A Story in Comics

Guest post written by Ben Towle, a three time Eisner-nominated cartoonist

Here is a story:

Many years ago, there was a trapper. He was interested in trapping a beaver so that he could sell its pelt, so he purchased a beaver trap. He set off into the woods with the trap, found a likely spot by a riverbank, and began to set the trap. Unknown to him, though, a clever beaver was nearby and observed what he was doing. The beaver, noting that the trapper was at work in close proximity to a nearby tree, quickly used his teeth to cut down that tree, which then fell directly onto the man, effectively (and ironically) trapping the trapper.

Here is the same story:

FarSideComic

The Far Side © Gary Larson

You may have laughed at the second version; I doubt you did at the first. In order for this story to function as intended—to evoke an immediate response—the narrative must be delivered instantaneously and the tone must be unmistakable. In this case, a drawing can accomplish this where words do not.

Through much of our history, the written has enjoyed primacy over the visual—and for compelling reasons. There is a specificity and precision to words that images cannot match. However, with the ubiquity of the internet—which is after all essentially an enormous system of words and pictures—I think we are beginning to realize that pictures (and in the case of comics, my field of study: words combined with pictures) can be powerful communicators of certain types of information.

This certainly isn’t wholly new. When important information needs to be communicated directly, clearly, and immediately, often pictures (or sequences of pictures) are employed.AirplaneComic

In the classroom, the word/picture combination we’re most likely to encounter is, of course, comics. Children’s and “all ages” comics have experienced a tremendous boom in the last decade or so and I’d be surprised if many K-12 teachers aren’t at least passingly familiar with books like Smile, Bone, Awkward, and Babymouse.

Past generations have seen comics as a “lower” form of reading than pure prose and have often sought to excise it from the classroom. In today’s classroom, though, I encourage teachers to embrace comics and recognize that it’s simply a different mode of reading—a mode with its own complex grammar, a type of literature that imparts information in a way that’s simply different than pure prose.

Can comics serve as a “gateway” for reluctant readers to eventually embrace prose reading? Sure. But a gateway is something we move through and then leave behind. In my experience, students who embrace comics initially continue to read comics as they add prose reading to their palette. Why should we view the two as mutually exclusive—one a stepping stone and the other our end goal?

And of course, there’s also a world of amazing classroom activities centered on making comics. Children love to draw. Comics have the ability to harness that love of drawing. Consider activities like making a comics autobiography or short memoir story, researching and drawing a comic book biography of a favorite historical figure, or make a comics adaptation of a chapter of a favorite prose book.

The children currently populating our classrooms have grown up in a ubiquity of word/picture combinations. Let’s embrace this and put it to good use by using comics—both reading comics and creating comics—in our classrooms.

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If you would like to work with Ben and other innovative experts in education, visit our website and register for the 2016 Joan Oates Institute today!

Here be Dragons!

A guest post by Rob Levit, founder and Executive Director of Creating Communities

When lacking information on what was known beyond the visible world, ancient maps were inscribed with the words “Here Be Dragons” and frightening images to warn travelers to stay away. To be a creative individual and a master educator however, we must train ourselves to move beyond our own fears, limitations and perceived weaknesses to find the beauty and freedom in what I call “The Undiscovered Country” where our old models of teaching and doing don’t hold up anymore.

Carta_Marina

A perfect example of this in “real life” is dealing with a difficult student. From our “Here Be Dragons” perspective, we may shut down or, gulp, admit that we don’t like the student. We can even come home after a long day feeling exhausted and depleted and have it affect our personal lives. But what’s the cost – to ourselves and to the student – when our energy is expended on staying away rather than navigating through? Anger or resentment can build up toward ourselves and the student. Why?  Because we care, and because we are human. The problem with this is that it may not be the child – but our own lack of tools, insights, and strategies to reach a child that desperately, and perhaps silently, wants structure – even though their behavior shows otherwise. The master educator recognizes the amazing and at times exasperating avoidance techniques that failing and/or troubled students unknowingly practice. It reminds me of the famous quote: “The child who needs the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.” That’s where personal creativity and arts integration come into play. To navigate successfully into “The Undiscovered Country” we must first have mastery of the conventional, tried and true techniques. This requires personal honesty, assessment, and practice.

Beyond that, we need new approaches like improvisation, creating poems and songs on the fly, being confident and enthusiastic about our hidden talents, and embracing that our most difficult students need new ways of learning that are hands-on and experiential. I thrive on being a guide to “The Undiscovered Country” and equipping teachers with confidence, tools, encouragement, and new skills to reach students. It’s amazing – once teachers grab onto these approaches, breakthrough after breakthrough happens in the classroom and our difficult students, although still struggling, begin to emerge because we have recognized opportunity, freshness, and possibility in them.  What once looked like a frightening dragon turned out to be the harmless shadow of ourselves. 
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-Rob Levit

Rob Levit is an acclaimed educator, creative artist and community leader. He has created award-winning, innovative “Life-Skills Through The Arts” programs for hundreds of at-risk youth and adults. Levit is the founder and the current Executive Director of Creating Communities.

Register now to join us for Levit’s workshop and many others at the 2016 Joan Oates Institute, June 27-July 1, 2016.

From Binford to Brazil: University of Richmond program puts integrated learning to the test internationally

University of Richmond’s Partners in the Arts (PIA) program is expanding to an international audience this month.

Rob McAdams, interim director of PIA, will take the same arts integration model and teacher-training methods that twenty teachers from Binford Middle School in Richmond received during the summer to sixth and ninth-grade educators and students in Braco do Norte, Brazil.

“How we learn is universal and timeless,” said McAdams, who will travel to Brazil Oct. 11-25. “I believe the differences in language and cultures will actually enhance an integrated learning process.”

“Arts integration allows educators to discover how their students are curious and develop ways to differentiate their instruction to reach each student where and how they are as a learner,” he added.

This opportunity to work with teachers, artists and students in Brazil is funded by a travel grant provided by the U.S. State Department through Partners for the Americas Virginia-Santa Catarina chapter.

The PIA program is offered through Richmond’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies and provides arts integration training and project support to local teachers. Arts integration involves working with PreK-12 educators to engage and empower them with the tools to reach students by utilizing creativity in the classroom.

 

The Art of the Memoir

I recently visited Chesterfield’s Clover Hill High School, which has a PIA Award this year for a project called “Paths.” Students in the tenth through twelfth grade are working with a writer and a visual artist to interview local World War II veterans and their families to create literary and visual depictions of their stories.

The project team consists of Clover Hill creative writing teacher Barbara Bingham, history teacher James Triesler, and fine arts teacher Donna Stables. The visiting artists are painter Kendra Dawn Wadsworth and writer Erica Orloff. Kendra is a former student of Donna’s, which makes her a great role model for any young person who has a passionate interest but is not sure if it is okay to pursue that passion as an adult. Barbara has created a blog about the project and Erica has recently written a post for it. Barbara has also contributed a post to PIA’s blog, where she writes about the importance of learning from other teachers.

I sat in on a senior class that was working with Erica on the meaning, structure and making of memoir. This is a genre I feel very close to (perhaps because I like to talk about myself) and Erica laid out her information and insights in a compelling way. She asked the students to make a list of ten important events or transitional moments in their lives. Not just getting your driver’s license, for example, but what that meant to you. I joined in with the list-making and was surprised by what I came up with.

Erica then asked the students to do 15-20 minutes of free writing on one of the topics they had listed. With this approach, you try very hard not to edit yourself but to keep writing and let it take you where it will. I did this as well and once again was surprised that my pen seemed to be in charge. I appreciated that Erica and Barbara did not ask the students to share what they had written; their work was still private, something to think about and develop. Writing a little of their own memoir will help the Clover Hill students understand how personal experiences can have universal significance. And that is a lesson in itself.

Liz

Storytelling in RVA

A guest post by Jane Crouse of the National Storytelling Network

We live in story like a fish lives in water. We swim through the words and images siphoning story through our minds the way fish siphons water through its gills. We cannot think without language, we cannot process experience without story. Christina Baldwin, StoryCatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story

The National Storytelling Network (NSN), based in Jonesborough, TN, brings together and supports individuals and organizations that use the power of story in all its forms. We advocate for the preservation and growth of the art of storytelling. With the theme of Story: Seed of Creativity, the 2013 National Storytelling Conference will be held in Richmond this year on August 1-4. The conference will examine and celebrate “the power of story in all its forms,” honoring our collective and diverse creativity through story. Plant a story seed, grow a dance, a film, a symphony, a video game…the possibilities are endless! Story is the foundation of all the arts, the seed of creativity. Storytelling is the root of film and theatre, dance and music, visual arts, and, of course, literature and the spoken-word tradition.

The annual conference provides opportunities for story practitioners to share and learn a myriad of ways in which the use of story can strengthen and transform communities and lives in the diverse fields of education, health care, historic and cultural preservation and business, to name a few. The Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance (YES!) pre-conference will be of particular interest to educators. The Alliance advocates for and offers support and resources in storytelling to mentors, educators and storytellers who work with young voices from early childhood through adolescence. Educators can integrate storytelling into reading, language arts, math, science and social studies while teaching the Virginia Standards of Learning.

Do you have a workshop or panel idea that explores the conference theme of Story: Seed of Creativity? If so, please consider submitting a proposal. The guidelines are available on the conference website, given above. The deadline for workshop proposal submission is November 15, 2012. Perhaps your interest leans more toward performance. Then you might consider applying for the NSN Conference Fringe, where you can present your most compelling, riskiest, experimental or work-in-progress storytelling.

Be part of the National Storytelling Conference this summer. Come discover that the shortest distance between two people is a story. Muriel Rukeyser said that ‘the universe is made of stories, not atoms.” A universe awaits you at the National Storytelling Conference. Come grow with us. We Grow Storyellers!

Plant the seed! Use Sandy time to submit a PIA Award LOI

Do you have any ideas for an arts integration project that you’ve always wanted to do in your classroom? Maybe there’s a little nugget or seed of a thought about bringing in your favorite artist to work with your students and colleagues in the back of your mind? The PIA Awards Letter of Intent(LOI) is a great opportunity to get that seed in the ground, and with 4-5″ of rain being dumped on us by Sandy over the next 24 hours or so, germination chances are high. The LOI deadline is December 7, 2012 and the New & Improved online application form makes it easier than ever to submit your proposal. PIA Awards range from $1500-$10,000 and support professional development, visiting artists, supplies and field trips. You can also schedule a FREE workshop for your school or interested team of teachers, and Liz or I will come out and help you turn that seed into a big ol’ tree of a transformative cross-curricular integrated project. So before you lose power and have to go back to school, check out the link above, get that seed in the ground and watch that tree grow.

Little nut coffee cup

One of my favorite coffee cups

59 Ninjas or Crouching Teacher, Hidden Art Forms

As a parent, I have never been a fan of hiding vegetables in other food to get my kids to eat healthy stuff. Yes it takes lots of work, patience and modeling, but the development of these beneficial lifelong habits is imperative and my job as a parent. The same is true of using the arts to teach core content. Dance, drawing, tableau, music, sculpture, etc., should not be pureed, diluted and sneaked into the curriculum in miniscule portions.

So here’s to the teachers that spent the first week of their summer vacation developing innovative, creative, and not-pureed curricula involving math, science, history and of course, the arts.

Congrats to the Joan Oates Institute class of 2012!
On the last day everyone struck an action pose for the group photo. Look for the movie, “59 Ninjas or Crouching Teacher, Hidden Art Forms,” soon to be posted to a online video site near you.

JOI Class of 2012 + Gerald

It was a great week of hard work, learning and fun. Our mascot became the paper giraffe made by Richmond Montessori School teachers in Noah Scalin’s Creativity workshop. The assignment: fill/use/draw/create something with the 100 circles you were given on ten sheets of 11×17 paper.

Gerald the Circle Giraffe

Wondering what to do with the integrated curriculum you have developed at the institute or on your own? Apply for a PIA Award to implement your ideas and bring in teaching artists to work with students and teachers in collaborative and transformational ways.

Rob

PIA Awards: Trophies for Everyone

We had a special event at this year’s Joan Oates Institute, held June 25-29 at the Modlin Center: a celebration of the teachers who have won 2012-13 PIA Awards for their schools as well as those who carried out award projects in 2011-12.

PIA Awards fund cross-curricular, thematic projects that use the arts to change the way core subjects such as history, math, and science are taught. We believe that teachers and other educators who are close to the classroom are the best people to develop these projects. They know what will work and what will ignite student interest. They also know which of their colleagues would be perfect to be part of the team that carries out the project along with visiting artists. Awards can be up to $10,000 each to schools that are in the PIA consortium and are designed to make lasting changes in how the curriculum is taught. They also help build students’ 21st century skills, including innovation, collaboration, and critical thinking.

The PIA Awards celebration was held on Thursday, June 28, in Camp Concert Hall, a beautiful theater in UR’s Booker Hall that was also the site of several other JOI 12 events. Rob and I wanted to do it in style so we ordered custom-designed trophies for both sets of award recipients. Who knew you could mix and match trophy elements to get just what you’re looking for? Makes you want to order trophies for your next dinner party. We were delighted to see that the options included a leaping bass, which looked pretty close to Joan Oates’s signature salmon pin, representative of her fishing exploits.

Joan handed out the trophies but had a special guest to help her do this: Holly Rice, who co-founded Partners in the Arts in the early 1990s and gave her all to make sure it was a well-established and successful program. Holly lives in Los Angeles now but was able to be part of the event to talk about her experience with PIA and the value of the arts in PreK-12 education. Joan and Holly were given trophies as well. Joan’s said “Founder Award.” Holly’s said “Superstar Award.” Below you can see Joan, left, and Holly on stage with their trophies.

Joan and Holly receive PIA Awards

 
 
Here’s a list of the seven 2012-13 PIA Award recipients with a brief description of the award projects they will carry out in the new school year. More information about each project can be found in this feature story.

Armstrong High School, Richmond, $7,500, for Not too far From Here: A Plein Air History of Richmond. Students will investigate the history of their neighborhoods and communities through guided tours, journaling, video and audio recording, and “open air” drawing and painting.

Pocahontas Elementary School, Powhatan, $7,600 for Come Tell Your Story: A Powhatan Perspective –Local History through Storytelling. Students will document family and community members’ life stories, in writing and video, as a way to increase understanding of cultural differences in Powhatan County.

Miles Jerome Jones Elementary School, Richmond, $3,000 for a project called Dance by Design, for Pre-K and Kindergarten students. The project uses creative movement related to monthly themes in the core curriculum to teach young children literacy and number skills

Clover Hill High School, Chesterfield, $6,100 for The “Paths” Project, which combines English, history and visual arts to record the experiences of the community’s World War II veterans and their families.

Laurel Meadow Elementary School, Hanover, $6,500 for Laurel Meadow’s Lion’s Den, a project that will allow students to write across the curriculum on topics such as the life processes of plants and to paint a mural in the school library.

The Steward School, independent, $5,000 for The Leonardo Project, which will allow students to create a digital database exploring photography’s relationship to the acquisition of scientific knowledge.

Mary Munford Elementary School, Richmond, $6,300 for Seasonal Gardens under the Sun, a project that integrates history, environmental science, language arts and visual arts to help students explore the natural world and humans’ relationship to it.

Last year’s PIA Award winners were:

Linwood Holton Elementary School, Richmond, for Improvise, Innovate and Imagine!

Albert Hill Middle School, Richmond, for America Steps Out

Robious Middle School, Chesterfield, for Keep Your Watershed Together: Be a Part of the Whole!

George Wythe High School, Richmond, for Historical Perspective and Storytelling Applied to Contemporary Art

Powhatan Elementary School, Powhatan, for Jack’s Garden

Franklin Military Academy, Richmond, for The Walk through History Mural

Application deadlines for 2013-14 PIA Awards are online and updated guidelines will be posted soon. Feel free to run ideas for projects by Rob and me at any point. You can email us at pia@richmond.edu or call us at 804-955-4016. PIA Awards are for you and your school. It’s your creative ideas and your know-how that make projects work. And don’t you want one of these fabulous trophies?

Liz

The very first ever Joan Oates Institute!

True, last week was Partners in the Arts’ seventeenth summer institute for teachers, but who’s counting?  It was our first Joan Oates Institute for Partners in the Arts.  More info about the week to come, but here’s a cool photo taken by Alexandra Hunter, UR Downtown’s Events and Projects Coordinator.
Liz

The talented trio who performed at JOI’s jazz and STEM workshop. From left to right, Russell Wilson, Michael Hawkins, and Abinnet Berhanu, along with vocalist (and literature professor!) Hermine Pinson seated on the right.  The workshop took place in Frederick Rehearsal Hall at UR’s Modlin Center.  Photo credit Alexandra Hunter

Phoetry and what PIA can do for you!

April is poetry month.  Can poetry survive in the 21st century?

I have pasted a paragraph, and provided the link below from a post by a former humanities teacher turned technology integration specialist.  There are many great resources in the link, but I wanted to point out the collaborative project she highlights and how it aligns with what we do at PIA.

Our mission is to integrate the arts across the curriculum.  Simply stated we do two things, provide teacher training and fund projects.

On the teacher training side, we’ll be holding our 17th annual week long, 3-credit summer institute, now the Joan Oates Institute,  June 27-July 1.  This institute is designed to give all educators the skills to use the arts in their classrooms through experiential workshops, field trips and great food.  Our Awards letter of intent deadline for the 2012-2013 school year will be in December.

The model is: Attend the Joan Oates Institute (JOI [joy]) with a team from your school, then take the knowledge you’ve gained and design a project like the one below.  Successful proposals incorporate teacher training, visiting artists and collaboration among a variety of your school’s classroom, art/music, or technology teachers.

This project stems from the vision of middle school teacher Natalie Bernasconi, who explains the steps: "Start with the support of the Central California Writing Project, then mix together a group of middle and high school teachers and students, add one very cool journalist / slam poet guest speaker and the Salinas Public Library to meet in, and you've got Teen Salinas Speaks."

Check out the whole post chock full of great resources at:

http://www.edutopia.org/technology-collaboration-poetry-month-gail-desler

We’ll be covering most of the cool stuff she discusses at this year’s JOI in our Art and New Media workshops.  Using Voicethread, Phoetry projects and many more.

Rob

Alum of Mighty VCU

Go Rams!