Comics for the End of School

School Ends: The First Impression

Over in another online space, I am working to make and share a comic every day for 100 days as part of a challenge. I don’t know how I will do it. But I am trying (I am on day 16!).

With the end of the school year (kids left yesterday but I still have today in the classroom), my comics were focused on those final, hectic days. I had a great class this year — sort of loud and most days edged on chaos on times, but overall, they were wonderful, and I will miss them, for sure.

School Ends: Too Loudand then …

School Ends: The Goodbye Classroom

Peace (in the frames),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Considering the Quiet

John Spencer has yet another intriguing post up, this time about actively and intentionally noticing the way sound in our classrooms play a significant role in student learning. He explores this from a couple of different angles, and I suggest you read the post he has written entitled “Sometimes a Quieter Classroom is Actually the Answer.” We (me) don’t often think much in terms of sound levels of our learning spaces, other than “that’s too loud” or “that’s too quiet.”

John notes that a noisy classroom does not translate into more active learning in this age of collaborative/cooperative learning. Neither does a silent classroom indicate that all students are working independently. Finding balance, and being intentional about the physical space of the classroom is one way to address this. Differentiating the classroom space for sound? Interesting.

This year, I’ve had one of the largest ratios of loud to quiet kids than I can remember, and I found myself struggling often to balance the spectrum of extroverts — who enter the classroom nearly yelling at their friends, gushing with news of the morning — with the introverts — those who settle in with a book or some work amid the morning chaos and try to ignore the noise. The extroverts are not mean; they’re social and excited and just loud. The introverts are not always passive; they often seem bemused by the antics, as quiet observers.

So, you know, it’s complicated.

I’ve tried different approaches to moderate the noise that often emerges from any learning activity, attuned to the quieter of my kids. And don’t get me wrong — we’ve had long stretches of intense quiet, particularly of writing quiet — the solitude within a crowd where a writer finds their words in stories, poems, essays or even daily writing activities. I enforce that quiet pretty strictly.

But other times? Man. It’s like I become a sound fighter, reminding people as I wander the room to “keep it down” and “you seem to be shouting at the person next to you” and “respect the space.” The lull lingers, and then is lost. There are times when we could barely hear the office announcements, and this is at the end of the day, when students are lined up and ready to head home. They’re so loud, they can’t hear the dismissal.

I’m going to mull over John’s points as this year ends — a sound audit of the classroom? Intriguing. More choice for students to work in quiet or active spaces? Possibly.

I am also sitting (quietly) with John’s (a self-proclaimed introvert) observation: Every student needs some quiet.

In music, there’s a deliberate symbol for rest. It’s not a break from the song. It’s a part of the music. But it is silent, and it is powerful. I think we need the same thing in the classroom. In a culture of noise, sometimes relevance isn’t more noise. Sometimes it’s more silence. — John Spencer

Peace (shhh),
Kevin

Pieces in Play: The Great Outdoors as Game Board

Park Site as Game BoardWhat happens when the outdoors becomes a board game?

Yesterday, in our last full week of the school year (still a few days to go, though), our sixth graders took part in an activity called The Ultimate Game, organized by an outside group. The Ultimate Game turned local recreational parks in town into a huge game board, for collaborative and cooperative activities. This was our first time using this group and I was impressed.

There were riddles, and challenges, and a GPS scavenger hunt component. Teams of students had to work together to find clues, solve mysteries and earn tokens, roll huge fuzzy dice, move pieces on a massive game board, draw on their various strengths, and it all came together so nicely — the weather, the kids, the game — that it has me wondering how to do even more of using the outdoors — field, forests, park sites — as settings for cooperative game design.

We have explored game design throughout the year, from different angles, so this field trip made sense as a way to tie things together.

Along with a six week video game design unit earlier in the year, we ended the year in our ELA class with a short story project in which students wrote a fictional piece of a narrator going into a board game to rescue a person from history. The game becomes the setting. Sort of like Jumanji and Zathura, picture books by Chris Van Allsberg (and both became movies, of course).

In the Write Out project from last summer, we explored and talked about more ways to better integrate the urban, suburban and rural outdoors into curriculum, and I admit, I did very little of it this year until the end of the year.

So I paid attention to the group that led yesterday’s events, watching how they so skillfully set up engaging experiences for success for all students, and used the contours of the landscape and woods and fields for the design of the huge game system they put into play.

(Oh, FYI: Write Out for 2019 will be this coming fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing. Keep an eye out for more details later in the summer).

Peace (outside inside),
Kevin

 

Marks on Wood: Filtered Effect Artwork

My students recently finished up working with a visiting artist — a woodcarver named Elton Braithwaite, who has been coming to our school now for 22 years — and their two pieces of collaborative carvings are very impressive. One has a tree theme. The other, a book theme.

The pieces have yet to be painted, so I took pictures of both carvings in their unpainted state, and began to play around with app filters (inspired by a friend of mine, Simon). One filter app I used (on the tree) is called Olli and the other (on the read) is Painteresque. The gif maker site is called Gif Maker.

I wanted to see the same image, fading in and out with filters. This approach worked better in another space, where Simon and I and others are sharing writing and art and more. The fade there was more natural. But here, I just used the online gif maker and layered the photos. The transitions are more abrupt, and a bit too quick (maybe I should have tinkered more with the settings on the gif creator).

It’s still kind of neat. The tree one works best, I think, for the app brings to the surface more of the textures of the carving piece. It’s a more natural piece of art. The read one is sort of distracting with the filters I used — at times giving it a sort of metallic sheen that goes counter to the concept of this being a carving on wood.

Peace (in the carving),
Kevin

Where Art, Writing and Inspiration Meet: Graphic Novelist Jarrett J. Krosoczka

A Visit by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

We had the pleasure of bringing graphic novelist Jarrett J. Krosoczka to our school yesterday. He gave presentations to four different grades about his work as a writer and artist, and shared his writing process and passions for making books. Krosoczka is the creator of the very popular Lunch Lady series, and his recent book is Hey, Kiddo.

His origin story of the Lunch Lady series was interesting. He told of going back to his old elementary school as an adult, and spending time with a lunch lady who used to serve him lunch, only to realize that she had a whole life outside of the school building (shocker). He wanted to write a picture book about the cafeteria staff, only to realize that one small strand of that book — a lunch lady as an undercover agent, whose mission is to protect the school and students — should be its own book, and that the comic format of a graphic novel was the way to tell that story. It took eight years from that spark of an idea to publication of the first book, he told the students.

Meanwhile, in preparation for his visit, students across our school have been working on projects, including graphic novel stories, in art class to recognize and celebrate our own lunch staff and other support staff workers in the building. During one of the sessions with Krosoczka, the staff from the cafeteria was brought in, and celebrated, with students performing a rap and short opera they wrote for them as appreciation.

My sixth grade students met him at the end of the day, after a long morning of state math testing, so it was a nice counterpoint to that to hear Krosoczka describe how he came to love reading, and then making, comics, and how it was his passion for art and writing — and lots of persistence in the face of rejection, particularly for his first picture book — that got him to where he is today, as the writer/illustrator on dozens of books.

It’s one thing to teach students the art of writing; It’s another to hear a writer tell of their experiences. Krosoczka wove the two strands together, and hopefully inspired young writers to write (and draw).

Peace (on the page),
Kevin

Classroom Comics and the Visiting Graphic Novelist

Scenes from Novels: In Comic Format

Thanks to funding support from our PTO, the school librarian, Pati M, and I (along with support by our art teacher, Leslie M) are bringing in the very talented Jarrett Krosoczka this coming Friday to share his work as a graphic novelist and maker of comics. Krosoczka’s most recent book — Hey, Kiddo! — is an amazing autobiographical examination of his childhood, with loss and love and art as the underpinning of his story.

Jarrett Krosoczka Display at the Eric Carle Museum

Jarrett Krosoczka Display at the Eric Carle Museum

I regularly use comics in my writing classroom (and did more when we had access to Bitstrips for webcomics but still use Make Beliefs Comix now and then) but I’ve been stepping it up a bit knowing that Krosoczka is coming to our school. And our art teacher has been focused on comics in art class, too, as our sixth graders work on graphic stories that are inspired by Krosoczka’s popular Lunch Lady series. Our students are celebrating non-teaching staff in our building by making them into superheroes, in comic format.

Meanwhile, I’ve had my sixth graders turning important scenes from the novels we are reading — Flush and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg — into comic strip format, and it has been wonderful to see the creativity flourish this way. We also did Onomatopoeia sound effect comics a few weeks back.

Comic Sound Collage

More about Krosoczka via his TED talks:

and

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

Earth Day Celebration: Making Blackout Poems to Surface Ideas

EarthDay BlackOut Poem Blend

We came back yesterday from our week-long April break to Earth Day, and to a double environmental issue of Time for Kids magazine, and in the midst of our poetry unit. It seemed like a good time to bring in Blackout Poetry, for what sixth grader can resist the power of the Sharpie?

After reading some of the pieces in the Earth Day special edition of TFK, I explained the nature of Blackout Poems  — remove text to reveal text, as a found poem inside the redactions. After finding words and phrases, I had them move to their writing notebooks to compose a short poem (at this point, they could re-order words and phrases and add words, if needed).

The picture above is my sample, from an article about re-using bridges and machinery to create coral reef ecosystems. Some students did get a chance to share their poems, and they were wonderful in their eccentricity, as free-style poems with an environmental theme. Perfect writing for Earth Day!

Peace (to this planet),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Fortnite Effect

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

One family told the story of their child, our student, breaking their bedroom television and then suggesting to the parents that they not replace it. Another said they had curtailed time spent on it after listening in to conversations. Another said they were going home right after our meeting, to delete the program. Another admitted they did not know much about what their child was doing in it but they witnessed a change in personality that worried them.

The video game of Fortnite unexpectedly became a theme of conversations across meetings with families last night for our spring conferences, each time brought up by the parents and not by us teachers. Clearly, for many families, the Fortnite phenomenon is causing concern over the emotional health of their children and the impact on school.

I am usually one of those who argues that there are some virtues in many gaming platforms, and I have constructed an entire teaching unit around video game design as a way to help my students see gaming as a possible way to compose in a media storytelling mode, to shift them from player to builder.

Of course, I’ve watched as Fortnite became the “go to” game for many, girls and boys, over the last year or so. I even wrote a few times about the noticing the emergence of Fortnite.

There are some positives to Fortnite worth knowing. It is a communal experience, where players often work in teams to help each other survive. The violence of the dying, while baked into the game, is not often explicit, unlike some games where the blood and gore of killing and dying can be alarming. There are easy entry points into the game, and it is cross-platform.

But … it has become clear that the social aspect of the game — particularly the chat function of social interaction — can also be its worst feature, as gamers use the physical distance from each other, and the possibility of unaccountability for language and words, to create a negative element to an addictive environment (Fortnite developers are brilliant in leveraging the many psychological ways to keep players, playing, for hours.). All the things one may worry about — bullying, peer pressure, profanity, etc. — now seem to play out in the Fortnite battlefields, and sometimes spill over into the school day.

In a few cases, teachers and parents could delineate either a decline in work quality (child started using Fortnite) or an increase in quality and happiness (child stopped using Fortnite) so clearly that it was rather startling, to be honest. It’s a small sample pool, to be honest, but still … something to mull over.

I’ve noticed the trend of playful remarks about Fortnite shifting this year into more negative, cutting remarks about playing ability and skins and more. It may just be this particular cohort of students — and there are one or two students who clearly are the leaders, admired by others for their Fortnite prowess yet more negative than positive to others, using their social cache in the game platform in all the wrong ways. When a handful of parents all bring the game up in a school conference, it suddenly feels as if we as teachers should find a way to address it.

I intend to gather more resources about screen use and game effect on growing minds and on Fortnite, in particular, in hopes of making a resource for parents who may be struggling with this issue and need a way to have a conversation at home. And I will be thinking of how I might use our upcoming Argumentative Writing unit to tackle Fortnite.

If you have ideas or know of resources, please leave them in the comment bin. Thank you.

Peace (turn off to turn on),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: The Head in the Door

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

He stuck his head in the door. A colleague from another grade. We don’t see each other all that often because his classroom is in another wing of the building, up a set of stairs.

“I wanted to tell you,” he said, “that for a paper for my class (for administrator licensing), we had to write about digital learning in our building where we teach. I focused on the EPencil.”

The Electronic Pencil is our sixth grade home base for digital literacy learning and sharing.

“You’re doing some great things with the kids,” he said, “and I wish more of us were, too. Sometimes, we do things that we think no one ever sees. We still do them, anyway. I appreciate what you are doing with our students. Thank you. Great work.”

And then he was gone, but I sat there for a few minutes at my desk, pausing in my pile of papers that were helping me with the approaching report card deadline, and glowed a bit in appreciation for his gesture as one colleague to another.

The noticing is a powerful thing. It only took a few seconds but those few seconds set the tone for the rest of my day. I need to remember to do more of that, too.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

BookSnaps: Getting Close to the Text

BookSnaps Collage 2019Last year, I tried out this close-reading technology activity called BookSnaps — an idea shared by Tara Martin — in which students use an image “snapped” from their independent reading books as a way to reflect on what they are reading. They layer “stickers” on the image that connect to the story and use text “call-outs” to put their own ideas/reflections in there.

The other day, I had my sixth graders work on BookSnaps (we use Google Draw, through Google Classroom) and my readers were quite engaged in the activity, identifying snippets of text and asking questions, making predictions, discussing characters. There were a lot of helping hands, as most needed help holding the books while snapping the picture.

While the BookSnaps themselves don’t allow for deep literary analysis, they do provide an visual and engaging means to discuss the books they are reading, and just as important, they spark interest in other readers, as a sort of BookSnap/BookShare concept.

This was the one I did as a sample for them to see — I was reading The Stars Beneath Their Feet.

Mr H BookSnap SampleHere is a video collection of the BookSnaps that were finished by students during our class period:

Peace (snap it into place),
Kevin

PS — Tara Martin did a talk on this concept, which is when I first heard about it and wanted to try it out