Although the National Day on Writing was Wednesday, my students were still working on their webcomics at home, on their own time, in order to finish an assignment that we had to create a celebration of writing. I really loved what they were doing, so I decided to grab some of the comics and put them on a Glog Wall as a way to mark the 2010 Day on Writing.
In thinking of use of technology, here we used Bitstrips for Schools to make the comics, a Firefox screenshot add-on to download the comics as images (I use Fireshot), Flickr to gather the comics together, and then Glogster.edu to present the comics. That’s a lot of use of tools, but what it comes down to is that the students were the ones creating content. The tools were just helpful.
Yesterday, our four-day Webcomic Camp for middle school students came to an end and even though it is a lot of work to plan for the camp and sucks up half of a summer day, I was pretty sad to see our artists/writers walk out the door yesterday. They had accomplished a lot in four days.
One idea that my colleague Tom had was to have each student present to the rest of us some of their comics, even if the comics were still underway and uncompleted. They could use any platform they wanted — digital or not — and it was nice to see a whole mix of comics and graphic stories underway or completed. This idea of a presentation of some work really gave the kids focus during the last two days of camp, as did the use of some forms around character development and plot design. Tom also set up a table where he regularly checked in with kids (while I was doing tech work).
There was a whole range of talent, from just beginning to one kid who clearly has incredible talent as an artist and illustrator and was completely engaged when watching The Cartoonist documentary about Jeff Smith and his Bone series.
This eighth-grader has already created an entire world for a graphic novel, complete with characters with back stories, and although he did smaller pieces for camp, he “sees” a much larger story unfolding for a graphic novel in the future. This kid has talent, and luckily, he already knows Hilary Price (of Rhymes with Orange fame) and will work with her a bit.
Me? I was so wrapped up in helping kids and gathering their work for our camp website (which we used as our presentation platform) that I never got to even start a comic with them. Tom did, though, and I hope he keeps going with it. I did finally figure out how to use iPhoto this camp, however, and how to resize photos (How come I can’t do it directly in iPhoto?) that allowed me to work on our camp website right in class as they were completing their work. (The Mac is still my learning curve).
We had them leave camp with our style of exit slip: they had to draw us a final comic on paper, and when they handed that in, we gave them a camp t-shirt and another free graphic novel (from my pile). And since we have our Bitstrip site up for at least another month, they can continue to make comics on their own. I hope they do.
Carter’s introduction gives some nice background knowledge around the connections between art and writing, and the form of graphic novels. In the book, Carter makes the case for these forms to be considered real and authentic forms of literacy, and not just something to be laughed off or put out for the down-times of the classroom.
“There is a graphic novel for every learner in your English language arts classroom,” is how Carter begins, and he ends his introduction — first, by acknowledging that more inquiry research in the classroom needs to be done and shared — by declaring, “Bit by bit, we can expand the Golden Age of the graphic novel in the domain of education.”
Not every chapter had me engaged, but the one I really liked was by Don Leibold, whose Abandon Every Fear, Ye That Enter: The X-Men Journey through Dante’s Inferno, about the connections between an X-Men story arc and Dante’s work, and how a teacher might use on to supplement the other. I vaguely seem to remember the comic that Liebold refers to, and it is fascinating to think of the two stories, side by side.
Most of the chapters deal with reading comics and graphic novels, and I have to say that the chapter that seemed to suggest the use of technology (Using Graphic Novels, Anime and the Internet in an Urban Setting by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher) didn’t really do much for me in terms of technology and comics. I was hoping and wishing for more, particularly given the influx of digital comics and the ability to create them easier than ever before.
Luckily, Carter ends the anthology with a sharp chapter on bringing young writers along with comics as a source of mentor text and inspiration with a Comic Book Show ‘N Tell Project in which students work on storyboarding, editing and writing with a voice for an audience.
If you are a teacher considering the merits of graphic novels, then Carter’s anthology collection is a good read and a good starting point for those folks trying to make a case for comics. And as Carter points out himself, I hope books like this one continue the push of graphic literacy in the classroom for all students.
Peace (on the page),
PS — Today is Free Comic Book Day, so get yourself down to the nearest comic book shop and grab some comics for the classroom. The free stuff is not really the best stuff — mostly samples and anthologies — but still, they can make a good supplementary classroom resource.
Since the spring, I’ve been beta-testing a new site with my students called ToonDoo Spaces for the ToonDoo organization. The open/public ToonDoo site is a social networking site for comic creators of all ages with easy-to-use tools and loads of clip art, backgrounds, options for creating your own characters, tools for compiling comics into an ebook format, and more. It’s really fun to use. But the public ToonDoo site is not really appropriate for my students, as it features risque humor, language and more. I’ve often used Make Beliefs Comics because it is a closed site. But Make Beliefs has many limitations at this point (but it is free).
So when ToonDoo announced that it was experimenting with closed comic networks for schools, I signed on to beta test it. All spring, my sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds) were fully engaged in the use of our ToonDoo Spaces site. They would walk in the door and immediately ask: Are we going to make comics today, Mr. H? And they give a little shout of “Yeah!” with a fist pump when I say “yes” (after we do whatever other work we have planned).
In the summer, I used the site again with a Webcomic Camp, and again, the kids loved it.
As of this morning, my students had created almost 1,800 comics. (Yes, you read that number correctly, 1,800 comics.) That’s a lot of writing and creating!
Here are some of my reflections:
I love the ease of use of ToonDooSpaces. It really is quite simple to use, both as a user and as an administrator. I had my site up and running in no time at all, added 75 student users in the time it took me to type their names, and we were ready to go. Simplicity is beautiful.
The closed nature of the site allows you to foster a creative community of writers, without the outside world looking in. And, like other networks, this closed community is not bound by physical space. So you could easily collaborate with others in the world.
There is a separate site for the administrator, where they can do such things as add elements to the homepage, monitor users, change passwords, block inappropriate comics, highlight comics for the entire network, remove clip art from the gallery that students have access to and add new users in seconds.
I like the various options that students have as writers. Comics can be collected into ebook collections. Students can create their own cast of characters for their comics. They can even use the drawing tool to add their own art. They can leave comments on each others comics. The site using the framework of a social network, but with comics as the main focus of the writing.
The clip art collection is extensive and features many different artistic styles. And ToonDoo keeps adding more art to the sites.
Comics created in the closed site can be easily embedded in other online spaces. You just grab the flash code and embed it. It’s a nice way to move from the closed work area to a public sharing of student work.
Students have access to the site at home, and many of mine were eager to keep writing at home. You can’t beat that, can you?
The ToonDoo folks are using a Ning for gathering feedback and offering support. I’ve been trying to post some reflections there as we go along.
A new filter also flags comics with inappropriate content and allows you to either freeze a student (no one else can see their work) so that you can talk with them, hide the offending comic from sight so the creator can fix it, or remove it from the site completely.
I’ve used the ToonDoo Space for Comic Strip Poetry. Haikus and other short poems are a natural for this format, and it really led us into a discussion about “design” and how backgrounds and art must complement the writing and not come into conflict with the words. Some of my students “got it.” Others? Not so much.
I love that students can collect comics into ebooks (flash-style, with pages that flip). I’d share one but that is one of the bugs they are working on. When I try to embed a book from our closed site, the code reverts to a book from the open ToonDoo site. But some have already created books of their poems and others are creating longer comics by stitching together a series of comics in the ebook format.
At my summer camp, students were making all sorts of comics around characters that they created in the ToonDoo tool that allows you to invent and create a character. They had a lot of fun with that.
You can also upload photos and, like Photobooth, morph and mix the photo on the site and then use it in your comic. It’s strange fun.
This kind of comic creation could be used across the curriculum. Comics could be used to explain a math problem; to investigate a moment in history; or to demonstrate a science experiment. I think there are a lot of possibilities here.
Some Final Thoughts
I think ToonDooSpaces and others are on the right track. Comics seem to be a natural platform for all levels of writers. My advanced students move into complicated stories and poems while my struggling writers are interested in the art-writing element of comics. It really reaches across different levels.
If you are interested, I notice that the ToonDooSpaces site is offering a 15 day trial period and you can use their chart to see how much it would cost to get a subscription for a longer period of time. Whether it is worth it is up to you and your budget. But as someone who used the site and watched my students ask every day if they could make comics, I think ToonDooSpaces is a great asset to the Language Arts class.
I decided to do a reflection on running a Comic Camp for middle school students over at The Graphic Classroom, where I am a staff reviewer and contributor. I hope my reflections are useful to anyone else considering this kind of camp, which really engaged young writers in meaningful ways.
We’re about half-way through with the four-day summer camps — one that focuses in claymation/stopmotion movies and the other that centers on comics and graphic novels. Both have been incredibly interesting and the middle school students (mostly boys) are very engaged in the work they are doing.
In the movie camp, they have been working on a variety of movies, but are now focused in on creating a longer Claymation Movie around the theme of a “buddy/friend” adventure. There are some pretty fascinating stories developing, including one that begins in the world of Pivot Stickfigure and then transforms into the “real world” with stick figures made out of Bendaroos (bendable sticks).
Here are some pictures of some of the scenes coming to life:
In the comic camp, we are doing a mix of paper work and using technology tools. We worked with ComicLife yesterday and then continued to use our ToonDoo site for webcomics. ToonDoo is a huge hit with many of them, and one student is even working on a 100-part series (yes, 100 pages) that is a spy mystery of sorts. I showed him how to create an ebook in our ToonDoo space, so that the reader can follow the story in sequence. Very cool.
Here are a few pictures from yesterday as they worked on a paper comic:
I have a few posts here and there that I never got around to publishing before the school year ends and this is one of them. While we were using our closed ToonDoo comic space for Comic Strip Poetry, I asked my students in a survey for some suggestions on how I could integrate the use of comics into various projects throughout the year. I enjoyed reading their suggestions.
On a side note, I also came across this great resource for comics in the classroom (I think it was put together by my friend, Glen) with ComicLife software. Whether you use ComicLife or not, this site has a ton of ideas and possibilities, and includes some great links. Take a look.
And now, my students’ ideas:
Use it to design Quidditch logo (use shadows and shapes)
You could make a mystery poem; since there’s black and white slides.
making a comic book project
make story books
make an end of the year book.
We could do something on how to write a poem, because everyone seems to think that they’re so hard, even though they’re really not (especially if you use an online rhyming dictionary).
Have a writing period where we can show what we have made in ToonDoo.
Writing digital story books for next year
Next year you could have an adventure comic rather than an adventure story.
We could do a story on how your last year at Norris was.
We could use it in math and make toons to show how to do a certain equation.
To make your own wanted posters on toondoo about a criminal.
We could take any of the prompts we have wrote this year and make then into books. I also think it would be cool to make books about things we a learning to help us remember things.
I think it would be a good idea to use it in writing class but also maybe in literature class. I think it would be fun to use in literature.
I think you should do a mystery comic strip poem or on the Harris Burdick story. That would be cool. You should also introduce this site to the younger kids.
I think we can use this site for many different things for ex. you can probably use this for just an activity after MCAS and create a comic strip of what they thought of MCAS and if they thought it was easy or hard for them and that kind of stuff.
Maybe we can make multiple strips and put them into a book so after each comic is done, it will be like one giant book.
We could use it to show our favorite part of Norris School.
We can use them with the comic book thing to create mini graphic novels and of course more poems and our freewrites in our notebooks.
We could use them to make stories (a short story writing prompt) into a funny comic that still shows the story.
I think we could make our own book- maybe a story about how our elementary years at Norris have been.
I think we could use the toon do site for making a book about our favorite thing that we did in writing.
Today, I offer up my second installment of my new Webcomic series about my life in music called Making Music, using ToonDoo as my composition site. I made some changes this week, as I started to use ToonDoo’s Traitr program to create my own comic version of myself, instead of using one of the prefab characters. It was fun but tricky to try to try to mirror myself as a comic character, particularly as the character needs to get older as the comic strips develop. The art element of comics has always been my weakest link (ie, see Boolean Squared).
Anyway, here is this week’s Making Music comic. If you are looking at this in your RSS reader (hey, there!), then you most likely can’t see the comic, so here is a link to this week’s comic, entitled “Six Strings” in which my mom tried her hand at guitar. And here is a link to a ToonDoo book that I am creating with the comics.
This is an incredible chart. I hung it up in my room and all the kids are crowding around it, checking it out. I think they are both drawn to the comic element, but also to the way that this artist has cross-pollinated our expectations of characters.
Scott McCloud has put out a series of books (Undertstanding Comics, etc.) that have really brought a focus to the conceptual design and creation of comics and graphic novels to a new level. He fearlessly explores the literary aspects of comics and about how the combination of the visual and the word — and the ability to break down any and all walls of traditional storytelling structures.
Here is Scott, giving a great talk at the TED conference. It’s part autobiography, part comic book discussion, with more great insights.