Students have been reading three specific graphic novels this month that are historically based on people who dedicated their life work to speak out against injustice. The three titles are The Faithful Spyby John Hendrix, They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, and Run by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Now students might be thinking, how cool, what an easy book to read, and there is so little words but really this is a deeper reading unit that others.
Graphic novels have depth of plot, character development, theme, and lots of literary elements found in a prose text. It also has the elements of film we study with students, allowing them to develop literacy in the interpretation of image for meaning. When students combine both aspects to investigate a text’s effect on readers, they develop varied insights into how meaning is communicated and interpreted. It makes for a very rich literature study.
What started as a mini lesson on inferring, because a rich discussion about the messages the authors and illustrators made balancing the words and images to help convey a particular message.
Looking closer at the page from Faithful Spy together the students were able to recognize the double-page spread symbolically represents Germany’s decline from the stability of the early 20th century through the disaster of the Great War, then into the postwar years when Germany tried to gain her feet and reassert herself on the world stage. It gives the reader a literal picture of how an opportunist like Hitler was able to take advantage of his country’s instability to seize power. Both Germany and Hitler are represented by the wolf which is ripping off its collar to represent Germany would no longer be following the key provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. History.com cites Article 231, commonly called the war guilt clause, which required Germany to accept responsibility for causing “all the loss and damage” inflicted on the Allies in WWI.
Additionally, students pointed out how the wolf’s eyes are white providing a lifeless, vicious animal that is driven by aggression. It is eating its prey represents Hitler’s desire to eat up all surrounding countries to accumulate power and anyone getting in his way.
To encourage students to go back into their graphic novels and look closer at specific panels and sections, I created task cards to help direct them to specific parts of the book and begin developing theories about their reading. This was followed up with a lesson on symbolism and possible theme ideas in the text. You can grab a copy of these materials here.
This week I started reading Forged by Reading by Kyleen Beers & Bob Probst.
These authors are mentors to me and all of their book have shaped my teaching and learning. Kylene Beers, author and educator, is a past-President of the National Council of Teachers of English. She received an NCTE Leadership Award, held a reading research position in the Comer School Development Program at Yale University School of Medicine, and has most recently served as the Senior Reading Advisor to the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University. Robert E. Probst is an author and consultant to schools nationally and internationally. He speaks to administrators and teachers on literacy improvement, particularly issues surrounding struggling readers and meeting standards. Bob is Professor Emeritus of English Education at Georgia State University and has served as a research fellow for Florida International University.
In their newest book, Forged by Reading they explore historic and timely topics through the context of literacy— literacy is the gateway to power and privilege. The book serves as a call to action. Educators have a critical role empowering readers to think; to seek curiosity and skepticism; to shape themselves and their ideas through evidence and reason, vision, and imagination and; in doing so, to forge themselves and our world through reading.
As more and more students lose interest in reading visual and print text, there is space for misinformation and manipulation. In PART II of the text Beers and Probst explore power and how throughout history, reading and writing was used as a form of control and suppression. Discussing slavery, first nations people, Latino-Americans and education the reader looks throughout history to see how literacy was used as a tool to control and oppress.
Kylene and Bob help us understand that reading is a transaction between the author and the reader (Rosenblatt, 1995). Every time we enter a text, there is always the possibility that we will emerge somewhat changed by the encounter—with new insights, ideas, and understandings. And this is as true of fiction as it is of nonfiction. We want our children to read with open minds and hearts, alert to the possibility of learning something new that might sharpen and deepen their understanding—leading, perhaps, to questions that might, in turn, show the way to additional learning.
What does this look like in the classroom? Kylene and Bob (2021) suggest that the ideal reading environment for our children would reflect the following:
• “A rich diversity of literature that acts as the ‘mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors’ that scholar Rudine Sims Bishop wrote of decades ago.
• A rich diversity of response that promotes questioning more than answering and leads to a sharper understanding of ourselves, our students, and of the text itself.
• The acceptance of the student’s uniqueness, to allow each student to feel welcomed in the classroom, to be more fully present and, perhaps more fully engaged.
• A welcoming of a range of opinion and interpretation, providing an opportunity to learn how to deal with differences and how to bring evidence and reason to bear upon assumptions and beliefs.
• And, perhaps most important, inviting students to see the act of reading as an opportunity to grow and change.”
Educator Kate Roberts reminds us, “Literacy is an essential element of freedom.” Too often, traditional, mind-numbing instructional practices diminish the robust power of literacy for our students. Too many children experience reading in the classroom as little more than extracting and recording information from the text, rather than a freeing intellectual exploration—reading as an invigorating and deeply satisfying cognitive and empathy workout that makes possible the joy of new learning.
Throughout the book a central idea is that we need to be both Responsive and ResponsibleReaders. In the simplest of terms, we have to be open to the idea that reading can impact us, lead us to think, create a sense of urgency to act and then we must act. We spend so much time teaching kids to read for information that we inadvertently teach them to ignore the feelings they encounter. Students are focused on completing tasks asking irrelevant questions at time to prepare for a standardized test and not recognizing the thoughts and feelings that we have around a text. I am reminded of a scene in the movie A View From the Top:
This is exactly what teachers have been doing when teaching reading: emphasizing accuracy, lexile levels, classical canon over critical thinking and personal reactions to the text. Bob and Kylene include multiple examples of interactions with readers that make us cringe because the teaching points at that moment ignored the student, what they can do, what they felt, how to support them as readers, thinkers, and someone with feelings.
In Forged by Reading Bob and Kylene expand on a great Framework that they gave us in Disrupting Thinking to increase the role of responsibility in reading. The Book-Head-Heart Framework is an amazing tool to help readers be more responsive, providing a structure to responsibly organize their thinking around a text and reflect on the importance to them. In Forged by Reading it goes a step further asking what we can DO. BHH-D asks us to take that next step and our students are ready for it when the opportunity is provided because our students want to talk about and work to make better the problems of the world.
The revised “BHHD” strategy, first introduced in their book, Disrupting Thinking, where students are asked:
“What’s in the book?
What’s in your head?
What’s in your heart?
What will you do now?” (p. 178)
Beers and Probst end with a call to action: “You, our nation’s teachers, have the power to help students become empowered readers and thinkers. You can help each student forge his or her life through reading. And so again, dear teachers, we turn to you” (p. 193).
As a middle school English teacher in a suburban school 25 minutes outside of New York City, I am seeing more and more parents challenge the work that I am doing in my classroom. Questioning literature choices and my agenda to provide contemporary young adult fiction alongside classical text that raise issues relevant today, so that my students have mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors, and even telescopes in the fictional texts they read. My agenda is to support my students as critical thinkers of information and to promote kindness. When my students read I want them to “to think again and anew about significant issues, so they may see the world and themselves more clearly,” (pg. 16) and have the courage to realize their potential to help make a positive difference in the world.
I have written about teaching vocabulary often on this blog and share different ways to help students become word learners. Recently, my eighth grade students started reading nonfiction historical graphic novels with social justice themes and there are two dozen words that my students might not know. Some are specific the to historical events like legions, furor, and internment. Whereas other words provide vivid vocabulary like scrupulous and flabbergasted. In order to be more intention with student’s vocabulary building, I created a hyperdoc to help bring word work to forefront of the classroom.
When students do not understand an author’s vocabulary, they cannot fully understand the text.
Good vocabulary instruction emphasizes useful words (words students see frequently), important words (keywords that help students understand the text), and difficult words (words with more than one meaning).
In improving vocabulary instruction teachers can help students by:
Activating their prior knowledge
Defining words in multiple contexts
Helping students see context clues
Helping students understand the structure of words (Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots — SPROOTS)
Teaching students how to use the dictionary and showing them the range of information it provides
Encouraging deep processing — integrating new words into working vocabularies
Giving multiple exposure
Focusing on a small number of important words
Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words(1999), states, “Children and adults need to see and hear a word in meaningful context multiple times in order to know the word, somewhere between 10 to 15 times.” And with middle school and high school, variety is the key. Teachers cannot teach vocabulary the same way every time.
Reading is perhaps the most important element in vocabulary instruction.
So, how do I teach vocabulary in my English class?
I use interactive foldables with my students and early in the school year I give them a foldable to remind them of effective word detective strategies. These strategies include:
Context Clues – Read before and after words that might help explain the words
Word Parts (SPROOTS) – Look for word parts that are recognizable. Students can decode words by knowing prefixes, suffixes, and root words
Connotation & Tone – Take the word and apply it to the character and what the character is doing in order to understand the passage. Does this word offer a positive or negative tone?
Outside Connections – Have I heard this word in a song, movie, or maybe world language? Connect the word with what you already know.
In addition to the foldable that students have in their notebooks to refer to throughout the school year, I mix up the different ways that I teach vocabulary. Here are five additional ideas to teach vocabulary in any content area classroom:
1. Take a Poll – Using an online polling website like Polleverywhere.com I poll my student about a definition of a word. Students use their mobile devices to select the best definition for a word.
2. Idea Completions –Instead of the traditional “write a sentence using a new word,” provide students with sentence stems that require them to integrate a word’s meaning into a context in order to explain a situation.
3. Questions, Reasons, Examples –
What is something you could do to impress your teacher (mother, friend)? Why?
What are some things that should be done cautiously? Why?
Which one of these things might be extraordinary? Why or why not?
-A shirt that was comfortable, or a shirt that washed itself?
-A flower that kept blooming all year, or a flower that bloomed for 3 days?
-A person who has a library card, or a person who has read all the books in the library?
4. Making Choices – Students show their understanding of vocabulary by saying the word when it applies, or remaining silent when it doesn’t. For example: “Say radiant if any of these things would make someone look radiant.”
-Winning a million dollars.
-Earning a gold medal.
-Walking to the post office.
-Cleaning your room.
-Having a picture you painted hung in the school library.
5. Act It Out – Add some theater in your classroom and have students present a scenario or tableau that represent the word.
There is no one method for teaching vocabulary. Rather teachers need to use a variety of methods for the best results, including intentional, explicit instruction of specific vocabulary words. Teachers can also encourage creative approaches to spark enthusiasm.
Integrated Thematic Instruction offers students a chance to learn in an environment where lessons in all subjects are woven around compelling themes that are expanded and explored throughout the year. This method of learning helps students connect lessons to real-life experiences. For students to be fully engaged, the content must have an application and be meaningful to their world. The standards are presented in theme-based units that allow for frequent connections.
I am currently teaching a college course titled Literacy in the Content Areas with pre-service teachers and current teachers from all different content areas. ALL content area teachers must play an active role in teaching students disciplinary literacy skills. The purpose of this course is to help teachers and teaching candidates learn how to integrate literacy (reading, writing, viewing, and communication) into content area classrooms so students can construct meaning in discipline-specific ways. Emphasis is on helping candidates acquire an integrated and balanced approach using literacy as a discipline-specific tool – for supporting reading, writing, speaking and doing – as defined by the New York State Next Generation Learning Standards.
Helping students to think about supporting students as writers, add history and bring in aspects of sports, I created this hyperdoc to help students learn about the segregated history of baseball and then make connections to athletes as social activists today. Below you can see the different aspects of the hyperdoc to allow for cognitive skills such as reading, thinking and writing in the context of real life connections that also allows for creative exploration.
Integrated thematic units can result in a lot of thoughtful conversations about the interconnectedness of the disciplines we teach. There are so many reasons why using integrated thematic units can benefit your learners.
Helps students engage with the content being taught
Allows students to apply content throughout curricula
This past weekend was the ISTE Creative Constructor Lab where educators gather to tinker, try and create media-rich projects with cutting-edge technologies. I am honored to be part of the amazing educators presenting during this virtual lab to share ideas that inspire creativity, innovation, and invention.
The last day of the conference I presented about the power of incorporating short videos and movie making to promote student engagement. Educators were encouraged to try one of these fun movie magic projects and make a quick video to share with the CCL community! Here are some of the movie projects shared:
I. CLONE YOURSELF — Ever wanted to know what it would be like clone yourself multiple times and do fun things together?
A tripod or a place where the camera can be propped up and not moved AT ALL.
Tape or something to mark the floor
A person or very cooperative pet
Plan out your split screen by taking a piece of paper and splitting it into two. Assign what one clone will do on one side of the frame and what the other clone will do on the other side.
Practice and time it out to see how long it will take. You will need to do both sides, film it at different times, it will look like it’s happening at the same time.
Place the camera on a tripod or propped up where it won’t be moved!
Divide the frame into two or three by placing markers on the floor (tape is a good idea). We recommend starting with one marker in the middle of the frame to divide the image in two. *Note: Marker is there so the subject knows where not to cross. If you cross, you will disappear so be careful!
Open up the Ghost Lens app.
Choose the template where it divides the image in two vertical sections.
Film yourself twice.
Start sitting on one side of the frame reading or doing an activity.
Look up at one point frustrated and go back to doing your activity.
Now film the second half by coming in from the other side of the frame being noisy and trying to get the attention of your clone. You can either walk out or stay in the frame giving up.
Helpful tip! Go behind the scenes of The Parent Trap (1964) using the split screen technique to clone the actor, Hayley Mills, as identical twins. Watch it HERE.
II. BOSS BATTLE VILLANS – In gaming, a “boss” is a villain who the hero must defeat to save the day. Think of the monster at the end of each level in the original Super Marios Bros. who must be defeated before moving to the next level.
A tripod or a place where the camera can be propped up and not moved AT ALL.
Any necessary props
1 . Plan out who is your boss battle character. You can choose to browse the different filters on Snapchat under “Explore” to find a “boss” students will battle.
Need more inspiration, check out @thebesteducator on Instagram to see the awesome bosses he has created for his 5th grade students.
2. Collect necessary props or costumes to create an engaging profile.
3.Practice and time your boss introduction.
4. Film and and share your intro boss video when students compete in their next boss battle.
Gamification Note – Boss Battles are fun ways to prepare your students for tests and quizzes and assess their learning. They are meant as a way to review for formative assessments during class, and students answer questions out loud in the classroom. Boss Battles can be created as a whole class game on Google Slides or Powerpoint or can be individualized self paced Google Forms set up as a Quiz.
III. MOVIE MAKEUP MAGIC — Ever want to learn movie-make-up magic to create fake bruises and more? Check out this tutorial to learn how to create bruises, cuts, and gashes that will scare your friends and family. Try them out on your yourself or your family members and create a portfolio with four or more examples of your work.
Here are some other videos to help you with your own makeup special effects:
IV. BACKWARDS MAGIC — Some of the best special effects are done just by reversing movie footage without any CGI or green screening. Using this trick of showing footage in reverse creates some of the most jaw-dropping moments you will ever see. How would you like to defy gravity? Make an object fly into your hands, or have your hair instantly dry after being totally wet?
Props Ex.) Hat, jacket, stool, water, paper, pencil etc.
Plan out a movement where the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end. *Check out the “Backwards Movement Ideas” below for some ideas.
Grab a prop(s).
Open up your app, film your movement, and then reverse it.
Backwards Movement Ideas:
Shake off a hat from your head and make sure to film the hat landing on the ground. *The hat will fly from the ground onto the head.
With parents observing, jump from a low stool to the ground *You will look like you are floating up onto the chair.
Film a few seconds of yourself with dry hair looking into the camera then have someone, or yourself, pour water over your head. *It will look like the water is pouring back into the container and you become instantly dry.
Write something on a piece of paper *The pencil will “eat” up the words or drawing.
Now come up with your own!
Backwards Magic in Action!
Watch this lovely story about a lonely man trying to connect with someone in a backwards world in the short film, Love in a Backwards World
Reading guides help develop students’ comprehension. Teacher-created reading guides provide prompts as students read an assigned text. These Guides help students to comprehend the main points of the reading and understand the structure of a text. Reading guides do not just have to be questions about the events in the book but can incorporate reading strategies to help students practice the habits of proficient readers. For example, reading strategies include visualizing, activating schema, questioning, inferring, determining importance, monitoring for meaning and synthesizing. A student might stop and sketch a vivid image from a scene in the text or make an inference or prediction of what is going to happen next. Students can benefit from close reading strategies (involving slowing down and re-reading difficult passages) to help monitor comprehension.
Reading Rockets provides ways to differentiate reading guides for second language learners or students with disabilities:
Vary the difficulty of questions on the reading guide. Modify the quantity of questions.
If the student struggles as a reader, allow access to an audio copy of the text.
If the student has trouble with working memory, provide a note-catcher to highlight and or record the key information in the text, so they can refer back.
Reading guides are a strategy that allows students to read a text independently but with coaching that does not require the teacher to read alongside the student. Students can work with a peer to read and complete the steps in the reading guide.
I am a huge fan of hyper docs, a student-facing lesson designed to scaffold instruction. It is more than a doc with links, packaging and aesthetics are key. A hyperdoc allows students to first explore, explain, and then apply new learning. Holly Clark @hollyclarkedu has a great visual to showcase the elements and scaffolds on a hyperdoc.
This month in my 8th grade classroom, students are reading short stories around themes of identity to study and practice literary analysis. I have created three short story hyper docs to help students read, write, think critically, collaborate, and create. At the beginning of the week, students have access to the hyperdoc and they work through the lessons and assignments during the week. Each hyperdoc is differentiated and personalized for the diverse learners in my classroom. Consider these learner roadmaps for inquiries of study.
To get started creating your own hyper docs for your students utilize the basic HyperDoc template with the fundamentals of effective lesson design (engage, explore, explain, apply, share, reflect, and extend) in mind, but in no way does it reflect everything you can do. You can also get a copy of my short story hyper docs to use and or adapt with your students (note some links are not shared like Flipgrids due to privacy). Feel free to check out the array of playlists I have shared on this blog.
I love reading graphic novels. They are visually appealing, engaging, entertaining, and a rich teaching tools. They are a doorway for struggling and reluctant readersGraphic novels provide rich teaching experiences for critical thinking, inferring, visual literacy, and close reading. Here are five different ways utilize graphic novels with students.
Graphic novels are Text. Teach these novels as a text for an all class read or in book clubs. You might consider having a genre study in graphic novels. Graphic novels come in all different genres and many are award winning texts. Here is a copy of a graphic novel reading unit I created for middle school students and a choice board with rubric for follow up activities.
Close Reading of a Scene. Just like we chunk the text of a piece of literature, students can read closely a particular scene or chapter of the novel to analyze the key ideas and details, then focus on text structure, and integration of knowledge and ideas. Professor of English, Dr. Michelle Falter states, “The tasks and thinking skills required to read a multimodal text are actually higher level than if reading a print-based text alone. You have to see images and words work together, and when and why authors chose to put them together in a frame.” When I was teaching Shakespeare, I would pair a scene with the graphic novel scene for students to work in small groups to analyze and interpret how the scene and characters are portrayed, what is emphasized and what is left out. These close reads help students observe and analyze for a deeper meaning in the text.
Build Visual Literacy Skills & Vocabulary. Graphic novels are visual texts and there is a vocabulary to talking about the structure and details of the text. Panel, frame, speech bubble, close up, long shot, wide shot, aerial shot are all terms used to discuss the visual elements of the text. Provide students with the vocabulary and they are able to talk about the structure and details of the visual text. Students can consider the impact of the artistry to covey meaning of the text. How does this close up image affect our understanding of the character? What did the author choose to say in this frame that the illustrator left out? What did the illustrator choose to showcase in this panel? What is not said and inferred “in the gutters” (the spaces between the panels)?
Caption This. Graphic novels are both visual and print texts. Both stand alone and yet work seamlessly together. When we take away the words, what are our inferences and understanding? Matt Miller describes one of my favorite activities on his website Ditch That Textbook called “Caption This.” You can omit the dialogue and speech bubbles in the frame or panel and ask students to write their own. He describes four ways to utilize this activity with students on his blog.
5. Parallel Texts. So many graphic novels have been adapted from contemporary and classic literature, students can read both texts. Then, compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.5). How does reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver in print and graphic novel form impact the meaning and messages in the text?
Graphic novels are not just for English class and readings for pleasure, they can be utilized across the curriculum. My students reading of George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy was an entry point to introduce and discuss Japanese Internment during World War II. Additionally, I have amassed a collection of graphic novels to teach about the Holocaust beyond the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus I and Maus II.
In my book Personalized Reading (ISTE, 2018) I write about supporting reluctant readers with visual texts as an entryway for close reading practice. Reluctant readers can may be struggling readers or they might be simply students who have had negative experiences with reading.
If Readicide as Kelly Gallagher (2010) coined the term – to kill the love of reading – in his book by the same name should not be a right of passage for young people when the wealth of wonderful words is infinite. Seven years after Gallagher’s text, many students would agree that schools are killing the love of reading the way teachers are teaching text. Still, many students post graduation boast of never reading a book throughout their secondary school career. reluctant readers need aren’tto be hooked on the first page of the a book. If they are not, they are quick to abandon a bookit like I was. Motivation and choice is are the key with reluctant readers. To help them, we educators must stop inadvertently committing “readicide” (Gallagher, 2010) and focus on what Steven Wolk (2009) describes as a “living curriculum,” a place where students and teachers use books and other resources and experience to drive classroom inquiry. One of our goals as educators is developing critical thinking, stamina, and life life-long readers among our students.
Personalized Reading describes, “To accomplish these goals for teaching reading takes all forms and activities to tap into all the diverse readers in our classrooms, we must look up from the printed page and tap into all forms of text. Since we live in a visually rich environment, teachers can use visual texts—photographs, movies, and animated shorts— to first pique a reluctant reader’s interests, Using animated shorts, photographs, and movies, enables students to build visual literacy, and to practice the skills strategies of what proficient readers do. Images and movies serve as a bridge for to print texts when it comes to reluctant readers. Once students are reading, honing in on the “during reading” skills of making predictions and inferences helps keeps students active as readers. Students also need practice discerning the important parts of what they read in order to more effectively write or create responses to their reading.”
This year I am instituting Movie Mondays to practice these close reading skills using short feature film. At the beginning of the week students watch a short film: TED Talk, animation, documentary and then we discuss, write, and reflect on the story presented in the visual texts. Using graphic organizers and scaffolded notes help to guide students viewing/reading of these texts.
Below are a few of the movies we are starting off with and the follow up questions to guide student’s close reading.
Take note of the beginning of the film. What is the setting? What things do you observe in the setting that are important to Zuri? – What does the director’s plant in the beginning of the scene that provide details for the character and plot?
How does Zuri’s Dad feel about trying to get her hair to look like she wants? How do you know this is how he feels, even though there is no dialogue?
In the “battle” scene, why do you think Zuri’s hair becomes a character? How does this “fantasy” or personification help to emphasize his character and reactions?
The act of braiding means bringing things, like hair parts, together in order to unify them. What are three parts of the film that seem like they are weaving together components of the relationship for the family?
Hair love first seems like a light hearted film about a father helping his daughter with her hair but then suddenly shows there are deeper meanings in this short. How does the film tug on the viewer’s heartstrings? What does the director do to get an emotional response from the viewers?
How doe the color choices impact the film’s deeper messages? (You might want to research the meaning of the color choices in the film)
What elements of irony exist in the story? How do they serve to move the story forward and how do they assist in illuminating the story’s theme?
As students are listening to Gillette’s TED Talk they can take notes and pull out a central idea from his speech. Students are asked to find specific evidence that supports the central idea selected. This graphic organizer can be used as a note catcher and help students track Gillette’s presentation.
Films are a text and the way we teach them in our class should be taught in a way that mirror the way we teach close reading and critical thinking. Just as print text is layered with words, images, inferences, and evidence, so is film. When teaching with videos as or printed text, teacher and author, Kristin Ziemke (2016) calls on teachers to model and scaffold to support your students so that they can, as teacher and author Kristin Ziemke (2016) says, “interact, respond, and think to read the world differently.” If students are to develop deep understanding of texts, teachers need to model close reading skills to film too.
I use films and the media as a text in my classroom for reading, discussion, and teaching points. Social emotional learning is at the forefront these days to help students develop as human beings. There are many tenants of SEL and four overarching themes include: promoting growth mindset (self awareness and self management), supporting mindfulness and building relationship skills, responsible decision making, and promoting social awareness.
Here are some of my favorite films that address themes within social emotional learning that can be utilized in the classroom as a teaching tool
Being “different” and accepting others who are different: