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, Iâ€™m a low-down, pilfering lesson thief. But Iâ€™m also a comic artist. So you know, really, deep down, Iâ€™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 didnâ€™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 oâ€™ 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 (weâ€™ll call him Nic for short since he doesnâ€™t mind, and thatâ€™s not his real name anyway).
Nicâ€™s autistic. Within that spectrum heâ€™s high functioning. In his case that means heâ€™s successful — with regard to standards set for him in his independent education file — if someoneâ€™s standing next to him reminding him of the task at hand, is helping him with a subject he finds interesting, doesnâ€™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 whoâ€™s physically able, but chooses not to write, can call for some inventive measures. I was hopeful. He likes comics (heâ€™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 itâ€™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 didnâ€™t lose that day.
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 wouldnâ€™t have to make â€˜em all up as we go.