Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Photo Tour!

Here's one of the bulletin boards from my classroom. I keep stapling stuff up there throughout the year.

Here is a table with some books on it.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Last week, in case you missed it, I wrote about the end of Creative Reading class in apocalyptic terms. Now that the apocalypse has come and gone, and the fires are mostly out, let's dig through the rubble and see what we find.

Thanks to semester exams only one of my two Creative Reading classes met today, the one that's later in the day. I decided to show them a relevant movie. I recently realized that, back when we were discussing nonfiction comics, I really should have showed them some of Harvey Pekar's work. To make up for this gap, I showed the class the beginning of the American Splendor movie. Their responses ran the gamut from disinterest to boredom.

"And you're surprised?" my wife said.

It's almost reassuring that, after a semester of this class, I could still be naive enough to think my students would be interested in a movie about a file clerk from Cleveland who writes about his life. Apparently my optimism has not entirely left me yet.

But it's a good movie. And cheap; I got my copy for five bucks.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday is Art Day: Mysterious Dancing Keyhole Guy

My most-widely viewed post ever on this blog, it turns out, is the one where I just posted a quote from Antigone and nothing else. Maybe I should stop writing original content and just share quotes from classical literature? It's a possibility.

Here's a picture I drew: 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Earth-Shattering, Face-Melting, Mind-Blowing 100th Post GOTTERDAMMERUNG!!!

Fire up the engines, get your juices flowing, and transcend your outdated paradigms, as we get ready to ACTIVATE DOOMSDAY DEVICE!!!

Hello, friend, and welcome to the 100th blog post. One hundred! It's like a century of blog posts! Did you ever imagine, back when I made my first blog post, that we would reach this point? Okay, so no one read my actual first blog post, which was just a picture of the cover Flex Mentallo #1, but remember my second blog post, which was the real introduction? Ah, good times! I was so young and inexperienced then.

In my introductory post I wrote, "I will be recording my thinking process, and hopefully people out there will chime in with suggestions. In two weeks—two weeks!—class will start, and then I’ll keep a record of how it’s going. My comics class will be your comics class. So let’s get brainstorming." It looks like I expected you folks out there to help plan the class and, I have to be honest, I feel like I ended up doing the vast majority of the work here. I'm not saying I'm disappointed in you, per se, just, you know, putting that out there. 

While no one stepped up to plan the class for me, I am very grateful to the people who left comments and gave me useful feedback and/or encouragement. Encouragement is a great thing on those days when you feel like your noble comics experiment is doomed to failure. I would particularly like to thank Jeffrey, Josh, and Kim for their donation of real physical books to the cause. They certainly did not have to do that, but they did, and I can't thank them enough. Thanks again!

Early on I posted my mission statement for the class, which I copied from my original course title proposal, here. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? That version of the proposal met with rejection. The second draft was approved, though they want to cut out the whole "our students are constantly barraged by information" part. I don't blame them; that part was probably more rhetoric than useful description.

And while we're strolling down memory lane, remember the time I had the class read Stardust the Super-Wizard? Good times!

Serendipitously this, the historic 100th blog post, fell on my last regular day of Creative Reading class. Today the students who did not go yesterday gave their presentations. I'm pleased to report that every student, with the exception of a couple of people who were absent and will have to make it up next week, had material prepared and presented to the class. Then I thought I gave a short speech about the import of this, our last (regular, not counting testing week) day of class, which was amazing when I imagined it ahead of time, but didn't come out that great. It's a good thing I have a blog; now I can go on and on and on about this retrospective tomfoolery.

Overall my last (regular, not counting testing week) class was pretty anti-climactic. But after work I went w
ith some friends to Terry's Turf Club, and LO! life was good. I tell you what, that place is MAGIC. A big ol' burger dripping with delicious provided a suitable ending to this noble experiment we call comics class.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Presentation ESCHATON!

Ka-Zam! After four days of research and preparation, the students presented their findings on important comics creators.

For the presentation, students were to:
  • Give biographical information on the creator
  • Describe the creator's most important works and art/writing style
  • Describe the reaction to the creator's work, then and now
  • Explain why the creator is important/influential
  • Show examples of the creator's work/use visual aides

They tended to focus too much on the biographical information, but that's expected. They are young, and they place way more emphasis than I do on where someone went to high school. Do I know where Steve Ditko went to high school? I do not, nor do I care. What's important about Steve Ditko is all the great comics he drew.

Anyway, presentations went pretty well. In addition to Steve Ditko we heard about Steve Gerber, Stan Lee, Art Spiegleman, Osamu Tezuka, Alan Moore, Herge, Chris Ware, Dwayne Macduffie, Bob Kane, Marjane Satrapi, Gil Kane, Carl Barks, and Dave Sim. What a fine mix.

Tomorrow: More presentations!

Also tomorrow: Blog post #100! It will be epic!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Self-Reflective RAGNAROK!

And today was the students' last day to prepare for their presentations. At the end of the day some of them seemed ready, and some didn't. Here's hoping they'll all do well tomorrow.

Earlier today my loving wife was telling me about a story on NPR about teachers who got fired and/or investigated because of things they wrote online. That's always a chilling topic. Like the Kindergarten teacher who made a crack about her class on Facebook, and got suspended? Crazy. Loving wife said, "But I think you're doing everything right," in reference to my online conduct, and the fact that I don't write negative comments about specific students here on the blog.

Since I started this blog, I've always kept in mind that students, students' parents, and administrators could read it, so I haven't said anything I would be embarrassed for them to read. This has occasionally made the blog more boring than I would like. Specifically the part about the administrators . . . occasionally I'll want to write something like, "Oh my God, I don't know what I'm doing," and then I think, "My boss could read this. Or my boss's boss. Or the superintendent. Do I really want to go on record saying I'm incompetent?" So I delete it, and say something bland, like, "I am certainly eager to try this new lesson plan." This blog is supposed to chronicle my efforts to create and teach a class, though, so who cares about my personal feelings? They are irrelevant! 

(And really, I mostly know what I'm doing. Much of the time.)

Speaking of me being an ice-cold professional, you may not be aware that this class has been "standards-based." Standards are the big thing in secondary education, the lists of things you're supposed to teach, so the students can be tested, and you can be punished if they don't do well enough on the tests. When I wrote up the proposal for Creative Reading class, I had to include a list of the standards we would cover.

Our final project is specifically based on the following Common Core standards: 


Research to Build and Present Knowledge

·                                 W.11-12.7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
·                                 W.11-12.8. Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
·                                 W.11-12.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


Comprehension and Collaboration

·                                 SL.11-12.1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
·                                 SL.11-12.2. Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.
·                                 SL.11-12.3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

·                                 SL.11-12.4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
·                                 SL.11-12.5. Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
·                                 SL.11-12.6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating a command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Research Project ARMAGEDDON!

Research continued today. Well, I say "research" . . . kids these days, I tell you what. I could go into a whole rant about how badly research skills have declined since the good ol' days, but you've probably heard it all before. Blah blah blah in my day we had a card catalog, with cards, and we had to look for books, blah blah blah index cards, blah blah blah microfiche. . . Do you remember microfiche?

I complain about modern research skills, but it's still fun to help kids look up information about Steve Ditko and Neal Adams and other comics greats. Some of them made interesting discoveries. One student, for instance, was thrilled to learn that Alan Moore got kicked out of high school (they don't call it high school in England, but you know what I mean) for selling LSD.

I told that same student, "Did you know that Alan Moore is a wizard?"

He said, "Yes. Look at that beard!"

He's an anarchist, too. And Steve Ditko is a hardcore Randian hermit, and Neal Adams believes that the Earth is expanding. Ah, comics.

So the students researched today, on the internet, and hopefully they have enough information, because they're supposed to be putting it all together into a report, and the reports need to be written tomorrow, and then Thursday and Friday they're presenting to the class, and then we're done. Except for exam week, but as far as the actual content of the course, we will be finished.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Research Project ACTIVATE!

Great news! We got the Creative Reading class title approved. This resolves a problem that none of you were aware of, because I never mentioned it, but believe me when I say that this is a good thing. So far this year the name "Creative Reading" has not appeared in my electronic gradebook or class roster, because it was not an officially approved course title. It always just said TEMP CLASS ONE YEAR, or words to that effect. Now that the class title has been approved, students will be able to get the correct class name on their transcripts. And since it's official, other schools could theoretically add Creative Reading class. Wouldn't that be exciting?

But you are not interested in that. You are wondering how our research project is going. On Friday each student chose a significant comics creator from a list I gave them. I won't share the list, because as soon as I passed it out I noticed some glaring omissions and I'm embarrassed by it. Let me just say that it included cartoonists, artists, writers, and even a couple of editors, and if I get a chance to do this class again, I'm going to cut out the editors. Anyway, students chose names, and we went to the computer lab to begin research. And yes, I let them go to Wikipedia. It's a useful starting point.

Last night I filled a suitcase with graphic novels so I could take in examples of comics by the creators the students chose. Today they looked at the comics and continued to do research online. They are going to use their research to write a short essay and then present their findings to the class. 

One of the cartoonists on the list was Osamu Tezuka, and one of the books I took in was this one:

Hurray for Astro Boy!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Art Day Sunday: Space Pirates!

Here's a picture I drew of some space pirates. Like last week's picture, this was drawn for a book called Rocket Jocks

Don't you wonder what sorts of thrilling adventures these guys have? I sure do.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Taking Stock

And so yesterday--that is, Friday--I assigned the research project. On the one hand, I am disgruntled that we're not going to have much time for it and it's not going to be as elaborate as I had originally dreamed. On the other hand, this is the first time I've taught this class, and it's been a learning experience, so I'm proud that we made it through everything on the syllabus.

Well, almost everything. In an early blog post I listed the texts we were going to read in class, a list I included on the syllabus I gave out on the first day of school.  Let's look and see how I did!

I started off by saying that we would "read, discuss, and frequently refer back to Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud." Yup, we did that.

In the Graphic Novels category, I said that "we will read at least two of the following in their entirety," and I listed five graphic novels, and we did in fact read two of them. One was Persepolis, and the other I promised never to mention again.

Then I listed supplemental reading. Going down the list. . .

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book, by Gerard Jones - I did share part of one chapter of this. I couldn't really justify spending more time on it but, man, this is one of my favorite nonfiction books. Highly recommended. 
The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, edited by Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams - I passed this around the room once. 
The Smithsonian Collection of Comic Book Comics, edited by Michael Barrier and Martin Williams - Unfortunately, I never used this, even though it's a genuinely wonderful book. It blew my mind when I found it in the college library, all those years ago. 
Kirby: King of Comics, by Mark Evanier - When we talked about Jack Kirby, I passed this around the room.
The Great Women Cartoonists, by Trina Robbins - I flipped through this for ideas but, to my shame, I never used it.
I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! The Comics of Fletcher Hanks, edited by Paul Karasik - We read a story from this and I even made them write an essay about it. No, I don't regret that.
A Contract With God, by Will Eisner - When I looked at this again I realized it had more nudity than I was comfortable with, so I never showed it to the class.
The Portable Frank, by Jim Woodring - I got quite a bit of use out of this. Out of two classes, approximately two students didn't hate it. Bless them.
Paul Auster’s City of Class, adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzuchelli - I've had this in my classroom, and a kid flipped through it once, but I've never used it.
Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay - I showed them a Little Nemo strip and we discussed Winsor McCay's historical importance.
Krazy Kat, by George Herriman - I showed them a Krazy Kat strip and we discussed George Herriman's historical importance. 
Peanuts, by Charles Schulz - We spent a day or two on Peanuts. Who doesn't love Peanuts? More people than I expected.
“A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, by Neil Gaiman and Kelley Jones - Never got to this one, unfortunately. I wish I'd squeezed it in.
“This Man, This Monster!”, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby - I really wish we'd read this one. It probably would have been heartbreaking, though; I love this comic so much that I probably would have let the students' derision get to me. 
“The Girl in Superman’s Past!”, by Bill Finger and Wayne Boring - We did read this one. It's less exciting than the two previous stories, but it's shorter. I used it as an example of a post-Comics Code comic.

So, overall, I did what I said I would. I can sleep easy tonight. But wasn't I originally going to write about the research project? Indeed I was, but this has gotten too long, so I'll save that for another day.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The End of an Era!

And so, at long last, we come to the end of our time with Persepolis. Today was the test, which means I got to spend both classes walking around the room watching people take the test. Which is boring yet also strangely satisfying. 

The students seemed fairly confident about their answers, and I only got a few looks of despairing confusion. 

When many of us think of education, we imagine a foundation of knowledge, and we imagine ourselves building on that foundation. We introduce concepts so that we can build on them and move on to more complex concepts. When you are an English teacher, you think, "They don't seem to know what 'theme' is. I will teach it to them, and then we can move on and explore the way different authors develop their themes." And you go over "theme," and you define it, and discuss it, and do activities with it. And, for the most part, they correctly answer the questions on the quiz. And then they forget it. And you realize that, there was not a strange gap in their education--all their previous English teachers have taught them what "theme" means, every year since they were young, and when they got to your class they still acted as though they had never heard the world. 

After awhile you get tired of hearing, "Give me the test, quick, before I forget everything!"

Nowadays I don't have unrealistic expectations about these things. I knew yesterday, when I included a theme question in the Persepolis test, that multiple students would ask me, "What's a theme?" The same students who asked me last time I gave them such a question. Since I knew that going in, I didn't let it bother me.

Okay, okay, I'm generalizing here. . . I do have students who know what a theme is, and theme is a trickier concept than plot. But you get the idea. My students tend to be so focused on "What do I need to do in this moment in time, to pass this test?" that they often overlook "How can I internalize this concept so that I might be able to use it later?" Maybe that's a natural side-effect of the way our educational system is structured; who knows?

Still, I am going to hold on to the belief that, by reading Persepolis, they have learned something about Iran, and expanded their understanding of the world. That's totally possible.