Archive for Education

Flexible Course Debrief (Spring 2013): Elements of Craft

One of the exciting parts of developing the course was that I could let students determine which assignments they would undertake.  I spent hours developing small assessments that students could complete to demonstrate an understanding of the different elements of craft that go into the making of a poem, hoping that early in the course they would complete these small achievements and then use that knowledge as they wrote their own poems and their critical posts.

Whoops.

As it turns out, I’d entirely mis-weighted this section of the course, causing students to do far fewer of these achievements than I’d hoped.  23% of all students did not attempt any of these individual achievements at all, focusing instead on the big-ticket items.  And it appears that was an efficient strategy: every one of those students ended the course with an A, and many of those students were writing engaging, complex poems by the end of their respective terms.

(Oddly enough, I can think of plenty of instances in which those students were using those elements of craft.  Most turned in one or more poems that met the criteria for these assignments, but failed to identify that.  And my policy is that you have to ask for credit when you use an element of craft, to demonstrate that you were conscious of what you were writing.)

Of the achievements that they did do, I had a hard time seeing much rhyme or reason in the trends.  Some students were aggressive in their pursuit of these small achievements at the beginning of the term, others waited until the end.  A few did two or three and lost interest.

The point values don’t seem to have been high enough to encourage any significant trends.  The most commonly completed achievement was for end rhyme, which I suppose is in keeping with peoples’ idea that poetry must rhyme.  (93% of the high schoolers completed this achievement.)  After that, the most popular achievements dealt with hyperbole, irony, consonance, and simile.  I don’t think that’s the list I would have chosen in my fantasy draft.

Students avoided metrical achievements like the plague; not a single one completed Metrical Maestro.  They also tended to avoid syntax-based elements of craft, like parallelism.

Some Tweaks

The initial draft of the syllabus had the individual elements of craft worth 150 points, a pretty paltry sum in the end goal.  That’s now up in the neighborhood of 300, which still isn’t a ton, but should be a little more enticing as a means to reach that final point tally.

In addition to revising the point values on achievements to try to get students to attempt certain elements of craft more regularly, I’ve gone through and added some additional clarification on how a student can get these points.

I’ll be removing a few elements of craft from the list, including enjambment and onomatopoeia, because completing those achievements seldom seemed to lead to increased efficacy.  I’ve removed the mixed metaphor achievement because I think it led people to think that was desirable.  (It’ll reappear when we get to “bad poem day,” which was a huge hit with the students and is definitely worth expanding.)  I’ve revised the rhyme achievement to include perfect, slant and internal rhymes, which should at least give them a chance to think about the uses of rhyme.

I’ll be adding alliteration, anaphora, hypotaxis and parataxis, second person, and verb tense.

Flexible Course Debrief (Spring 2013): Attendance

In the syllabus this spring, I included achievements for perfect attendance and near-perfect attendance.  These achievements had high point values– I had high hopes that students would attend class regularly.

It’s not that I believe my presence is magical and that students will learn so, so much from me. No, quite the opposite; I wanted my students to show up so that the workshops would be robust and awesome.

Of course, showing up and being awesome in workshop aren’t necessarily one and the same, but I figured that we couldn’t get to the latter if we couldn’t get the former.  The results, however, were mixed.

I must admit that a lot of my thinking on classroom attendance has been shaped by a Freakonomics post.  While I thought the idea of a market system for absences was novel, I was more engaged by some of the comments on the original post.  A lot of commenters asked why you would bother with an incentive– if the class was engaging enough, the students would show up.  But my philosophy of the classroom relies heavily on students learning from each other, and I have found that more than a few students are uncomfortable with that strategy.  They believe that the instructor should be providing the knowledge, and have a hard time accepting that their peers’ feedback can be as or more valuable than mine.  Sometimes, though, we’re able to change their minds by the end of the term.

College

I’d call this a huge success.  67% of students had a perfect attendance record, and a number of students continued to show up every day even after having secured an A with a few weeks remaining in the semester.  93% of students missed two or fewer classes.  This was far and away the highest attendance I had ever had in a college course, despite having a “two absences or fewer” provision in my syllabus since I started teaching at Carolina.

Perfect attendance did not correlate with high grades in this small sample; I saw a greater distribution of low grades in this group than in the group that missed one or two classes.

Workshops had their ups and downs, but they definitely improved late in the semester when I had students breaking into small groups to discuss poems rather than working in the larger group.  Even though they had more poems to prepare in the small groups, this didn’t seem to hinder their enthusiasm– the trade-off seemed to be that they knew they would be getting feedback on their own poems those days.

This class also bonded more as a group as the spring went on.  I’d routinely come into the building and catch a glimpse of 7-8 of them out on the bench talking.  One day, 13 of them were out there and decided that they’d demand that class be held outside.  They seemed pretty intent on holding out until one student who hadn’t congregated with them came into the classroom and sat down.  I think they felt like the strike had been broken.

High School

Total flop.  Only 13% of students had perfect attendance in the course, and a little less than half (47%) missed two or fewer classes.  I had one student who had eight absences in ten weeks– given that we met three times a week, that was almost three full weeks of class that she missed, almost all of which was excused by the school administration.

But therein lies some of the issue: the high school already has good attendance policies.  Students must get absences excused if they miss class, and there are punishments in place for unexcused absences.  So an additional attendance policy was confusing and unnecessary.  In a residential setting like this, sickness spreads quickly, and I had a couple students come to class miserable because they’d already burned their allowed absences on college and scholarship trips.  And the fact is, at a high school, it’s far more important that they attend those scholarship interviews than a single class.

When students at the high school excuse an absence in advance, they have to indicate how they will make up the class or get the appropriate content.  I asked students to be sure to get notes from a classmate, but rarely followed up on whether or not they did.  And that came back to haunt me, as they would make statements in papers and posts that indicated fundamental lack of understanding of concepts that we covered in class and that those present had clearly mastered.

As a result, I had students whose understanding and “classroom capital” was all over the map, which made common vocabulary difficult and made some students feel that they were struggling mightily when they weren’t.  While I don’t plan to use the attendance achievements at the high school level again, I am still working on the best way to take care of this issue.  Additional readings don’t seem to be the answer, because a lot of the issues were things covered in the readings but then supplemented with classroom discussion or activities.

Workshops were, by and large, quite good. I clearly had some students who were e-mailing or chatting on their computers, which happened very infrequently in the college class.  But instead of being a distraction, it was actually somewhat useful for determining who was disengaged, and I didn’t spend much time trying to squeeze blood from a stone by calling on them.  The students who were interested in workshopping tended to stay very engaged and I was very happy with the quality of the discussion in most cases.

However, I worry that by not attending to students who were chatting and e-mailing, I may have sent the inadvertent message that some students were getting preferential treatment– high schoolers are very attuned to this.  Those who were working hard out of a sense of obligation may have been upset that I didn’t come down on those who were “breaking the rules.”  I just didn’t see it like that.  I saw it as some students putting their energies in different places.

Office Hours

The syllabus also allowed for a few points if students came to visit in the first three weeks of class.  87% of the high schoolers and 93% of the college students took advantage of this opportunity.  There was no correlation between this achievement and overall grade.  Of the three students who didn’t visit, two were fine the whole time and clearly didn’t need much individual planning assistance.  The third got behind and struggled mightily for a short while, but then had an amazing one-week turnaround after we met and built a recovery plan.

Overall

If you’d told me that the high school students would show up far, far less than the college student, I would have been greatly surprised.  But that is exactly what happened.  The high school students were far more likely to have other things scheduled during class time– athletic events, college interviews, dance competitions, service trips.  The college students would occasionally ask about leaving early or coming late for similar items, and I would explain the policies and consequences and let them decide what their priorities were.  Most chose the class.

Flexible Course Debrief (Spring 2013): Overview

This spring, I had the chance to use the achievement-based course syllabus in two environments: an intro-level course at the college level, and an intro-level course at the high school level.  (Though, admittedly, since the high school is a residential school for gifted kids, it was in many ways a college course.)

Here’s the syllabus, if you want to take a look:  131 Syllabus Spring 2013

In the coming days, I’ll be making some notes and debriefing a little bit about the experience.

Creative Entrepreneurship

I had the chance to teach in a creative entrepreneurship class at UNC-Greensboro on Monday. Visiting students who are putting together business plans for their arts and creative business ideas always thrills me, even though I know that most of the businesses remain just that: ideas.

Last year, one of the best ideas was for a small nature magazine, sized for easy carrying and intended to be used and enjoyed in the field. This business actually did launch, and is now The Friendly Naturalist. So I was particularly excited to re-visit this class, because it’s really exciting to me to see people feeling empowered to start their own arts-based businesses.

Terry Kennedy, who teaches the class, tweeted a couple of the points that he picked up on, and I kind of want to revisit some of those here.

What are the things you’ll have to do every day?  Will you love doing them?  Will you hate doing them?  One barrier to creative entrepreneurship is that we want to spend all of our time on the creative and not so much on the entrepreneurship. In the early going, it’s super-exciting to be making the books but not so much fun to be stuffing the envelopes and cranking through the postage meter.  One thing I ask students is to think of the things that they’ll need to do every day and the things they’ll need to do every week, in order to make the business work.  (The example I give is from my comedy theater days: like it or not, somebody’s gotta clean the bathrooms.)  We talk about distress, a negative form of stress, and eustress, that positive form that motivates you on to great things.  When students list out the things they’ll do every day, I ask them to think about which will be distressing and which will be productively stressful, because most everything on that list is in some ways a stressor.  When the negative stresses outweigh the positive, I encourage students to reconceptualize in some way.  What can they outsource?  How can they form productive partnerships to minimize those distresses?

When one piece of your idea sticks but the others don’t, be willing to restructure around the idea that’s working.  Isn’t that what we do in our art?  The poem changes, the story changes, the painting changes to accommodate its successes.  I don’t see an evolution in a creative business– even if it means that the business moves away from its initial creative roots– as a bad thing at all.  Sticking with what’s not working will only devolve your business… and your creativity.

Challenge your basic assumptions about how creative businesses are supposed to work.  I generally try to cover this because artists often have ideas about how business is “supposed to work,” and those assumptions limit creativity and are often inhibitors to success.  That’s not to say that you can ignore reality, but with great planning, a compelling vision, and a great product or service, you can be very successful challenging some of those basic assumptions.

 

Comics in the Classroom, Round 2

Friends, the final version of this article was published at: http://www.learnnc.org/Index.nsf/doc/comics0703?OpenDocument. This version is still missing a wee bit of content.

>>Another draft of this article. Some images missing. Again, if you have meaningful comments, do it up.

Comics in the Classroom

Comic books. You’re probably thinking about Superman or Spider-Man. Batman
or Wonder Woman. Maybe cheap, cheesy horror stories, pirate adventures, or some
other muscle-bound, spandex-clad crusader whose first response is a strong punch.
You’re probably not thinking about your classroom right now.

You should be.

comics131.gif

Comics in Culture

A recent explosion in academic interest in comic books and graphic novels has
stirred the creation of comics curricula nationwide. Several colleges and universities
are now offering courses in comics literature, and high school teachers are
exploring graphic novels as a new way to stimulate young readers’ interest in
literature. The National Association
of Comics Art Educators
is producing exercises,
study guides, and handouts on comics in the classroom
, and several comic
book companies, notably CrossGen, are
including resources for educators in each issue they produce. Comics have been
the subject of a national best-seller, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures
of Kavalier and Clay, and novelists and screenwriters like Brad Meltzer and
Kevin Smith have lined up to write the adventures of the heroes they grew up
with. Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the story of his father’s internment in Nazi Germany,
was the first comic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and comics have nabbed prestigious
awards in other fields.

Considering the success of comics-inspired film and television shows like Smallville,
X-Men, and Hulk, and their popularity with children, there is a tremendous interest
in comics-related material that educators could easily turn into an enthusiasm
for reading. However, it’s difficult to know which comics are appropriate for
children, and many educators place a stigma on comic books– a stigma that dates
back to the 1950’s, when at the height of McCarthyism, comics were the targets
of congressional scrutiny. (For an abbreviated history of comics, check A
Brief History of the Comics Universe
.) In fact, it’s tough to know what
a comic is, when the most respected example of the form, Maus, received this
“praise” in the New York Times: “Maus is not a comic book.”

What Are Comics?

Comic books, the pulpy-papered, saddle-stapled mixture of art and story, have
gained a new respect from the literary community in the past fifteen years.
The alter ego of the comic book is the graphic novel, which is also a medium
in which stories are told through both text and pictures, but replaces the flimsy
saddle-stapling with solid binding. Increasingly, comics publishers are collecting
multiple issues into single volumes, and comics writers are responding with
more ambitious and artistic story arcs that spread across many issues. Graphic
novels are increasingly appearing in local libraries, are reviewed alongside
traditional novels in publications like the New York Times and Entertainment
Weekly, and have sections devoted to them in bookstores and on Amazon.com.

With a renewed emphasis on independent reading in schools, comics appeal to
students and teachers with a variety of interests and are increasingly being
seen during D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time. Comics have a wide range
of subjects, well beyond the super-hero or funny animal. Because they are cheaper
to produce now than ever before, the comics industry is now able to take gambles
on more artistic fare that’s been less traditionally marketable than super-hero
comics. Until the 1980’s, comics appeared on newsstands, and up to 50% of comics
might be returned to the publisher if they didn’t sell, which meant tremendous
pressure to create the “next big hit.” Most comics are now distributed through
speciality retailers and mass merchants, which means unsold issues won’t be
returned, and small companies have more freedom to explore offbeat writers and
artists.

As a medium, comics and graphic novels (which are lumped together in a term–
“sequential art”– coined by one of the field’s pioneers, Spirit author Will
Eisner), now have a definitive textbook, as well. Scott
McCloud
penned Understanding Comics, which explored the medium and its history
in comic form. His sequel, Reinventing Comics, is also penned as a comic book,
and explores the effects of new technologies and cultural changes on an existing
industry.

McCloud defines comics as "juxtaposed pictoral and other images in deliberate
sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response
in the viewer." According to his definition, the following set of images
would be a comic:

However, as teachers, we know that this image more than likely belongs to an
instruction manual. We expect comics to look something like this:

comics-84.gif

Each of the images serves the same purpose, in the end. The reader is expected
to see a progression of time through images displayed in a certain order. Looking
at the two examples, we can deduce that comics may be strong teaching tools
for visual literacy, and McCloud supports this by analyzing the six types of
transitions in comics, and how their use is fairly consistent among artists
who seek to convey meaning with images.

comics74.gif

But Are Comics Appropriate For the Classroom?

The short answer: some are, some aren’t.

StoryArk provides a list
of how comics can fit Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
, and James Sturm,
author of the acclaimed The Golem’s Mighty Swing, makes The
Case for Comics
. Read-Write-Think provides a lesson plan for using comics
as an introduction to narrative structure.

Comic books and graphic novels have a wide range of styles and subject matter.
They range from social commentary to fantasy to autobiography to mystery to
didactic. But, as with any reading in the classroom, teachers should consider
their classroom objectives, the age-appropriateness of the materials, and MELISSA,
ANY SUGGESTIONS?

If you’re a teacher or media specialist, and you’d like to try using comics
in your curriculum, here are some suggestions. You can find more at No
Flying, No Tights
, a website devoted to reviewing graphic novels for teens
and kids.

Maus
by Art Spiegelman

Relevant subjects: Art, Language Arts, Social Studies

Perhaps the best-known comic in the world, Maus tells the story of Spiegelman’s
father, a concentration camp survivor. The depiction of Jews as mice and
Nazis as cats is shocking, and the juxtaposition of cartoonish imagery
with the horror of genocide only reinforces the tragedy of the Holocaust.
There are a number of education sites devoted to Maus, including Gordon
Thomas’s Using
Maus in a Composition Class
.

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: Life in Cig City
by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross

Relevant subjects: Art, Language Arts, Psychology, Social Studies

What do super-heroes dream about at night? How do they go out on a date?
What’s life like for an average citizen when super-heroes won’t come to
your neighborhood? Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is a series that looks at
life in a city full of superheroes, alternating between the perspectives
of the super heroes and the people they come in contact with. Busiek and
his co-creators have imagined a world where alien invasions and supernatural
mysteries are part of daily life; though the series was conceived in the
1990’s, it has practical application when teaching in a post-9/11 America.

Orbiter
by Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran

Relevant subjects: Art, Language Arts, Psychology, Science, Social Studies

Life is different for Americans since the space shuttle Orbiter disappeared
ten years ago. But now, the shuttle has mysteriously returned, and the
pilot, who hasn’t aged a day, is speaking in a tongue no one understands.
Exploring the scientific and cultural merit of manned spaceflight and
exploration, Orbiter is a breathtaking look at the possibilities of the
Universe.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
by Marjane Satrapi

Relevant subjects: Art, Language Arts, Social Studies

Best used with high school students, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
is the autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during
the Islamic Revolution. Tracing the dethroning of the Shah, the rise of
fundmentalism, and the war with Iraq through a child’s eyes, Persepolis
gives the reader a strong view of Iran’s history and culture, and serves
a nice point of comparison and contrast for American teens.

Comics in the Classroom

Comics in the Classroom

Comic books.

You’re probably thinking about Superman or Spider-Man. Batman or Wonder Woman. Maybe cheap, cheesy horror stories, pirate adventures, or some other muscle-bound, spandex-clad crusader whose first response is a strong punch. You’re probably not thinking about your classroom right now.

You should be.

Comics in Culture

A recent explosion in academic interest in comic books and graphic novels has stirred the creation of comics curricula nationwide. Several colleges and universities are now offering courses in comics literature, and high school teachers are exploring graphic novels as a new way to stimulate young readers’ interest in literature. The National Association of Comics Art Educators is producing exercises, study guides, and handouts on comics in the classroom, and several comic book companies, notably CrossGen, are including resources for educators in each issue they produce. Comics have been the subject of a national best-seller, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and novelists and screenwriters like Brad Meltzer and Kevin Smith have lined up to write the adventures of the heroes they grew up with. Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the story of his father’s internment in Nazi Germany, was the first comic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and comics have nabbed prestigious awards in other fields.

Considering the success of comics-inspired film and television shows like Smallville, X-Men, and Hulk, and their popularity with children, there is a tremendous interest in comics-related material that educators could easily turn into an enthusiasm for reading. However, it’s difficult to know which comics are appropriate for children, and many educators place a stigma on comic books– a stigma that dates back to the 1950’s, when at the height of McCarthyism, comics were the targets of congressional scrutiny. (For an abbreviated history of comics, check A Brief History of the Comics Universe.) In fact, it’s tough to know what a comic is, when the most respected example of the form, Maus, received this “praise” in the New York Times: “Maus is not a comic book.”

The Case for Comics

Comic books, the pulpy-papered, saddle-stapled mixture of art and story, have gained a new respect from the literary community in the past fifteen years. The alter ego of the comic book is the graphic novel, which is also a medium in which stories are told through both text and pictures, but replaces the flimsy saddle-stapling with solid binding. Increasingly, comics publishers are collecting multiple issues into single volumes, and comics writers are responding with more ambitious and artistic story arcs that spread across many issues.

Graphic novels are increasingly appearing in local libraries, are reviewed alongside traditional novels in pulications like the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, and have sections devoted to them in bookstores and on Amazon.com. With a renewed emphasis on independent reading in schools, comics appeal to students and teachers with a variety of interests and are increasingly being seen during D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time. Comics have a wide range of subjects, well beyond the super-hero.

Comics are cheaper to produce now than ever before, and the industry has adapted to the point where they are able to take gambles on more artistic fare that’s been less traditionally marketable than super-hero comics. Until the 1980’s, comics appeared on newsstands, and up to 50% of comics might be returned to the publisher if they didn’t sell, which meant tremendous pressure to create the “next big hit.” Most comics are now distributed through speciality retailers and mass merchants, which means unsold issues won’t be returned, and small companies have more freedom to explore offbeat writers and artists.

As a medium, comics and graphic novels (which are lumped together in a term– “sequential art”– coined by one of the field’s pioneers, Spirit author Will Eisner), now have a definitive textbook, as well. Scott McCloud penned Understanding Comics, which explored the medium and its history in comic form. His sequel, Reinventing Comics, is also penned as a comic book, and explores the effects of new technologies and cultural changes on an existing industry.