The three literacies of comics

Updated: Here’s the recording of the webinar on comics and literacy held on 10 September. This post introduces some of the ideas and resources discussed.

Comics are often misunderstood. Many people, when they think of them at all, think of them as being the preserve of superheroes and three panel gag strips in the newspaper. Comics embrace works of all genres and they are increasingly finding a place in classrooms around the world.

A commonly used definition of comics is “sequential art.” Images, when viewed in order, give a sense of the passage of time.

 

Image source: http://scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/carl/3a/02.html

This simple two-panel comic from Scott McCloud, the author of Understanding Comics, demonstrates this point. By “reading” the placement of these images as a time sequence, we build a narrative.

The art form of comics imposes no boundaries on genre, content, or indeed artistic merit. Art Spiegelman’s Maus, telling the story of his Holocaust survivor father, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Reading comics is an engaging experience that embraces traditional literacy skills, but also brings other skills into play as well.

Literacy skills

Most comics have words, in the form of speech, captions, or both. These written elements become uniquely engaging through their embedding in the comics medium.  Many of the core concepts of literacy learning can be explicitly addressed. Sequencing and ordering of ideas is at the very heart of comics, and inference and deduction from context are also well supported by the inclusion of visual imagery. This additional visual support provides another way in to a story, and can provide an often much-needed boost to visual learners.

The use of comics in literacy teaching is finding increasing support in academic circles, as these studies show:
Comics Are Key to Promoting Literacy in Boys, Study Says
For Improving Early Literacy, Reading Comics Is No Child’s Play

Visual Literacy

Comics not only have to be read as literary texts, they also have to be read as visual texts. The artistic choices made in producing a comic shape the experience of the comic. To appreciate a comic fully requires an understanding of the elements and principles of visual design.   These elements provide a common vocabulary to talk about images that can be used across the curriculum. This allows students to think about the composition of an image in the same way they consider the composition of a written text. This idea can be expanded by considering individual panels of a comic like shots in a movie. What is visible in the shot? How is it framed? Why were these choices made?

Comics literacy

Comics are constructed in a particular way, and they use their own grammar and syntax. Each image in a comic is called a “panel”, and the space separating them is known as the “gutter”.  Speech is enclosed in “balloons” and internal dialogue is often placed in “thought bubbles”. Panels are read in the same direction as usual reading order, which can often come as a surprise to first-time readers of Japanese comics!

Most of us are so familiar with reading comics that these procedures become transparent, but they are learned skills, and a vital part of reading comics.

Tools and resources

Given the place comics can have in class, here are some online tools and resources to help you and your students make their own:

Comic Life – one of the most popular comics makers, which is now bundled with EduStar for use in public schools. A simple drag and drop interface allows you to create comics with your own images.

ToonDoo – free online comic creator. Use images from the site, share your creations, and view comics made by others

A great site for news and reviews about comics is No Flying, No Tights, which as the name suggests, looks well beyond the usual superhero fare.

 

 

Children’s literacy lab

Helen Boelens has passed on information about the Children’s literacy lab.

Screen shot 2010-10-27 at 7.24.25 PM

She explains

It is an interesting programme which is trying to investigate how children actually use digital books.  It is hoped that the research will help school librarians and teachers to adjust to the way in which pupils use E-books.

With lots of resources, information, tips and news, this is an interesting site to peruse.

MeeGenius

The MeeGenius library enables users to read children’s books, personalise and share them for free.

MeeGenius

A range of classic children’s books are available including versions of:

  • Peter Pan
  • Jemima Puddleduck
  • The Princess and the Pea
  • The Lion and the Mouse
  • Field Mouse and Town Mouse
  • Jack and the Beanstalk

The stories have been recorded and are read aloud. As the story progresses, words are highlighted for readers to follow and learn. This makes the MeeGenius library perfect for young children learning to read and young language learners. Users can personalise stories for specific audiences, however if users wish to save these stories for use later on, they must register and login. Some stories appear to be abridged, others are not.

A MeeGenius app is available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch as well (A$2.49).

Thanks to Kelly Tenkely from i Learn technology for the heads up on this great tool!

iSpeech

A great tool that converts text to speech is iSpeech.

iSpeech

Personal (non commercial) use is free and is great for visually impaired students. You can either use the demo at the front of the site for quick text to speech, or you can sign up for a free personal account that lets you do much more such as embed text to speech in your website.

iSpeech could also be good for language and literacy learners.

iBoard player

The iBoard player is a terrific interactive teaching resource. With resources for Prep to 2, there is lots of fun and learning to be had.

Resources include:

  • Numeracy
  • Literacy
  • New Literacy (Texts)
  • Science
  • History
  • Geography
  • ICT
  • Religion

A day in the country
A day in the country

This year 1 example above comes with the following information from the website:

Ask pupils to position the characters and construct sentences about their position or movement.
Using the whole scene, you could challenge pupils to make a wider range of statements than those given… “the bird is flying above the girl”, “the owl is on top of the big bear’s head.”
Ask pupils to position the characters and construct sentences about their position or movement. Using the whole scene, you could challenge pupils to make a wider range of statements than those given… “the bird is flying above the girl”, “the owl is on top of the big bear’s head.”
The iBoard player looks like a useful tool for learning for younger students.

Shahi visual dictionary+

Shahi is a fantastic tool for ESL students, language and literacy learners.  “Shahi is a visual dictionary that combines Wiktionary content with Flickr images, and more!”

Shahi 1

A number of definitions are provided and are categorised into nouns and verbs. Visuals from Flickr, Google Image and Yahoo assist users in grasping the meaning. Hover over a photo and the photo is enlarged. Click on a photo and that takes you to the photographer’s site.

Shahi 2

Even words or phrases that are not recognised by the dictionary section are recognised by the photo section:

Shahi 3

Thanks to the wonderful Audrey Nay for alerting Bright Ideas to Shahi!

It’s Elementary!

Tamra Lanning has created a very useful blog, specifically for primary (elementary) school teachers. It’s Elementary is developing a nice collection of literacy, numeracy and other tools suitable for primary aged students.

It's Elementary

Although It’s Elementary is a new blog, readers can immediately tell that Tamra is a committed teacher who loves her job. You can find Tamra on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tamralanning

Guitar Hero World Tour at Preston Girls’ Secondary College

To help engage and enhance student interaction at the VCAL level (alternative year 11 and 12), Preston Girls’ Secondary College teachers Les Kyle and Judith Way have developed wiki that houses a unit of work based on the wildly popular Guitar Hero video game.

PGSC GH

While the main foci of the unit are literacy and numeracy, Les and Judith hope other skills will come out of the program. The program will begin in term 1, 2010. Les and Judith explain:

Introducing literacy and numeracy at senior years is always difficult. It always needs to be embedded into types of work the students find interesting and what better way to get the students’ attention by using Guitar Hero as a starting point.

Upon forming their ‘bands’, students will be blogging about imagined tours, CD releases, booking and travelling to venues around the world and so on. Numeracy skills come into play when deciding who much to pay roadies, how much tickets will cost and how the money will be split between the band. Students will need to be aware of their audience when blogging and develop a convincing history of their band.

Other skills such as cooperation and collaboration, problem solving, researching and investigating, mapping and creativity. Students will also be learning how to use web 2.0 tools such as Big Huge Labs to create posters, tickets and CD covers. Voki or other sites will be used to develop avatars and students may film their ‘concerts’ to upload to teachertube.

We hope that this unit of work will grab the students’ imagination and keep them actively involved for the entire time.

(With thanks to staff at Perth and Kinross Schools in Scotland for the seed that developed into this wiki.)

Hopefully the students enjoy their numeracy and literacy lessons! It will be interesting to hear how it all goes.

Visual calendar

The very creative Mandy Barrow (@mbarrow), who is an ICT Consultant, Teacher, Cub Leader and creator and web manager of the excellent Woodlands Junior School (UK) website has devised a visual calendar for 2010. Mandy has agreed to share her calendar with readers of Bright Ideas.

Calendar

Mainly useful for Primary aged students, there are many days and links that are applicable to Australia. The calendar would be ideal for a brief early morning IWB session a few times a week as it is sure to launch discussions and activities on many different topics.

Mandy has also developed many other first-rate pages such as:

British History

World History

Castles

Houses & Homes

History of London

Florence Nightingale

Kings & Queens

Battle of Trafagar

Guy Fawkes

Bayeaux Tapestry

History Timeline

Literacy Zone

Maths Zone

Science Zone

Putting together pages like these is an extremely time consuming task and a big thank you to Mandy for sharing them.