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Fleen Guest Column: Robert Anke In, “The Good Kind Of Stealing”

Editor’s note: Robert Anke is the creator of Running In The Halls; he teaches 5th and 6th grade somewhere in the great vastness of America.

Like most teachers, I steal liberally. If it gets the job done and kids like it, I’m a low-down, pilfering lesson thief. But I’m also a comic artist. So you know, really, deep down, I’m a pretty good guy.

Anyway, sticking with tradition I was left with no choice after coming across an article in Fleen that caught my interest: a guy at a Library using comics as a tool for teaching writing? How cool is that? More importantly: how come I didn’t think of it, and why am I not using it RIGHT NOW?

So I went into class the next day with the spoils from my latest heist and a handful of my comics. I blanked out the text from several that I thought would lend themselves to a wider variety of interpretation and ran off bunches o’ copies of each. I sent an email to the staff with a link to the article, hoping to inspire, and set to work…

…herding Nicolas (we’ll call him Nic for short since he doesn’t mind, and that’s not his real name anyway).

Nic’s autistic. Within that spectrum he’s high functioning. In his case that means he’s successful — with regard to standards set for him in his independent education file — if someone’s standing next to him reminding him of the task at hand, is helping him with a subject he finds interesting, doesn’t require him to write, and gives him a good, long break every ten minutes or so. As you can imagine, teaching writing to a child who’s physically able, but chooses not to write, can call for some inventive measures. I was hopeful. He likes comics (he’s a pretty good guy too).

Usually Nic spends a good portion of his day in the company of our resource teacher and her aides. There he receives the small-group and individualized attention, and constant refocusing, necessary for him to reach his goals. If he stays with our larger class he requires so much redirection from me it’s actually a detriment to the class as a whole. But, on occasion, when the content will be something that hooks him, I keep him with us and hope for the best. And literally, we win some, we lose some.

But we didn’t lose that day.

Wow.

That kid, as well as all the others, wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. It was amazing. Just as readers take their past experiences and combine them with text to create subjective realities within the pages of books, the kids took in the illustrations, put them in their brain blenders, and came up with an incredible array of interpretations. The teacher in the room adjacent to ours had even more renditions. It seems the blanked out comics provided a training wheel effect that had just the structure and all the freedom necessary for a truly successful writing lesson. We could see almost immediately how this method of teaching could be used to hone in on various modes such as narratives, summaries, or persuasives as well as the many facets in the craft of writing itself: organization, precise word choice, voice, etc. The possibilities are … well … really, as wonderfully messy a science as teaching writing is, you could say the possibilities are close to endless. Now if someone would just write those lessons down and put them in a place accessible enough for us to steal, we wouldn’t have to make ‘em all up as we go.

“Now if someone would just write those lessons down and put them in a place accessible enough for us to steal, we wouldn’t have to make ‘em all up as we go.”

So… what would be required for this? Do you just want dialog-less strips, with blank talk-bubbles, or are you looking for something that somehow specifically targets a particular writing skill.

Note that I have no idea how to do the latter. The former is just a quick pass through Photoshop.

As the person responsible for the Create a Comic Project, I heartily endorse this kind of “theft.” It’s awesome that my simple little project could achieve such wonderful results in a real school. Thank you, Robert!

Also, you can get more templates by going to the CCP website:

http://ccproject.comicgenesis.com/templates.html

Still no formal lesson plans, yet. I’m going to write those up soon, though.

I occasionally give a primary-school teacher aquaintance of mine some pen drawings of animals for them to take into class, for colouring in and whatnot. For some reason it never occurred to me to donate some de-worded comic strips.

Probably because they tend to be lewd.

Dialogueless Schlocks? How could I pass that up! If you wouldn’t mind, I’d be most obliged.

The request was actually written for the sole purpose of having a tie-back ending to the piece (which we work on in class too). I actually enjoy creating lessons. It’s one of the artistic elements to teaching that I find most enjoyable.

Thanks for the space Gary, thanks for the inspiration John, and thanks for the offer Howard!

[...] from the past: Robert Anke, whom you may remember from the miserable annals of this page (where he is duly enshrined), would like you to know that he has collected all his various creative [...]

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