Comic Boom - Comics in Education

Comic Boom - Using comics for higher level thinking in the classroom with Shveta Miller

May 24, 2023 Lucy Starbuck Braidley Season 2 Episode 5
Comic Boom - Using comics for higher level thinking in the classroom with Shveta Miller
Comic Boom - Comics in Education
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Comic Boom - Comics in Education
Comic Boom - Using comics for higher level thinking in the classroom with Shveta Miller
May 24, 2023 Season 2 Episode 5
Lucy Starbuck Braidley

In this episode Lucy is joined by American educator Shveta Miller.

Shveta Miller is a national literacy leader and serves on the Governor’s Council for
Educator Advancement in Oregon as a professional learning facilitator. A former high school Language Arts teacher and author of Hacking Graphic Novels: 8
Ways to Teach Higher-Level Thinking with Comics and Visual Storytelling
, she is a
passionate advocate for using multimodal texts of all kinds to create engaged,
insightful, curious readers and thinkers who are comfortable with the complex.


Contact her at Shveta.Miller@gmail.com
Follow her on Twitter as @ShvetaMiller
Connect with her on LinkedIn

Keep up with her latest articles and resources for teachers by visiting her website www.ShvetaMiller.com.

Links to everything  discussed, including Shveta's recommendations  can be found on the podcast padlet.

 
Producer and Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay


Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Lucy is joined by American educator Shveta Miller.

Shveta Miller is a national literacy leader and serves on the Governor’s Council for
Educator Advancement in Oregon as a professional learning facilitator. A former high school Language Arts teacher and author of Hacking Graphic Novels: 8
Ways to Teach Higher-Level Thinking with Comics and Visual Storytelling
, she is a
passionate advocate for using multimodal texts of all kinds to create engaged,
insightful, curious readers and thinkers who are comfortable with the complex.


Contact her at Shveta.Miller@gmail.com
Follow her on Twitter as @ShvetaMiller
Connect with her on LinkedIn

Keep up with her latest articles and resources for teachers by visiting her website www.ShvetaMiller.com.

Links to everything  discussed, including Shveta's recommendations  can be found on the podcast padlet.

 
Producer and Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay


Hello, and welcome to comic boom. The comics in education podcast. If you're interested in using comics in the classroom, then this is the podcast for you. My name is Lucy Starbuck Bradley. And each week I'll be joined by a fellow educator, an academic, a librarian, or a creator of comics to discuss their journey. Into comics and provide some inspiration to influence your practice. And today we're joined by Shveta Miller, who is a national literacy leader. And serves on the governor's council for educator advancement in Oregon as a professional learning facilitator. She's over there in America, specializing in the visual arts. A former high school language arts teacher and author of hacking graphic novels, eight ways to teach higher level thinking with comics and visual storytelling. I absolutely love this book. I'm going to talk about it more in a minute and throughout the episode, but. I really highly recommend that text. She's a passionate advocate for using multimodal texts of all kinds to create engaged, insightful, curious, readers and thinkers who are comfortable with the complex. You will find all the details for Shveta's Twitter for her LinkedIn. And so on in the show notes, definitely connect with her. She is a very experienced and knowledgeable person. Really, really enjoy talking to her. In this episode, her book hacking graphic novels was a real find for me. I felt like it dealt with so many of the things that I've been thinking about in terms of how to really bring to life teaching with graphic novels in the classroom, as part of the curriculum, making that step from the reading for pleasure space into the study and the kind of academic rigor and the excitement that you can get from really, really thinking deeply about comics and graphic novels with a class. And that book just has so many practical tips and advice. It is written in the American educational context. So if you are not listening from America, You will have to do a little bit of translation in your mind, but it's all very, very relevant. And there are examples, right? From the early years through to secondary education as Shveta's. Bio says she is a secondary practitioner. By training. So a lot of what we talk about in the first part of the episode is relevant to older students. But I think there's definite read across to anyone who's listening who might work with younger children. And then later on the episode, we do loop back to and talk about some her learnings and experiences from creating the book. Around how to use these ideas and practices with younger children. So there is something for everyone. If you stick with it and listen throughout, I'm sure there's lots and lots of takeouts and some really great tips at the end. Just really practical activities that you can do with your class tomorrow. Lots and lots in this episode, here's what Shveta had to say.

Lucy SB:

hi Shveta. Welcome to Comic Boom.

Shveta:

Hi, Lucy. Excited to be here.

Lucy SB:

Thank you so much for coming onto the program. I'm a massive fan of your book. I wanted to start the conversation just by finding out a little bit more about you personally and how you came to be involved in comics and how that journey happened for you.

Shveta:

Yeah, I, I didn't read comics as a young reader, just from lack of exposure, I think. I didn't come to comics really as a reader or a teacher until I used it in the classroom, when I taught high school English literature in the US in New York City public schools. And at that time, I just, you know, would see these young readers in front of me, some who were already engaged in reading and others who weren't. And just really wanted to open up the possibilities of all types of texts that I could bring into the classroom and help them develop like critical capacity for engaging with the media they already consumed. And it was a time when graphic novels were becoming more, quote unquote canonized, and more scholarly attention given to them. So I didn't have to sort of battle too much resistance from school boards or administration. You know, I, I started with, with some of the most sanctioned accepted literary, you know, graphic novels to bring into the classroom. So that, that was really my introduction was I was new to it as a lot of my students were new to teaching it new to critically examining it as a cultural artifact. And new to just reading it for pleasure as well.

Lucy SB:

What were some of your first texts that you taught from and what were the kind of the, the stepping stones? How did that progress for you? Quite often, I dunno if it's the same in America, but in, in the uk you get one text that you're gonna teach, you get very familiar with it, and then you kind of keep doing that year after year. Or did you, were you able to kind of break out of that initial range that you had and, and add in LA others? Later on.

Shveta:

Yes, I started with, Persepolis from Marjan Satrapi and Maus from Art Spiegelman. So I think those at least back then 20 years ago were the graphic novels that would be brought into classrooms

Lucy SB:

I mean, I think probably the most, that'll be the most common still now that I wouldn't have thought that that would've changed much.

Shveta:

Yeah. And so those fit really well because at the time I was teaching a world literature class and, part of the, the syllabus required a unit on memoir. And so Satrapi's Persepolis was a fit for both those reasons. And it was at the time, I think around when the movie version was coming out. So it was on people's radar. And I knew my students would have some passing familiarity with it. So for all those reasons, I started with those, but very quickly I moved on to realizing in trying to plan my curriculum, how much more was out there, and really enlisting my students to do some of that research and. Discovery and investigation. Finding, finding more, graphic novels and comics of all kinds. And at the time we weren't that, familiar with web comics but over time that became a big source for my students to find additional, like lots of examples that weren't already kind of accepted and brought into the cannon and lauded and full of accolades and just established and on publishers' lists and all of that. They were finding newer works. And, you know, I kind of taught them to look for things that were, were surprising in any way in terms of what we observed. In Persepolis or Maus or some of the ones that they studied in print, like looking at what are some patterns and the ways that they are telling these stories in, in terms of techniques and structure and design and craft. And then giving them invitation to find something that looks different from that or disrupts that or experiments with what you already know. And so that once, once the world of web comics became really accessible to anyone with, with an internet connection, I sort of leveraged that and enlisted my students in, in discovering and discovering more works that we could engage with.

Lucy SB:

What did you notice was the impact on the young people that you were teaching you are, you are quite new to the form yourself, but it made you think, oh, there's actually something here. This is really interesting. This is something I can go on to develop.

Shveta:

oh, well, we'll be talking all hour about that question. Well, one of the main things that stuck with me from the very first time I taught Persepolis was, how well students were taking notes in like an active reading journal and, and looking at things like craft and structure and some of the design elements and how they contributed to theme and tone. You know, the same kinds of close reading they would do with a prose text. And I was surprised to see when I was collecting their journals and reading through them that they were res sketching some of the panels, like roughly, you know, and, and you're familiar with Persepolis then it's, it's not drawn with great, you know, artistic detail and

Lucy SB:

quite simplistic.

Shveta:

Yeah. So it, they were able to kind of re-sketch it in their notes and then, and then alongside that they were crafting their own panels. That we're telling a similar kind of story from their own experiences. So like, I had one student who took a panel from Persepolis where she's drawn from this bird's eye perspective and she's walking down a, road in the center of the road and it's a tree lined street, and the trees are colored in with dark. You know, this is all in black and white, and the trees are black and they all look the same. Just, you know, like how a five year old might draw a tree, like a big poofy cloud. And they go off into the, into the distance exiting to the corner of the panel decreasing in, size. And it, it almost looks like she's walking through a fun house mirror, you know, these replicated trees, this pattern. And, and in class when we were talking about this panel, we made observations like, what was happening in the story was that it was a big turning point. It was during the revolution when a lot of their family, friends and acquaintances left, and went to Europe and they decided to stay because Margie was in this great school that they wanted her to continue to have access to. One of the students who chose this panel to redraw with himself in it, instead of the trees and the street in Iran, he re he drew our school building, which was a six story whole city block, really imposing kind of historical building. And it had six, this school had 6,000 students in it and he had just moved there, from a different high school and he kind. Really related to Margie's experience in that panel where he felt alone and isolated and intimidated. And he, he drew the building in that same style with the windows, sort of replicating and the bird's eye perspective. And you see him down at the bottom in the front of the door. And so this, seeing this in my, in my students' journals made me realize instantly that they found a way to tell their own stories. And that wasn't something that I would see that often in, in their notes, their close reading notes for prose text, and then as I started to really explore that idea of storytelling through the graphic, form through visual text, I just would see more and more of that. Like the types of stories students were choosing to tell were ones that you could tell didn't have closure for them or were experiences they were processing or learning. They didn't have language really to describe. So it seemed very clear that like these were stories they weren't telling in prose and they needed, they really needed another tool or new tools, different tools, and that the visual medium, the blend of words and pictures seemed like a promising thing to explore for them, you know, without me having to tell them, like, today we're gonna explore how to probe our, difficult experiences using visual texts. But it was something that they, they. They discovered?

Lucy SB:

that's really, really interesting. It sounds like they were already quite confident and had a lot of exposure to the form of graphic novels. I'm just wondering how prevalent the use of comics and graphic novels is There wasn't any kind of, debate around including them in the curriculum, which sounds like this might be a slightly different, situation in America compared to the uk cuz sometimes there still is a bit of debate going around. Is that just your school specifically or is it, is it, is it a bit of a mixed picture?

Shveta:

yeah. I think that was just my individual experience at that one point in time. I think similarly to the UK it's, it's hit or miss here in the US and there are some districts maybe are seeing this in the news, just a lot of book banning happening right now. And

Lucy SB:

Yeah.

Shveta:

Florida, for example, has very extreme, laws and measures being proposed and passed, with severe limited access to books of all kinds so, and content of all kinds. So it, it's definitely still a, a challenge. And I work at the state level here in Oregon as an education leader, and I know just from that, Perch where I sit, I'm constantly in meetings or work sessions or looking at legislative policy or, a literacy framework and, and I'm sort of that voice who's always like, well, let's talk about multimodal composition, or, or let's talk about multimodal assessment, or, how can bring visual literacy into this conversation? So I, am very, active in, continuing to advocate for that. But of course there are a lot of organizations as well in the US that are dedicated to doing that kind of advocacy. As well, like, I'm part of a nonprofit. I'm on the board of a nonprofit called Reading With Pictures, that maybe your listeners might be interested in checking out online. We've got a ton of resources and research, And we put on an annual conference for teachers as well. And, they do tremendous work for advocacy. So, you know, I could answer that question in two different ways. You know, from the, from the perspective of someone like me who's really immersed in those communities, it may feel like, yes, we've made a lot of progress and this is so widespread and people are so interested in learning this. Or I could say it from like, my professional day job where I sit, you know, in state bureaucracy and in education administration and see like, well actually this is not something people are talking about.

Lucy SB:

Just as you were talking there, I was just thinking, a little, a penny dropped to this side. My suddenly a, a thought just fell into place, which is that yeah, it absolutely does need to be addressed at all levels. It is about, what happens at the government level, at the school leadership level and individual classroom practice and assessment. That all of those things do shape, you know, what goes on in classrooms. And so, yeah, it's, it, it's not just, can't just be one person's crusade. Can it? It's gotta be, yeah. Lots of different organizations and people promoting it and championing it, I guess.

Shveta:

Yeah. And I, I really see visual text as part of a systemic, solution to a, a lot of, um, inequities and challenges in, schooling. And not so much as just like a, oh, let's bring this fun text into the classroom to engage our young. In, it's like, sure, there's value in that, but I, I see a much bigger potential here. That it really is part of a, a systemic solution, to all sorts of inequities and, motivation, challenges and access, and also just rigor and, creating critical thinkers and consumers, you know, engaged citizens. People engage as, not even citizen wise, but just in their own lives and, and the things that they're viewing and walking around and experiencing and consuming.

Lucy SB:

Yeah, I think that's really, really interesting. That's definitely food for thought. And your book Hacking graphic novels, you mentioned critical thinking and your book focuses on higher level thinking, which I think might link to what you've just been saying there. So I, I'm interested if you could unpack a little bit what, you mean by higher level thinking, and why you think kind of graphic novels, comics are so suited as a kind of vehicle to promote that.

Shveta:

For that book, I wanted to move the conversation away from like I was saying before, just pure engagement, you know, bring, bring these tests and they've got pictures like kids who, who don't like reading words will like this. You know, this is how we'll bridge, them towards, you know, real reading or, complex reading or more serious reading or whatever that is. And, from my experience visiting classrooms, Across the country. I was an instructional coach and, literacy specialist and would travel across the country. And I, I would just see that there were so many missed opportunities because if you frame it that way about just pure engagement and access and bridging to real reading, then, you're not gonna have students really engage with visual texts the way that they actually demand, you know, they demand a cognitively rigorous engagement, to even really be read. And so they're, the students are just missing. They're just missing. You're, you're robbing them of this high value experience of critically engaging with visual texts, with intention and care and insight. And so I think, you know, graphic novels lend themselves perfectly to that higher level thinking. Because, the notion of multimodal reading itself is a higher level concept. Like it's something I have to introduce into spaces where I'm speaking with, with high level educators, you know, who have been in the or decades, or who've, you know, been administrator of the year, teachers of the year. You know, this is still. Just the fact that that idea of multimodal reading is still a new, strange concept to me, makes it a higher level concept. The fact that there's so much resistance and avoidance because it's not conventional or known or understood, by nature, that makes it interesting, you know, boundary pushing, exciting, scary, and to me that's what higher level thinking is. It takes you into those realms and away from familiarity and convention. And so you, because you're, you're forcing yourself out of a, a comfort zone to even think of engaging with something unconventionally rigorous with rigor like that, that concept alone makes it a very special, abstract, area to mine and explore where the, the map hasn't been, been laid out for you. And so when you bring that into the classroom, immediately you have students engaging with philosophical questions about, why certain storytelling forms are more, you know, respected with a capital R, institutionalized canonized versus why some are chronically banned and censored or just relegated to pop culture, or this is for fun. This is reading for fun, and this is, this is real reading. And so you're, you're able to now engage with those questions with students. Those, those higher order thinking questions that don't have one answer or even an answer, but they're, they're worth talking about. And then, moving on from there, just in terms of the content of the text, you know, they're suited for higher level thinking because of, in the most simplest way their abstract nature. So like we talked about with Persepolis, you know, it's not photo realistically drawn. and many graphic novels aren't, though, you know, some are, but that abstracted drawing, tho those iconic visuals that are really stripped of a lot of details, are leading some ambiguity for the reader to fill in and to make meaning from the clues that are sort of given there. And, and this is a higher level, of meaning making, you know, is required with that level of abstraction. And so, you know, when we're looking at exploring something in depth,, then the less that's actually scripted out for you in what you're seeing and what you're reading, the more cognitive load you have to carry as that reader, then that's where, where the higher level thinking happens.

Lucy SB:

There's something there I think around when selecting a text that's appropriate to use or you're gonna be able to get the most out of, in a classroom setting. There's something around quality there as well. Like how, or, I dunno if quality is the right word, but complexity maybe around choosing a text where there is enough space for interpretation. And have you got any advice on where educators could start with, with making sure that perhaps they're, they're not, you know, as you weren't at the start, they're not avid readers of graphic novels themselves at the moment, but they want to start exploring that in their classroom. Where can they start to kind of get a feel for what would be a good quality text that will get some interesting exploration out of in a classroom?

Shveta:

That's a great question, Lucy. It's a big one and I, I wanna be really careful when I give any advice out to your listeners with that. I mean, a simple one, a simple answer would be, you know, kind of to. Sure, why not do what I did? You know, I picked a widely accessible, well known, well-resourced graphic novel. There was almost a level of guarantee there. You know, like I, I may not have a lot of resistance with this. Like, people understand that, you know, this has won awards and it's on lists and, you know, you can easily order it, a class set of it, you know, from, for your school because that's done so often and there's tons of curriculum and resources available like that. That's always an easy place to start. And, there's nothing wrong with that at all. And you could simply do what I ended up doing, which is then enlisting students into, into finding other work that's contemporary. And, in my book, I give a lot of great resources for how to, how to find that, crossing all demographics and cultures and text types, as well. But, but something I will say too, that I wanna make sure is clear, Is that any text is really rich, right, and worthy of, of close study. complex or, or sufficiently abstract or all of those, those criteria, but if it isn't, it's still very valuable in terms of studying as a cultural artifact. You know? So like, what does this reveal? Who's reading this? And how is it perceived and what's being missed? And if we look at it from this context, what might it be commenting on? Or, how is this being marketed? And, what kinds of lists do we see it on? Where is it in the library? Why is it shelved that way? You know, like there's just so many ways that we can still, we really should be engaging with, with the visual texts that aren't necessarily, you know, capital A Art. But then, you know, also if you do wanna really have a text that has a lot of leverage and you can use it in a lot of different ways in the classroom, I do have some criteria to suggest. So I like to think about, and not just with visual texts, like words and pictures or sequential art, but also visuals of any kind. I like to think about, the amount of detail. Is it very intricate and complex versus spare? But again, neither one means it's more, rich, you know,

Lucy SB:

not a hierarchy there. Yeah.

Shveta:

Yeah, like with, um, with pers like the very spare drawings can be quite rich as well, but, but to at least consider that, look at those differences. And then the amount of ambiguity. So, you know, there might be some and there might be a lot. And if it's drawn very photo realistically in each panel and you go from one frame to the next and there hasn't been a significant gap in time or space or perspective, it's really just, you know, like one drinking from a cup in one panel and then the cup is placed down on the table in the next, like there aren't significant gaps in transitions that are taking you. To different perspectives and time periods and locations. Then it's less ambiguous. Or maybe if the perspectives aren't drawn from various angles or there isn't a lot of light and shadow being played with. Like, it may be less ambiguous. And again, neither one means more rich or not, or more quality or not, you know, and, but those are just elements to consider in terms of student engagement and readiness to, interrogate and, and consider all of those different elements. And then of course, issues of familiarity. So like with Persepolis where I was teaching in New York City School, I had Muslim students and students who wore vails. And that wasn't an obscure concept for, for the students walking around in the halls that are living in New York City at the time. So versus if you teach it in a different environment that might be very obscure or evocative or, provoke or activate some sorts of preconceived notions about, about those images and that content. And then the idea of content connection. So like, is this visual text or the visual, does it give you leverageable content? Like does it, is it multidisciplinary? Does it connect to multiple topics across content areas? Which I, I find like if you're only gonna teach one visual text, that is, that might be something to prioritize. Is that, is it something that students can now connect to the, what they're learning across the school day, which, you know, is, should really always like individual subject area teachers like we have here may, not very often. Do, they collaborate, you know, in lesson design and curriculum. Which is a huge, loss. So, you know, the power within your sphere of change, you know, within your, own, capacity in the texts that you choose, can you provide, opportunities for students to make those connections across content areas or challenge what they are learning about a historical event or a scientific phenomena like, like climate change or, does this allow for unique insights and perspectives on something they're already learning and acquiring vocabulary around, that can round out sort of the traditional sources and texts they're already learning from.

Lucy SB:

Do you feel like there's a bit of a shift in mindset that teachers need to go through? Because with the more modern books or with, graphic texts, there's not necessarily that kind of clear cut right answer of how things should be interpreted.

Shveta:

I think maybe, maybe there's a little more element of ambiguity, with the words and pictures combined than there is say, when you're reading, a prose novel. But it's still, this is where I, how I tried to make progress with school districts using graphic novels is in this US where, a lot of our curriculum state by state is modeled, um, after the, what, what we call the common core standards, and we use for teaching, literary skills, the common Core language arts standards. And so I really tried to use language from those standards around close reading and and critical reading to show like, well, you would still be doing those same skills to the same standard in a visual text, which is all. Your interpretations are supported by logical reasoning and evidence from the text. Like there, it's not, you know, an opportunity to just say like, well, I think this author is making this point. And it's like, okay, well let's, let's explore that. You know, how, what do you, how do you know that? What did you read, that supports that. What evidence can you cite and, and unpack it for us, you know, make, make the connections. And, and they're usually doing that in writing and speaking, and with visual texts, it's simply, you know, oh, okay, tell me, well, what do you see that makes you say that? You know, you can't just say like, oh, well this character's angry and she hates wearing the veil. Okay, that's an interesting claim. I wonder more about that. What do you see that makes you say that? Oh, we'll see here, like her, her, her mouth is drawn upside down. Like she's frowning. And, and the only other detail in the panel is that she's wearing a veil, so it must be because of that. Oh, okay. Well, what, what else, if we look again, what else can we find, do we see any details that might, contradict that? You know, so it's like, it's really the same skills you're doing

Lucy SB:

Yeah. Still about evidence, reasoning,

Shveta:

Exactly.

Lucy SB:

you advise in your book, not to. From the outset teach the vocabulary of comics. That to instead sort of allow students to explore and see what they, what they can find themselves independently from that knowledge of the kind of technical terms of, the panels and so on. What was the thinking behind that? What led you to that kind of conclusion that that was the best practice?

Shveta:

Yes. Well, I, have been, I'm a curriculum designer as well, an instructional designer. And so I am always engaging with these questions when I design lessons. That the idea of when is it appropriate for, to have sort of a direct instruction, explicit instruction, approach here, and when is it appropriate to have it be more student-centered or constructivist or, you know, discovery led. Like there's all different terms, but you, you see, the binary, at least that, that's kind of a big binary here in the US in terms of like direct instruction versus student-centered and.

Lucy SB:

Yeah.

Shveta:

There's synonyms for either side, but I think, most educators realize you want both. You know, you would, you're al you're incorporating both. And the questions we need to ask when we're designing is, you know, is it better suited in this moment for direct explicit instruction or for a student-centered approach? And what helps me make those decisions is really asking, well, at what point do I need students to be doing the thinking? The interesting thinking, when do I need students carrying the cognitive load versus me explaining that or the teacher sort of guiding them through and modeling and demonstrating that. And so I, I ask as well, you know, well, what is lost? What would be lost if the direct instruction approach would be taken here? And does that outweigh the benefits of using the direct instruction approach in this circumstance? So I, you know, in that case some of the research on, you know, when you would use explicit instruction and really walk students through the content or give them the information would be like, would it really be taxing their working memory if they had to sort of discover that all on their own in order to really get to the interesting part of testing it and experimenting with it and manipulating it and applying it and different hands-on experiences. You know, so, so sometimes it makes more sense to like, well it would be a tax on their working memory for them to do all of that. It would be really inefficient and they never would really get to the point where they'd be working with that information in an interesting way. Then it would make sense, you know, to front load that with direct instruction and explicit instruction and really give them that content so then they could get to the interesting part. But in this case that you bring up with, you know, showing them this is how you would read a graphic novel. Like, look over here. This is called a Bleed. When the image goes beyond the frame, it's bleeding out of the border. Or look over here, you know, this is called emanata. It shows, emotions without words or squiggly lines and whatnot. It would be like direct instruction. This is how you read a graphic novel. And so in that sense, I really had to consider, well, like what is, what is gained by doing that? And then what is lost and. Is, is it a reason, is there a reason to do that? Because it would be too much of a tax on students working memories to not have that vocabulary front loaded and engage directly with the visual text themselves. And my answer was no. That wouldn't be too much to ask. You know, that students are, are born essentially with the capacity to look and we can leverage all of our sighted, sighted children and, and we can leverage that, that inherent ability, that innate ability and that urge to wanna see things for themselves and point to things and describe them. And. And list them and observe them and then make meaning from them by, by sort of telling a narrative about what's happening in this panel, in this picture. Um, and so I also, you know, found that just through hands-on experience in the classroom that when I, I did give myself, when I did give them the terms ahead of time, and so like, well, here's how you read it. You go from left to right and then down in a diagonal you do a Z across the page. And, um, no, the vocabulary we're gonna use, it's like this is a splash page because you see how the blah, blah, blah. And I've just found that it became, it, it created really rigid, rigid readers of visual texts that are often not following. You know, a set of standards and rules that, to me, the most engaging visual text are the ones that are experimenting with the idea of a splash page or experimenting with the idea of e or any of those tools. And, and it may not look the way that you, you taught it to them in the first place. And so then if you're telling students very early on, this is what a bleed is, this is what a splash is, here's an example. It, it creates this kind of like reliance on that definition and, and an avoidance to really think outside of that and to spot examples of when that's being challenged and in and played with in interesting ways. And it, it kind of just seemed to turn their brains off to really doing a lot of the looking and observing themselves. And what I found was when I have them first just look at pictures and follow some of these established visual thinking strategies like naming and listing what they see and, answering, you know, what's going on in this picture and how do you know, what do you see that makes you say that? You know, using those kinds of visual cues to help students really look closely and engage with what they're seeing. they always pull out way more from the page in terms of craft and structure and design tools and devices. Then, then what? And then what would ever be provided in a, in a cheat sheet, so to speak, like in a, in that first, in that direct instruction, you can't possibly directly instruct all that information, and if you do well, then you're doing the thinking. You know, that's an example where like you're doing interesting thinking. You're taking that away from students.

Lucy SB:

And do you think that has a knock on effect in terms of, we look, think about that relationship between reading and writing consuming and creating I would imagine that they would have a positive effect on their willing to willingness to experiment when they're creating their own, Visual texts as well, because they're not thinking of it as a kind of, this is what makes us successful. Like I've got this success criteria in my head of what, what I need to include in my, in my own visual text. They're rather just able to maybe think more instinctively about what they're doing.

Shveta:

Yes. I, I think, um, maybe some listeners are hearing this and thinking, well, actually that sounds like it would be a lot harder for students to actually create visual text themselves, because there, there isn't a guide in terms of starting with like, okay, include four panels and one splash and one bleed, and, you know, this sort of checklist that often we do with, with writing, you know, with the traditional essays. But I think so all of that, you know, we don't wanna overwhelm students with possibilities for sure. And, and cripple them in terms of like getting started on their own and make committing to some choices. I think if we're providing opportunities to do that throughout the reading process, you know, in small bursts, like, uh, a warmup for the day, like, let's look at this image, you know, it may not be connected to the content or to the book you're reading, but. It's an image, you know, and it's worth engaging with, and we just have five minutes of practice. What do you, what's going on in this picture? You know, what do you see that makes you say that? And, and then, you know, maybe asking like for a five minute homework assignment or something, like out in your community or in your home environment or in your sports practice or wherever you go outside of school. Like what, what is, uh, something that you haven't looked at, you know, very closely, but you see it every day, or you walk by it every day. It could be a, a billboard type image, or it could simply be an object you pass by and, you know, look for, look at it for five minutes and, and just make a list, you know, and on your note pattern and your phone. And, highlight the, the most surprising detail you actually discovered when you just took the time to look at that. With care and attention and bring, bring that to class tomorrow. You know, just share the most interesting highlight. So I think when we're doing small bursts of that kind of critical engagement, students are developing a repertoire of not just a language, but, but of strategies. And then even when, when you're crafting the stories with them, you know, you're, you're helping them with some questions and guidance around, well, what is the effect you're, you're trying to get at here? What do you want your readers to feel? What do you want them to wonder? And not always to know, right? Because like, Will Eisner, said, you have to give up some element of control when you're, when you're writing sequential art. Because you can't control, you know, how, how images are gonna be read. Like there really isn't a universal visual language the way that. You know, kind of with, with like an English word, you know, we see a word and it, you know, has phonemes and, and it means a certain thing. The sounds mean when they're together, they mean this word and that word has a certain meaning. Of course, it can change in some context, but like with visuals, there's a little bit more of a lack of control around how the images and their juxtapositions are gonna be interpreted. So having students think through like, well, what do you ho what do you want, what do you want readers to wonder experience, in this page? And what are some ways you've experienced that in visuals? What are some of those techniques that stand out to you? Well, you don't remember. Well, let's go back, let's go back to our journals. Let's go back to some of our discussions. Some of you know the notes that are on our, on our chart papers in the room or whatever, whatever you've been doing to document.

Lucy SB:

And so how do the journals work? They have like a book that they can just always be making notes quite freely in, and then they kind of record their responses

Shveta:

Yes, yes. That's how I, I traditionally do it is just lined, notebooks and so nothing special, you know, no special tools required. But, however students are engaging with their prose text, like how are they doing their close reading for any book, any text, um, that they're studying. I would just use the same, the same system, you know, no need to reinvent anything, these days, you know, there's a lot of digital note taking, which I think can really be leveraged for visual texts as well, because, I mean, maybe they can take a screenshot of, if they're reading like an ebook or PDF version of the book, they can take a screenshot of a panel, plop it into their note app, or you know, whatever they're doing and they can start tweaking it. Digitally they can erase, you know, features of it. They can move, move pieces of it.

Lucy SB:

I feel like I wanna do this. This is

Shveta:

yes.

Lucy SB:

Start

Shveta:

Yeah. Cause you you create comics too, don't you? So,

Lucy SB:

I do. And I'm very amateur way, but I'm trying to yeah, definitely trying to, something I'm trying to learn and get better at and explore for sure. I'm just conscious, we've been talking a lot about older students, but in your book, you're give you give examples that you've obviously researched and spoken to practitioners, right, from the early years kindergarten right? The way through. How have you seen the approach to visual texts being used throughout the kind of years? Obviously you're not gonna be able to share all of your knowledge, but a couple of examples of where you've seen really effective practice in younger year groups would be really useful for listeners. I think.

Shveta:

Yes. Some of the same questions that I've brought up with the older students would be perfect for younger students. So, the texts would be more appropriate, you know, for their age level. But the questions and the process I think would still be similar in terms of what's going on in this picture. You know, and I know, the Visual Thinking Strategies Group, was started by the Museum of Modern Art, education Specialists in New York and has grown into this huge organization and curriculum that's used probably across the world, but definitely in the US. Which is, you know, they, they settled on this question through research, you know, what's going on in this picture because, instinctually, when we do look at images, we use a narrative structure to make meaning of it. We're telling a story to ourselves and, that was sort of the best they landed on in terms of like an opener question that was accessible to all, was simply what's going on in this picture and then following that up, well, what do you see that makes you say that? And now they start pulling out detail and really making inferences or supporting claims and doing all of those skills at, at least here in the us even in the early grades. You know, K one, two, they are, are part of our standards, you know, is teaching them that. And especially since kids may not actually be reading decoding fluently and making meaning from what they decode in those ages, well of course we should be using sequential art, of course, we should be using visual storytelling to help them really practice those skills of skilled readers. Once they can make meaning from the words themselves, they can still be practicing all of those other reading skills and standards that we strive for. By doing that with leveraging their, their innate ability to see and their interest in looking for themselves. Like they wanna, they want to see themselves, you know, we're, we're very compelled to wanna look at an image more than we are to wanna read something.

Lucy SB:

Hmm.

Shveta:

so that's, that's not just true of young children, obviously. So we're teaching our students how to approach anything unfamiliar or complex or foreign or, or that maybe doesn't have the same language you have. And, you know, we can, we can start teaching that engagement before children can even read words. And these visual texts have a built-in kind of differentiated instruction capacity. Because students who can't read the words or who are multilingual or learning English as a, as a second or third language, they don't have that shared language, but what they do have is visual language, you know, that they, they can look and see and engage in discussion about what's going on and how do they know that.

Lucy SB:

So it just brought, I've just remembered as you were talking, that was something when I first started teaching. I was the art leader and I would do for the whole school on like a once a month, an artwork of the month. And every class, all the different ages would look at the same thing in their classroom and just have like a 10 to 15 minute chat about their kind of response to it in a very similar way. And I completely forgotten that until you started talking through and yeah, it was so great for just discussion, you know, just oracy listening, all of those skills just really, and they come in like they cross over with so many other areas of the curriculum. They're just really key skills. Yeah, that was cool. I remember one artwork, this is a complete digression that I will edit out,, but I did, one of the, one of the pieces of art was this cul Ron Mueck sculpture, which is like, it was a baby sort of swaddled in brown paper and tied with string cause it was a little head poking out. And, um, to me that was about kind of special delivery. It was like a little parcel and it, it was, I had very positive connotations with that. And then one of the other teachers was very, very upset about it and thought it was horrible and that the baby was like, I dunno, tied up against its Will and wrapped in paper. So yeah, that was a bit of a learning curve for me. I had to maybe think through what, how other people might interpret things before I said she was really upset and cross about it.

Shveta:

Oh, that's funny. Yeah. I mean, yeah, you like, like Will Eisner says, you, you don't have an, there's an element of control you're giving up and it's very, can be very unpredictable, how people make meaning from visual language.

Lucy SB:

Yeah, for sure. thank you so much. When I read your book, I just got, I got so excited because I felt like, this is what we need in the world. I feel like we're as partway on the journey in the UK anyway, thinking about, comics and graphic novels being a benefit to, for reading, for pleasure, but then that almost comes with this kind of, sort of inference to it, that it's just purely, just about engagement and there isn't any other kind of, there isn't an intellectual, element to, to reading. And, and yeah, like you said earlier right at the start, that there's this sort of subtext of it's something to get children hooked onto reading, but then you need to move them off of it as soon as they, soon as they actually got going. So yeah, it was a real breath of fresh air to find something that was really, speaking to me, to the sort of thoughts that, that I had been having. And yeah, it was just such a valuable resource, so thank you.

Shveta:

Oh, that's great to hear. I'm, I'm glad it, it's useful.

Lucy SB:

It, it really is. I wondered just we, you've spoken about quite a lot of things. If you could pick out, a couple of key takeaways that you might want to leave educators listening. Just something to think about, that we can kind of summarize a couple of points at the end of the episode.

Shveta:

Sure. I would say, something I kept coming back to was this one question, what's going on in this picture? You know, it's even used as an acronym, W G O I T P. But that alone, I mean, that's a whole, that's your lesson plan tomorrow. I mean, there. Have students bring something in and we go around the room and we might only get through five of'em, but it's just a, a ready to go. High leverage, worthwhile interdisciplinary, high level thinking, question that you can use with, you know, very low maintenance, and it, it, it helps students activate that, ability already to look and to want to look for themselves. And to look again, and to use that, inclination for narrative structure to describe what you see as happening. And then inevitably, I, I guarantee you, you will see students questioning what they originally thought they saw or what they originally thought was there. And they're gonna walk away from that experience, whether it's five minutes or the whole half hour, with more appreciation and wonder about what they're looking at than they started with. And then, you know, maybe another extension or similar thing from that is whatever you're teaching, whatever age, you know, or content area, a simple ask, this would be a great, use, a great way to do a formative assessment. To, to determine sort of how students are progressing with the content or the skills is, it's called line color symbol. You know, ask them to draw a line or choose a color or, or create any kind of symbol, that represents what they understand about X, you know, so it might be, oh, we've been learning about photosynthesis. You know, I'd like you to just choose a color draw a line or make a mark on your paper. Create a little symbol that represents what you now understand about how photosynthesis works. And just the rich variety in what students come up with. And the value is really in how they explain their choice will give you a lot of insight into, into how they're, how they're thinking about the content. And then again, both of these, what's going on in this picture and line color symbol, keep in mind that they are collaborative. So students, this isn't like a teacher to student, one-to-one exchange. Students are learning a lot from how their peers are answering and engaging with these tasks and questions. And they're getting exposure to multiple ways of thinking and seeing and knowing, students are using their own, their own assets and their own funds of knowledge and culture and language and backgrounds to interpret. And so, so much more value there in terms of, you know, you really wanna leverage the fact that you're in a classroom. You have 30 kids in front of you, you know, well, how, how can we make that? How can I spend time in the classroom where I'm really leveraging the fact that I have 30 minds and 30 perspectives and 30 home experiences, and 30 cultures, like all in this one space. You know, let, let, let me do something that's gonna leverage that,

Lucy SB:

Yeah. It's so exciting when you think of it that way. Although sometimes the reality

Shveta:

right? Yeah.

Lucy SB:

30 minds in front of you can feel a little bit different in the moment.

Shveta:

Yes. I, I'm sure I'm getting some eye rolls out there in the audience listeners, like, yes, I, I admit I have left the classroom in recent years and, but I do remember that, I had 36 kids in, in each class in five classes a day and, you know, 150 notebooks to look through. And so I, I definitely empathize with that.

Lucy SB:

For the final elements that we have on the podcast is if we were to add one comic or book, could be an academic text, could be a graphic novel, that you recommend that we should add to our to be read piles tomorrow, what would you recommend us to?

Shveta:

Yes, I always struggle with that question, but I have landed on something, there is a book, I think it's from 2013, by Philip Yenawine. Uh, maybe mispronouncing the name, but, he's one of the founders of. Approach visual thinking strategies, vts. So you can certainly by the book, I find it a really rewarding read. I mean, even just reading the first five pages that are available for free on Amazon, it was going to get a lot of, you'll see a lot of what I said today, kind of echoed in there. But in terms of strategies for any grade level, starting very. I think he also wrote a version of it for preschool, but just those, those strategies, like what's going on in this picture, but a lot more than, than just that. And ways to make sure that as a facilitator of those kinds of discussions of visual texts and noticing and observing that you're doing that in an equity-based way, there's all sorts of considerations to think through. So what a rewarding read and resource. But I also wanna just say like, yes, for sure by the book and support the authors. but their website, visual Thinking Strategies has, a journal that is accessible for free on their website. And so you can, you sometimes that going to the website and reading what's there on blogs is often your best

Lucy SB:

Yeah, a nice bite sized as well. Yeah.

Shveta:

Yeah. And it's just so current and, you know, I, I feel like I really need to get on blogging because there's so many things in my book that I would write differently now and. It's too late. It's out there, it's published, you know. so check out the Visual Thinking Strategies website. And they also have an Instagram where they post, images and students can join live into a conversation across the world with students in classes all over, um, answering what's going on in this picture. So their Instagram is also a great resource.

Lucy SB:

That is really, really useful. Thank you. That sounds like a fantastic resource. I'm definitely gonna be checking that out. I've feel like, this is one of those times where I'm going down a worm hole. I'm gonna go down, I'm just gonna be obsessed by finding out as much as I had about this for the next, who knows how long. Cause it's just absolutely fascinating and I just think it's so powerful. So thank you for sharing that. And thank you for coming on the podcast. It's been brilliant to talk to you.

Shveta:

It's been great to talk to you, Lucy. I'm so happy to have been here. I hope this was interesting for your listeners and maybe I can come back another time and I'm really looking forward to the other guests You have planned

Lucy SB:

Yeah. Thank you. There's still so much more to talk about after I've gone down my visual thinking worm. You can come back and

Shveta:

talk about that together. You know, you can even sign up to be a facilitator for them for visual thinking strategies. I think they have all sorts of coaching and yeah, it's definitely a wormhole, but have fun. Have fun going down there.

We have it so much to think about from that episode, I really enjoyed talking to Shveta she has got such a wide range of knowledge on the subject and has really walked the walk in terms of teaching with comics in the classroom. So there's lots to learn. I found, I had a really good look through those websites. I have been going down the wormhole of visual literacy in all its forms and really, really interesting that website in particular. There's linked to it in the show notes, visual thinking strategies. There's lots of useful content on there and the journal is fabulous. A lot of different case studies and different examples from different age groups. so you can really dig into the kind of practicality of different activities and exercises with some background and some kind of case studies as to how they've been used successfully, which is always really useful. If you're going to start something new in your practice. If you click through to the Padlet from the show, which you'll find in the show notes, you'll find all of the links for this episode. In fact, you'll find all of the links for the whole of the series, in one easy to access place. So do check that out. What have I been doing? I've now started my drawing graphic narratives course at the Royal drawing school. And I'm really enjoying it. Uh, it's very exposing, definitely to be creating things. So it, within the one sort of three hour session, there's a stimulus discussion. And then you're there, showing what you've done to the class immediately, for critique, which usually I'd want to sit on things for a while before I let anyone see them to decide whether they like them or not. Before I let anyone else decide. But there isn't time for that in this, and there's that. That's a real learning curve. But it's been a really, really useful experience so far. And I've really enjoyed, in the kind of lecture part, finding some more. Comic artists whose work I wasn't aware of. And we looked at one this week. A comic called lavender by Sarah and I've put her website into the show notes. She is a London based illustrator and comics creator, and her drawing style is very delicate, beautiful, very stunningly paced stories. I really enjoyed looking at her work and would definitely be seeking out more of that in the future. So check that one out as well. If you're looking for something new to read. That is it for today from comic. Boom. Thank you so much for listening. Sorry about last week. I had a bit of the busy bleak, and couldn't quite get this episode out in time. But we're back. I'm not stressing about it. It's all fine. Just go with, go with the flow. Um, so thank you so much for picking back up with me and listening to this episode, do like, share with your networks and subscribe on your platform so that you do not miss an episode. and if there isn't one, your note is my fault. Not yours. Um, but thanks very much. You've been listening to comic boom, which is presented by and produced by V. Lisa. But really thanks for listening.