Tag Archives: Instructional Design

Review of Teaching Graphic Novels by Katie Monnin

Teaching Graphic Novels

Cover - Teaching Graphic Novels

The subtitle of Dr. Monnin’s book is, “practical strategies for the secondary ELA classroom” and I am happy to say that she has definitely placed her emphasis on “practical.”  Ready-to-use materials are the best for the weary classroom teacher looking to liven things up.  What’s great, though, is the accessible theoretical basis for how using graphic novels can and should be a seamless experience in an ELA context.  Bottom line: if you are looking for a few back-pocket activities to spice things up, they are here.  However, a systematic use of the activities and theories described herein will engage your students in ways you, your administrators, and their parents want them to be.

There is nothing technologically amazing here.  There are no links to SMART activities.  There are no gadgets.  What you get here are soundly-designed instructional activities meant to scaffold students of all literacy levels into a critical engagement with visual and print based texts.

What I love: The direct approach and accessible language.  Dr. Monnin may have fancy credentials, but she is a reader at heart and wants to help other people love reading.  This fact is evident in how simply she has designed the activities and the handouts that support them.  I am happy to see that many of the novels and artists that Dr. Monnin recommends are already in use in my classroom – in fact, this external support has encouraged me in the knowledge that I am on the right track with building parallel visual and textual literacies.

What I’d love to see made better: A purely nerdy part of me wished for easier signposting for the different activities.  Sometimes, I wasn’t sure if I was in a new section or in another part of the previous section.  I figured it out, but I had to think about it (this, I think, is not a fault of Dr. Monnin as much as it is a design issue to be discussed with the book’s publisher.

All in all, I intend to put this book into the hands of my ELA and literacy specialists at the school as soon as possible.  There are a lot of possibilities for our population in graphic novel study.  Buy it, read it, use it!


Putting the iCart before the iHorse?

This article by Frederic Lardinois is a brief that describes how at least two universities plans to furnish all new students with an iPad and/or a small Macbook.

I applaud these institutions for their forward thinking, but I hope this move will provide publishers with the impetus for producing content that is actually designed to take advantage of the new tools.   Lardinois points out that publishers would be wise to leverage the interactivity that is possible with a tool like the iPad.  I would like to go further and say that it’s up to educational professionals of all stripes to take action and be creators of content that actually serves the purpose of education.

Books, for the most part, do what they are supposed to do.  As one student surveyed for this article states, the interaction that is possible with a paper book is exactly what he wants in an educational resource.  There is no reason to move to an electronic tool when the hard-copy works so well.  What smart publishers are doing with their educational content is finding where books are lacking (see the video below) and producing content that is interactive in a way that a print resource cannot be.

As educational professionals, we should be looking at ways that our content is working well and ways that it is not.  The only way to do that is to be constantly aware of the objectives we are trying to achieve.  With that always in our minds, it will be clearer where new tools like the Kindle or the iPad are best employed.

For more information, check out Lardinois’ other writings on ReadWriteWeb.

Games and the Future of Learning

TED presenter Jane McGonigal posits that game play can hold the answers to some of the world’s largest issues.

What I love about this is that her talk combines a few things that I think are vital when looking at education in the 21st Century.  Yes, people like games like WOW but I don’t think we have to turn schools into games in order to be successful instructors.  The things that WOW and school should have in common (but DON’T) are the the four things that McGonigal shows that massively multiplayer games teach really well: Optimism, Socialization, Fulfilling Engagement, and Epic Meaning.  Schools ought to be one of the places that people learn to become “Super-empowered hopeful individuals” rather than meaningless hamster cages (which, sadly, many schools can claim to be).

I am going to try this game, Evoke.  I am going to share it with my students and see if they want to play.  You can see how I am doing here.  I think it could be a really cool opportunity to deepen our discussions of current events in our class.  It is also the first really functional use I’ve seen of Transmedia Narrative construction with a deeply positive social purpose.

What is an EVOKE? from Alchemy on Vimeo.

What I learned from TEDx Edmonton

It was, altogether, a great day full of ideas.  This is the best way I have to describe Edmonton’s very first TED-related event.  Each of the speakers, either because of convergence or design, riffed effortlessly on the themes of sustainability, sharing, and doing what you enjoy.  What’s the most inspiring is that, whether the speaker was talking about printing new hearts or making virtual bubbles collect in your hand, each person was motivated to explore by nothing greater than childlike wonder.

The speakers’ talks are better summarized elsewhere on the web, so I will focus here on the things I left with.  First and foremost, the talks reinforced for me that I can best serve my students by facilitating the things that other schools would call “deviant” behaviors.  Barring those ideas and behaviors that, in my opinion, could cause harm to oneself or others, I can best prepare my students for their post-secondary careers by encouraging alternative approaches to problem-solving.  As Grant said in his talk, he “didn’t know [he] wasn’t supposed to be able to build” some of the things he has created and therefore was not hindered by the idea that he couldn’t.  While he very likely was accustomed to setting his own direction very early, I can help my students best by helping them find their directions and not tell them “no.”

The second thing I came away with is the importance of sharing.  In my professional context, I am one of the most sharing people I know, but that’s like saying that I’m the least-drowning swimmer in the pool.  Education is ironically one of the most proprietary places for ideas.  The resistance to sharing is always couched in the language of “building MY course,” as if it were all for the students, but I have seen more than one set of shields raised when talk of “collaborating” begins.  Early on in my career, I didn’t know that I SHOULDN’T share and so I was always trying to make connections where none existed previously.  I was met by reluctance or polite poo-poohing by other, “more experienced instructors” and I began to follow suit in the development of “MY” courses.  One thing I am happy to say never happened for me, though, was the urge to have “power” over my students by holding back any information or truth that I know.  Conversely, I have gotten trouble from students and teachers alike for talking about things that are beyond my assigned subject area that I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to talk about.  Eventually, it was working with the subject-matter experts at Guru that showed me what a properly functioning learning community could be.  When teachers share ideas and work together towards a common goal of student engagement, there is no one who will say “no” to a good idea.

Finally, and I think the thing that is most personally exciting to me, is the idea of Transmedia Storytelling as described by Sean Stewart.  In a word, this kind of storytelling weaves completely immersible narratives together from the various media fibers we now have available to us.  Modern-day “bards” are tasked with creating various rich universes and then releasing them unto the masses for creative play.  I love this idea and can immediately see ways of making my stories more accessible for people to enjoy.

At the end of the day, I left the conference excited about where our world can go if we all learn to play nice and share ideas big and small.



Last week, I received the sad news that I was not one of the one hundred Edmontonians selected to attend the uber-cool TEDxEdmonton conference.  For those of you who are not familiar with the TED organization, it is a yearly conference that brings together the best and brightest minds in technology, education, and design (as well as entertainment and humor).  The sessions are captured and streamed free from the TED website.

I use TED as a resource regularly in our classroom.  The talks cover a wide range of topics that we can use as springboards for class discussion and engagement.  In fact, our classroom is now known as the one that “watches videos and has discussions everyday.”  I want my classroom to be that classroom…the noisy one with the crazy ideas.  I know that most educators reading this may not see this as all that “crazy,” but in our school it is uncommon for students to really come together as a whole class and talk about something, so I am very happy to see students coming together the way they are.

I like to be active in the communities I discuss in class, so when I found out that Edmonton was going to hold a TED event, I went crazy trying to get into it.  There are only one hundred seats available and these must be applied for.  As I said before, I was originally told that I was not selected.  However, luck has prevailed for me in this case and I have been invited to go in place of another person who could not attend.

The lineup of speakers looks pretty interesting (and happily very Albertan).  I’m most interested in seeing Cameron Herold and Sean Stewart as their fields of expertise (youth entrepreneurship and alternate-reality gaming, respectively) are interesting to me.  I’m also interested to see other applications for smartphones as presented by Shawna Pandya and, of course, the wunder-kind wizardry of Grant Skinner (no cutting-edge Edmonton seminar would be complete without that :0).

At the end of the day, I hope I can share some of the inspiration with the youth at our school.  If nothing else, I will have a good reason to be up early on a Saturday.

I will definitely post a review of the conference here.  Stay Tuned!