Friday, October 25, 2013

Photo Graphic Novels

There's a whole bunch of research out there suggesting how effective graphic novels can be effective at increasing comprehension, especially for struggling readers and those with dyslexia. But what if a suitable graphic novel doesn't exist for your particular subject matter? Or what if you have a particularly active group of learners who would benefit from a more kinesthetic lesson?

We have had a lot of fun this year with photo re-enactments and transforming those re-enactments into graphic novel-style frames with quotes and captions only enhances student understanding.

Earlier this year, my 8th grade classes analyzed Emmanuel Leutze's iconic painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware. We looked at the historical inaccuracies in the painting, as well as the symbolism that the artist sought to depict. Finally, we created a stand-up "boat" and ice chunks with some painted poster board, oars cut from cardboard and some costume hats and accessories. Students posed "in" the boat in front of a piece of large blue bulletin board paper painted with clouds and light similar to the original. The students really enjoyed this activity and seemed to really connect with the material. So, next time with another class, I took it a step further.

Later on, a different group of 8th graders used a storyboard template worksheet to plan five different scenes of the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga. For each scene, students sketched the poses, planned the props they needed and assigned character roles to each member of the group. I required that the scenes be planned in detail so that on shooting day, each group was only allotted 10 minutes for each scene.

To conclude the activity, I imported the photos into a Word document and framed each picture with a black border. As a class, we added captions, thought bubbles and quote bubbles to each of the scenes using the pre-formatted shapes in the "Insert" ribbon of Word.

(In the image above, the students' faces have been omitted. In the final product, they are visible.)

By acting out the scenes, then coming back and adding captions, I have found that the students have a more complete and retrievable memory of the events. The activity also made for a fun day outside and a very real opportunity to students to take responsibility for making choices about the most important scenes and planning the scenes themselves. We had a great time participating in this activity and as the students get more comfortable with the procedure, it can be easily applied to reading, science and other content areas.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Snapshots of Life, or Teaching with Photojournalism

When I was still a young student myself, I remember how much I was struck by the images in Peter Menzel's Materials Worlds photojournalism project. It's a cliche to say that "pictures are worth a thousand words," but in this case, a single image did more to describe everyday life for average families around the world than prose ever could.

I have taught lessons based on these photographs a few times to teach a huge idea that I simply call "worldly thinking." A few years ago, I heard about a similar project by another photographer, James Mollison. His gallery of images shows Where Children Sleep and again, a single image shows the radical disparity between the way different people live from country to country, even from town to town. I was so struck by these complimentary projects, that I blogged about it here on SpenceSpace back in 2011.

Well, I'm back again with another similar project and this time, the uses for the images can be used for "worldly thinking" instruction, but also to discuss nutrition and health. Peter Menzel has started another project, featured here on Nutrition News, showing a week's worth of groceries from various countries around the world.

Some viewers will be affected by the sheer quantities of food in the industrial world versus the simple sacks of grain in the developing countries featured. Others, however, will be struck by the amount of fresh produce in so many homes compared to the piles of processed and prepared foods in Europe and North America. Either way, the images can be used for a host of lessons about culture, food, nutrition, globalism, or just that big notion of "worldly thinking."

As the world continues to become more global, there are still massive disparities between lifestyles around the world. There are few ways to show this better to students than with a series of photographs that do more for their understanding than words or explanation ever could.