What we were making for the first few weeks of school. This Dream Scene project is a stalwart for me, as it fuses student engagement with technology, writing about aspirations and sparks lots of discussions about where they see themselves in the future.
Nothing brings “context” more into focus than sitting down and reading (or maybe standing up and reading .. that works, too … don’t drive and read, though .. that’s just dangerous) a set of cartoons from the 1920s. While some of the cartoons might have resonance over time, finding that universal funny bone gag that stands above the time in which it is written, most will have you scratching your head, wondering about what was going on in the world that made this particular sketch and caption funny.
Or am I putting my confusion on you?
That was what came to my mind, anyway, as I was reading The New Yorker’s 90th Anniversary Book of Cartoons last night (with some funny subtitles, such as “Sequentially Paginated for Easy Access” and “A Special Section of Radio-Friendly Cartoons” as the editors play up and make fun of the book format in a digital age). I was on a bench, at a sports field, as my son played ball, laughing and giggling, with some adults nearby, glancing over at me. A few kids wandered by, curious.
I kept giggling.
The book is really a magazine and not a book, anyway, and it covers a lot of ground — moving through each decade of cartooning from the 1920s to the present in the esteemed magazine, with a funny introduction by New Yorker Cartoon Editor Robert Mankoff.
Mankoff writes, of the collection, that it “nicely represents the evolving comic imagination of our cartoonists during those decades, as it reflected and refracted the desires, conventions, and modes of thought of the times.” (Mankoff, page 3)
I like that phrase of “reflected and refracted” as a reason why cartoons work as commentary, and also, his phrasing explains why some cartoons don’t necessarily resonate outside of their times. Sometimes, it takes a collection like this to remind us of how things have changed, even if it often feels as if the world remains static. Of course, there are always those cartoons, too, that just don’t work for a certain reader, no matter what. I blame the cartoonist.
Even so, I enjoyed the art and the writing, and the wit of play, in this New Yorker collection of cartoons, and decided (as a research reader of one) that Charles Adams’ cartoons hold up the best over time, hands down.
I remember the first book I encountered about a writer writing about writing. It was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and then I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which led me to Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard, and then onward into the world of authors unveiling the art of writing. (Stephen King’s On Writing is a more recent one in the mix.) It was a magical experience for me to find those kinds of books as a young writer, and I continue to devour these “let’s pull back the covers and show the inside” stories even today.
I am most intrigued about the relationship between writer and reader, and the narrative gaps between them. And I am conscious of this, as best as I can, when I am using technology and digital media to create a piece of writing. The role of the reader, I think, is changing, becoming more assertive, more part of the “story of the story.” Mulling over how an image replaces text, or how a video disrupts the narrative flow, or the well-place/misplaced hyperlink, or the use of an audio to add a layer of sound … these are all part of our emerging world of writers in the digital spaces, right?
The question of how far does the writer go and how much space does the reader need/want is one of those running rails that always seems to hover over my keyboard when I am trying to create something that I hope will find an audience. When I am working on short-form writing, in particular, I am keenly aware of the reader and work to find a balance between the gaps. Of course, there is a lot of unknowns in the writer’s perceptions, too.
This week, I came across an insightful piece about writing in The New Yorker by writer John McPhee, who shares stories about his life as a staff writer and teacher of non-fiction writing but he also helpfully narrows his piece to the art of “omission.” What to leave out. The dictate of the Green # (see article for reference). Not just for publishing reasons (we need more space so get cutting) but also, for the sake of the reader engagement and involvement. Parse your story down and let the reader build it up.
McPhee cites Hemingway, of course, and others, and he says that consideration of the reader does a writer well.
“The creative writer leaves white space between chapters and segments of chapters. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Let judgment be in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author.” (John McPhee, New Yorker, Sept. 14, 2015)
I’ve long been fascinated by maps. When I was a kid, it was the maps in our textbooks that always got my attention. When I read comics (most of the time), I was stare at the maps for long stretches, imagining the world of heroes and villains. When I read a book that comes with a map, I am almost always invariably sidetracked, running my finger along the lines and trying to decipher the information of the narrative along the visual latitude and longitudes of someone’s imagination.
So, coming across Aaron King‘s Tumblr blog this past summer was like a present all wrapped up each day in my RSS feed. At Comic Cartography, King finds maps from all sorts of comic books and then posts them at his site.
That was good, but then he self-published his own little chap book about maps called Comic Cartography: Maps from Comic Books and Essays Thereon that I just love (only five bucks!). I mean, the maps he includes are cool. But it is King’s written insights about why we love maps and how they fit into our literary terrain that captured my attention. He connects them to the theories around comics, too, showing how inferential thinking and the use of art to inform story is a key component to the comic world.
King notes how some writers use maps to begin a story:
“With this softer invitation for reader closure in prose, introductory maps are used as a form of paratext, informing the reader without being part of the story’s prose.” (King)
He also notes, in a nod to the intricate maps that are part Lord of the Rings and other epic stories:
“The power in these maps lies in the amount of drama and story implicit in each of them. They jumpstart your imagination while teaching you about the world …. the mind trips in mad circles of possibility, of what comes next.” (King)
King explains some unknown terms, for me, about understanding maps. Some are heterodiegetic (the maps exist outside of the story narrative — we see these at the start of a book or inked into the cover design of a book) as opposed to homodiegetic (the maps are part of the plot of the book and play a role in the narrative).
This idea of a map laying outside the terrain of the story is what fascinates me, because it comes like an invitation to the reader to take a journey beyond the story itself. It also lays down the possibility, made clear by the map, that worlds might fold into worlds, and that the writer has a larger vision than the story you are currently reading. The story, in other words, is beyond this story.
You are invited to imagine.
I’ve done some mapping with my sixth grade students as part of writing activities, and we have explored map making in the Making Learning Connected MOOC, showing connections within a learning network, and allowing participants to pin themselves onto a collective map.
I even did a paper circuitry activity with fellow teachers, asking them to make a map with important nodes. Some chose professional circles. Others chose more personal journeys.
What maps shape your world? And I wonder, is our reliance on various Map Geolocation Apps changing the way we view maps as representative of the world, and what lies beyond the edges of the known? Is our world becoming a bit too well known? What mysteries unfold off the map?
This is the first year that I can remember that we started school on a Monday and went five days to Friday. Normally, we come mid-week for a few days and then hit the ground running the next week. Instead, we had five full days and now a three-day weekend before coming back to a short week.
I admit: I was exhausted yesterday afternoon.
But I think my new students – 76 sixth graders — are wonderful, and engaged already. Here’s a bit of what we accomplished in our first five days of school:
Community Building (but I wish we had time to have done more … I will write another time about schedule changes this year that have taken away from this)
Created accounts and created avatars in our webcomic site
Finished up an introductory webcomic (an activity called Pro Card), which gets us ready to dive into our first year real project next week, called Dream Scenes
Did two writing prompts, including a creative writing/expository writing/art element about an imaginary treehouse
Introduced vocabulary and set the bi-weekly system in motion
Read a short story and began to connect with literary concepts (protagonist/antagonist, foreshadowing, etc.)
Worked on an organizational chart for planning a literature response piece, which will get written next week
Laughed a lot and had students feeling like writers
That last one is important, even if it is not on the standards. It sets the stage for all the hard work and deep writing I hope we can accomplish as the year progresses.
Day One has come and gone, and we dove right into technology yesterday, with identity/avatar creation via Bitstrips for Schools. As always, my sixth graders were highly engaged, helping each other with questions and answers, and learning quite a bit about how we appropriately use our laptops and how we might think about comics as a tool for writing.
Today, I bring the other three classes into the comic site, too, as we move towards our first project of the year called Dream Scenes.
I’ve been away from blogging for a few weeks as part of a summer tradition, but I have still been writing and creating for August, and that includes making comics. These comics were part of my “anxiety of going back to school” thinking and planning and getting myself ready for another exciting year. We teachers go back on Friday (yikes .. that’s tomorrow) and then students come back for Monday.
These comics were all shared on Twitter but I wanted to bring them all here, too.
Is it Thursday already? Tonight, we will be hosting a Twitter Chat for the Making Learning Connected MOOC (#clmooc) and we invite you to come along for the ride … er, discussion … as we share out thinking about open spaces and public parks and other threads from the current Make Cycle that we are in.
CLMOOC Twitter Chat
When: Tonight (Thursday)
Time: 7-8 p.m. Eastern Time
What to bring: ideas, questions, insights and maybe an image or media to share
Suggestion: use the Tweetchat site as a way to manage the flow of discussion.
And I made this a few years ago:
Haven’t gotten outdoors yet? This handy flowchart might help you make that decision.
And if you missed our Google Hangout/Make with Me the other night, it has now been archived and posted. We talked about youth outreach, the US National Park System, engaging teachers in the outdoors, and the Every Kid in the Park initiative. (The chat roll archive is here, too)