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.
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
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 New Realms for Writing (ISTE, 2019) I introduce a multi genre project my students create based on a World War II topic, research, and historical fiction.
As stated in the book, “Why just box students into writing one genre per unit? There are limitations to teaching narrative, informative, argumentative writing in isolation. Each genre has its strengths and drawbacks. In fact, when we read essays and articles these genres are often blended together. If teachers allow students to show their understanding and knowledge of a topic with a variety of genres there is choice and creativity. This goes beyond just allowing students to choose the genre or format to showcase their understanding, what if students could blend genres in one assignment to produce a multi-genre piece. In this chapter I introduce the concept of multi genre writing: the ability to write in more than one genre to present understanding and build new knowledge.”
Multigenre Projects are not new, educator and author, Tom Romano describes in, Blending Genres Blending Styles (2000), “In short, multigenre projects entail a series of generic documents that are linked by a central premise, theme, or goal. They may forward an argument, trace a history, or offer multiple interpretations of a text or event. They are rigorous forms of writing, involving all of the elements of a traditional research paper: research and citation, coherence and organization, purpose and aim of discourse, audience awareness, and conventional appropriateness.”
As an end of the year project I wanted to create a multi genre project where my students were at the forefront. Since we just finished reading books and discussing themes of identity, I adapted a project I found online that focuses on our stories and identities. Students were to create multigenre project as a means of reflecting upon middle school and how that has shaped us into who we are today.
Here are the specifics:
A title page with a creative title.
An introduction serving as a guide to readers. This will introduce the event you’re reflecting upon and help us understand why this topic is important to you. Likewise, it gives you an opportunity to explain how we should read your documents. This should be ½ to 1 page long.
Three (3) separate documents from three (3) different genre categories:
The Narrative Writing Category
The Persuasive Writing Category
The Informational Writing Category
The Poetry Category
Visual Artistic Category
*You can add a fourth category and document for extra credit
An artist statement paragraph for each document at the end of your project answering the following questions in complete sentences:
What is the message of this document?
Why did you pick this genre for this specific part of the story?
How does this document show the larger theme of your story?
At the end the year it is inspiring to see students write with gusto about topics related to friends, sports, uncertainty, grades, losing a loved one and procrastinating. One student even said to me that this was the best project they have worked on so far — that is something you do not hear often when it comes to a writing assignments.
As for the different writing examples within the genre categories, students had lots of choices.
As these final projects are turned in, I cannot wait to share some of the highlights.
Give More Hugs is an incredible organization that works with students and teachers at Title 1 schools to provide resources and facilitate a positive learning community. They support students who need educational materials by providing items such as books, basic school and art supplies, backpacks, and words of encouragement students need to reach their potential. GMHs also works with older students to get them involved in their own schools and communities through Ambassadors, BookShare, and Backpack programs.
GMHs is hosting its First Annual Virtual Leadership Conference May 11-13th, 2020. Teachers, students and non-profit supporters have come together to present a conference to highlight the power of leadership, giving, caring and support of literacy and diversity. All powerful messages, especially in this time of unprecedented change.
You are invited you to attend any or all sessions. Each presentation will be about 15 minutes with 15 minutes allotted for discussion and questions. Please sign up here if you want to join us: https://forms.gle/BzfGeiPfPXwHTREK6
On Tuesday, May 12th at 2:30 EST I will be presenting LEADING WITH LITERACY IN THE MIDST OF COVID to address how we have shifted our literacy instruction in the midst of the current pandemic. I will share ways we can utilize literacy to go help cope and support our community in a time of need because literacy impacts all aspects of our lives. Building relationships, supporting social emotional needs and getting books into the hands of our students provide a path of healing and health. Below are the slides for the presentation.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is an African proverb that means that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. Now, more than ever, we need to come together as a community (locally, nationally, and globally) to support our students social, emotionally, and academically. This requires us to stay connected and share literacy resources that will provide students with access to information, insight, escape, and awareness.
The following post was a piece written for the January 2020 ISTE Literacy Journal. To read the complete journal with additional articles focusing on multimodal literacy, click here.
We live in a world where information is presented in multimodalities: visual, print, audio, digital. Yet, in schools, most teachers are still dependent on print text. Maybe there is some visual and digital texts. Audio is slowly entering the field of education with the array of informative podcasts and audiobooks to listen to great reads. If we are truly going to help students build 21st century skills according to the ISTE Standards for Students and Next Generation Literacy Standards than we need to provide more multimodal text sets for student learning and understanding. This is more than universal design learning, it is about helping students access information in all its forms, become critical thinkers of these texts, as well as creative communicators.
When you enter my 8th grade English classroom in Rye, New York you will find students reading paperback books as well as some listening to the same text on Learning Ally or reading it on a Kindle or Chromebook. My students interact with all different types of texts depending on the unit they are studying. For example, when students are reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a classic text taught in most middle or high schools today, I supplement their historical, political, and socio economic understanding of the text by building text sets to expand world knowledge.
According to Achievethecore.org, “A text set is a collection of related texts organized around a unit topic, theme, concept, or idea. The set is focused on an anchor text, a rich, complex, grade level text. The anchor text is the focus of a close reading with instructional supports. What is important is that the texts in the set are connected meaningfully to each other to deepen student understanding of the anchor text.” Text sets should go beyond print and digital texts. Photographs, audio text, and video can also be integrated into text sets. It is important to note text sets evolve and should be revised and updated regularly.
The text set I have built around To Kill a Mockingbird includes an audio of FDR’s 1933 inaugural speech referenced in Chapter One of Harper Lee’s book. Students view Dorothea Lange’s photographs from the Great Depression. Using material from Facing History, I partner with my social studies teacher to include primary and secondary sources about Jim Crow Laws and the Scottsboro Trial which influenced Lee’s writing. When we get to the trial scene in the book, students complete an Edpuzzle and view a video of Richard Peck playing Atticus in the 1962 film adaptation. As students are watching Atticus’ closing argument they track his use of ethos, pathos, and logos. I have graphic novel versions of the text for us to dive deep into craft and structure specific chapters and use Actively Learn, a digital reading platform, for jigsaw activities when we read poetry that connects to the text and characterization. To build in some computational thinking, this winter my students will be creating a cardboard city of Maycomb and will code Finch Robots to travel through Maycomb representing the Scout, Jem, and Dill’s journey throughout the novel.
I am excited to add robotics and extend students’ literacy learning in my classroom. Although some parents have expressed their concerns of not focusing solely on literature in my English Language Arts class, layering classical texts with multimodal text sets provides all the students in my classroom ways to access the text, understand the text, and engage in critical conversations about the text.
This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the personal learning community that I have. There are so many people who I have met through Twitter, at conferences, and memberships of educational organizations like NCTE and ISTE who have inspired me and influenced my teaching practices. When people share ideas through these communities, you are able to see people, as well as ideas, grow into amazing projects and activities that help students meet excellence.
This blog post is an ode to all the amazing educators who make up my personal learning network and who have helped me grow ideas. When I first started writing this blog, it was a space to catalogue activities, ideas, and insight with the hope to provide encouragement for other educators to create intellectually stimulating and engaging activities with your students. In the past six years it has evolved into so much more.
While at NCTE this past month I presented a game design workshop for teachers. One part of the workshop included a station rotation activity. For forty minutes participants moved around the room to five different stations playing games and discussing game based learning activities. I was inspired by this activity after attending a station rotation workshop in my school led by our technology specialist, Kristie Orlando @OrlandoKristie. She said that Caitlyn Tucker and Jennifer Cronk were two educators who gave her insight to build her own stations and lead a fruitful workshop. I will add that Caitlyn Tucker’s On Your Feet Guide to Station Rotation is a valuable resource. Kristie Orlando’s formatting of the station directions, cues, and food for thought was the catalyst for my own station design. I adapted two of her stations and add some of my own personal touches to meet the objectives of the game design workshop. This is one example how ideas grow.
Whereas Kristie used Headbanz in her station rotation to encourage participants to use mini-games in their classroom, I used the Heads Up game as one of my stations.
Heads Up is a game I play with my middle school students. Currently, my students are reading different dystopian novels and I made a set of Heads Up cards for them to play this mini-game in our classroom for review and check for understanding. There is a generic set of dystopian words and then sets for The Giver, The Reader, Unwind, Animal Farm, and Scythe. If you would like a copy of these cards to use with your own students, click here and print out your own set, laminate them, and have fun!
Another station that Kristie had us do was “Questions in A Jar,” students went around and answered questions about active learning strategies. This is a great activity to evoke conversation in small group and I wanted to add a little more of a game element to it. I built off the questions in a jar and added a Hot Potato to this station. Haven’t you ever seen something online and thought, “What a great idea. Now, if I add this or personalize it this way, it elevates everything.”
The questions that were utilized at this station were questions derived from Tisha Richmond’s Make Learning Magical: Transform Your Teaching and Create Unforgettable Experiences in Your Classroom(2019). Tisha’s book has great ideas about gamification as she describes how she gamified her own culinary arts classroom. Tisha also contributed to my first book, Gamify Literacy (2017). Some of these questions include: What is your favorite television reality or game show? How could you use challenges from it to create fun and educational experiences for your students? How can we harness the motivation that keeps our students up far past their bedtimes to play their favorite video game and bring it into the classroom?
A third station I offered was inspired by another awesome educator, Mandy Ellis @Mandyeellis. Mandy wrote Lead with Literacy: A Pirate Leader’s Guide to Developing a Culture of Readers (A Lead Like a PIRATE Guide) She blogged about a PD session she ran at her school that was based on the cooking show Chopped and the great ideas that emerged from this activity. Participants were given a “basket” of items that they needed to use to build a literacy based lesson. Mandy explains how she organized her stations on her blog and below are the directions to the Chopped station I adapted for this game design station rotation. I also share a link to Stefanie Crawford’s vlog how she creates Chopped style games in her classroom.
There are so many eduawesome teachers that share their brilliant ideas and motivate others.
The last two stations that were part of the game design station rotations, where two original stations I created to arouse critical thinking about gaming and game based learning. One station had teachers assess their player types using Bartle’s Inventory of Player Types and another station used speech and debate to build communication skills. This station is based off the game I Dissent.
Ideas grow, they are cultivated or a catalyst that initiates thinking into action. Sometimes ideas develop out of thin air and other times people, images, or places stir our beliefs and ignite new knowledge and understanding. As educators, we need to share our ideas so that we can continue to provide our students with the best practices they need to be champions themselves.