This week I am doing a lot of reflecting.
I began teaching the second cycle of my Graphic Narrative Unit of Study in first grade last week. Due to it being the end of the grading period, there were many interruptions to the schedule and we only got through the Immersion Session and Lesson 1 - Introducing the Mentor Text. And that's just fine. Because I really needed to take a moment to reflect.
Today, as I sit here at my desk and look over the scope and sequence of the lessons in the unit, I am reflecting on what worked well, and what didn't work well during the first cycle of teaching this type of writing. And there was some of both! When you write a unit of study, the same process framework applies - brainstorm, pre-write, draft, revise, edit, publish.
And one more...
I know some additional teaching that must be added. For example, while the student writers understood what a speech bubble is, and even how the text within it is used to move the story along in a graphic piece, they did not understand how to write one! I did not expect the directionality of text in a speech bubble to be problematic for the students. But it was...in a huge way! There were speech bubbles with words written backwards, upside down, without spaces between them. You name it! So, I will be adding a lesson on how to write a speech bubble to our unit of study.
I also wonder if I need to add more lessons focused on the "art" of the graphic narratives. Should I add instruction that might help the students show movement better, draw clearer faces, fill more of the spaces of their panels???
And here is the fence upon which I sit, led to this indecisive position by my reflections.
How much art instruction is needed to help a first grade writer convey a complete narrative across six illustrated story panels? And, at what point does the teacher make a judgement as to the efficacy of the artwork in the storytelling process?
Let me show you.
Below are some pictures I took of the first graders' graphic narrative "strips" while I had them all at my home to work on over spring break. If you take a step back, and just look at the variety, the depth, and the individuality of these narrative pieces, you will probably feel the same stunned amazement that I did.
But, at the end of the day (and the unit), the goal was for the writers to tell a story of change. And some of them struggled to accomplish that goal with control and consistency in a story told mostly through pictures.
Back to the fence upon which I am sitting.
What level of proficiency am I expecting from six and seven year olds to be able to artistically convey change through their first grade illustrations? Our process was for each writer to take his or her six panels, lay them out upon the floor and ask a peer to "read" their stories before turning them in to the teacher. I wanted the writers to understand without a doubt that unless a reader could make sense of their graphic narratives, as drawn and written across the panels, then the work was not finished.
Not surprisingly, as writers brought their pieces to me, and as I struggled sometimes to follow the stories, they assured me that their peers had "no problems" reading them. Hmmmm.....
But, quite honestly, I eventually could read most of the stories, with verbal support from the authors! They were written and drawn thoughtfully, and revised, sometimes a lot, before they became what you see in the pictures above. And there were many very successful pieces, as well as some that were less successful. I have to remember that that's the way it is with any writing assignment.
And then, there's this writer...
But, his story line was clear. And his art was his own. He was SO PROUD of this piece.
Shouldn't that be good enough for first grade writing?
And, of course, the answer is YES! YES! YES! YES! That writer was as proud of his work as any writer I have taught. He drew and drew and revised and revised. Always with a smile. Always thoughtful about the decisions he was making. He saw no problem at all in the development of his piece.
I think I'm going to hop off of the fence now. My job, the one I love, is to coach these youngsters into the writers they have the potential to be. In this unit, I used art as a medium, but on a level at which they felt successful. The true and pure goal of this unit was to tell a story of how one changed the world through positive actions. Each of the writers of the graphic narrative strips above did that, in their first grade voices and with their first grade skills.
Moving forward with the unit in the next two classes, I am going to add a lesson on speech bubbles. And that's it. I will use the experience of the earlier teaching to coach myself as a writing teacher: You are teaching the writer, not the writing.
I hope these first grade writers never forget the time they made a graphic narrative using lots of pictures and a few words. I hope they always remember the time they made decisions and worked for two weeks and made a story about how they changed the world through their very own positive actions. I hope this unit of study builds their sense of being writers in the world.
Have a great writing week!