Saturday, August 21, 2010


By Chris Wilson

First year teachers struggle … a lot, but I might as well tell you the sun is a big, hot object because you already know that high quality instruction is a daunting task and that the first year teacher spends most of his time surviving, learning and building towards mastery.

I teach K-4 technology in a computer laboratory setting with excellent national standards leaving me open to explore and interpret technology use in very broad terms. I choose to use the state standards in each grade level as my guide for teaching. That is to say, I consult the second grade standards established by the State of Missouri and use those goals as the crux of my lessons and use technology to support those goals for second graders. This approach allows students to explore and apply the classroom curriculum in a new setting and it promotes teamwork as we all work toward similar goals, whether in the grade-level classroom or the specials classroom. Naturally, I also use comics along with technology as a device to learn.

Communication arts and math are the top priorities for most states and my students are no different. Language is a cornerstone to being able to function and excel in the world. My grandmother, a teacher for 33 years often told her students, “If you can read, you can do anything,” and she is right. Phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension and story sequencing are vital to a young child’s success later in school. As a technology teacher, I want to reinforce those key elements and help my students achieve, while engaging them using a technological perspective.

Last year I was a first year teacher and I was struggling to help students achieve these lofty communication arts goals while using technology and do it in a way that is meaningful and authentic. Many of the sites out there are more game or fluff than education. I do not want to waste my students’ time and energy goofing around.

When Bob Levy from Professor Garfield called me during my plan and lunch break at school last year, I nearly came undone. He spent an hour taking me through the Professor Garfield website and I was electrified at the opportunity to engage my students in the technology-based learning. I spent the entire year using Professor Garfield with my students, all of them. It simply was incredible.

I started out using TOON BOOK READER, which offers 11 comics published by TOON BOOKS. Since each student has his or her own computer, the children were able to sit down and read each comic at his or her own pace, clicking through the pages. If the student chose, which most did, he could have the book read to him. Most books are offered in numerous languages including Spanish, French, Russian and Chinese. I often allowed my English Language Learners (ELLs) to read the books in their native languages first and then read it in English. With Kindergarten and first graders, I often displayed the comic on the Smart Board as a big book, and read it to the entire class. One time I assigned a comic and gave the students the opportunity to read it at their computers or stay up front with me and I would read it aloud at the Smart Board. I often used the comics as a springboard to introduce a subject or enhance another technology project.

I created several lesson plans using TOON BOOK READER. This included having students read the book and then blog about it. I also had students read the comic and then compare and contrast with other books with which they were familiar.

I quickly started using TRANSPORT TO READING with my K-first graders to promote phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency and comprehension. TRANSPORT has two settings: an island and a farm. Orson’s Farm focuses on phonics such as blending, rhyming words, and phonemic manipulation. Garfield’s Island focuses more on story.

I used READING RING mostly for sequencing. That takes three Garfield panels and scrambles them. The student must then arrange the panels in order. When completed, the student must then answer questions about the reading to ensure comprehension. It is a real student favorite.

Not only can a student read a comic, but she can create her own in either the COMICS LAB or the COMICS LAB EXTREME. In COMICS LAB EXTREME, students can save their work and come back later, which is an important aspect for me as I only have students for 50 minutes. The exciting part is that students can create something based on the standards being taught. If we are learning about the life cycle of a plant, the students can create a comic on that subject and include the required information while still being creative. I can assess their learning (science and technology) and they can enjoy the process.

The Professor Garfield website is incredible. It is so dense that was not able to make use of all its capabilities last year. However, I will expand this year and give my students more to explore this year. The TEACHER’S LOUNGE gives a great overview of the site and how to use it. It also offers a site map to explain each section, gives grade levels and a break down of the topics covered. The site map is available below in pdf and web:

The multi-award winning site is a must-have for any teacher who has an Internet connection and a projector. Technology and eMINTS certified teachers are in for a real treat. The breadth of the site is unbelievable. 
This week is the second full week of school and my first graders (approximately 100 of them) will experience the free inference lesson plan located in the Teacher’s Lounge at Professor Garfield, which is designed for use with the free online comic BENNY AND PENNY IN THE BIG NO-NO. The lesson was written by Peter Gutierrez, who has contributed to The Graphic Classroom before. I am so excited to use his lesson plan to teach what students learn in the classroom as well as technology.

1 comment:

Amber Mann said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing the Professor Garfield link. That's a really neat site with a lot of useful activities!