By Chris Wilson
For the past two weeks, the fourth graders in our Hall of Heroes comic book club have been studying the art of comics creation. From word balloons, to panel size and placement, to context clues in the art, our students are looking at comics from the side of the creator rather than the reader.
Sure, we want the kids to be personal and expressive and create their own products. That's important. However, we have other specific academic implications at play as well. By studying how writers and illustrators create their craft for readers students discover the layers of literature that make reading so powerful. It's an end-run to teaching inference, context clues, and author's purpose. We ask: "Why did the illustrator draw it like that?" "Why is that there?" "What does this tell us about the author's intent? What was he or she trying to tell you?" "Can you do that? Give it a try."
We are using ADVENTURES IN CARTOON, my single favorite comics creator textbook for kids. The kids love it. I simply throw it onto the Smart Board using a document camera and we explore storytelling, stopping every so often and giving them a chance to try it out. How do you make a character look like they are running? How do creators show movement of time? How do they hide clues in the text and art?
Then the kids go home and practice, knowing we will publish their comics on this website. While we practice what good readers do when reading, by showing them the back-side, we can explore how good authors and illustrators help readers be ... well, good readers. A combined front-side and back-side approach to literacy solidifies the learning especially for struggling readers.