves classic literature into a complicated mystery as the main characters fight to save the free-thinking world) and I attended the New York City Comic Con with them this past October.  In 2012 my book, "Teaching Content Area Graphic Novels" will be published by Maupin House Publishers.

          So now, I have just returned home after sitting on a panel at the San Diego Comic Con 2011 where I had an awesome time talking to teachers and librarians on how to integrate comics and graphic novels into school libraries and curriculum. I am pumped to finish my book and am ready to start promoting my second book (more on that later).

          The Bottom Line in a Nut Shell: Graphic novels are powerful educational tools promoting verbal literacy, visual literacy, social literacy and critical thinking.
          • Their promoting literacy is obvious - they provide engaging entertainment as readers decode visual and verbal text. 
          • Graphic novels promote social awareness as readers have to "read" facial expressions and body language as well as the text to 'get' the story.  This heightens their awareness of social cues.
          • Finally, comics and graphic novels promote critical thinking as the readers have to construct motives, emotions, and events that occur between panels.  Furthermore, many graphic novels, like Kelly's I Kill Giants are rife with metaphor which further stimulates critical (and creative) thinking. 
          So in Comic Con vain, I thought I would share three AWESOME graphic novels I got from the Comic Con:

          Rust: Visitor in the Field (Archaia 2011) by Royden Lepp is set in the prairie lands of a unknown time and place, in a world that has survived a devastating war where robots were eventually built to fight instead of men.  Roman Taylor, the oldest son of the Taylor family is set with the responsibility of running a struggling farm in his father's absence. Jet Jones, being chased by a giant decommissioned war robot lands on the Taylor farm and Roman thinks Jet Jones and the decommissioned robot might be the answers to his struggle.  This is a beautifully illustrated story (in colors reflecting the Dust Bowl era of the 1930's) told through dialogue, flashbacks and letters to Roman's dad. This book can be used in social studies classrooms to discuss issues faced by farmers in the Dust Bowl era; the mechanics of war and fighting machines;  and the art of letter writing.  It is suitable for grades 4+. 20th Century Fox has picked up this novel and hired Aline Brosh McKenna (whose scripts include The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses and  I Don't Know How She Does It) to adapt it for the screen.  Fox-based Simon Kinberg and Archaia's Stephen Christy and PJ Bickett will be the executive producers.

          The Saga of Rex (Image Comics 2011) is illustrated and written by Michel Gagne - a veteran animator (who has worked for Warner Bros. and Disney/Pixar).  This is a beautifully illustrated adventure, science fiction, love story about a gentle-souled fox named Rex who is plucked from his world and transported to the planet of Edernia  where he meets all sorts of creatures, including his soul mate. This book contains some brief narration, but the story itself is told almost exclusively through illustration.  The text provided is well written and has advanced vocabulary.  While the illustrations are magnificent, cute and inviting (the young fox makes you think it may be for young kids), it takes some sophistication to construct the story and there is one scene that might be scary for young children.  I therefore recommend this book for older kids (middle school and older).  Finally, because there is so little text, reading this book presents a wonderful cognitive exercise as the reader constructs the story panel by panel, illustration by illustration.  For more information and a "look" into each chapter of the book, please go to: http://www.gagneint.com/Final%20site/books/Rex_saga/Rex_saga_main.htm.  [Note to teachers: As an educational exercise you may want to begin reading this aloud and have kids 'write' their own dialogue.]

           Zita the Spacegirl (First Second 2011) by Ben Hatke is a beautifully illustrated book about Zita who must rescue her friend Joseph who was reluctantly sucked into another world after warning Zita of the dangers of touching a 'meteor' that fell to earth.  Zita faces monsters, robots and magicians in her quest to save and return Joseph to their world.  This is appropriate for grades 3 +.  It is also a wonderful book to read aloud together.  There is so much to talk about! For a cool trailer you and your kids will enjoy go to: http://zitaspacegirl.com/  or view this trailer on youtube:

          It blows my mind how far comic books have come and it boggles the mind to think of where books - graphic or prose will be in another ten years....but that's a different blog post!

          I hope you enjoyed these clips and would love to hear from you.  In the meantime..

          Here are some other posts to visit to read more about graphic novels:
          http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/06/visual-vs-visual-literacy-no-contest.html http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/05/science-fiction-skills-chills-and.html http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/03/learning-with-laughter.html http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/03/kicking-back-bitwhats-all-this-about.html http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/01/great-reads-for-avid-4th-and-5th-grade.html http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2010/10/graphic-novels-at-home-and-in-school.html 

          I would love to know what YOUR FAVORITE comics and graphic novels are!!!  Please leave them in the comments.