​I Use Comic Books To Teach

​I Use Comic Books To Teach

By  Kevin Garcia

Truth be told, using comic books in the classroom is by no means as unusual or risqué as it might have once been. Nowadays, comics are considered a legitimate teaching tool for any subject. Here are some I’ve used in class.

Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is one of the resources I turn to when teaching students about the origins and nuances of written language.

A warning beforehand, I tend to use bits and pieces of literary works in class, as it helps keep the perpetually short attention-spanned students at least somewhat involved. Several students have continued reading the books on their own – and honestly, reading should be for fun anyway, not for a grade.

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

This is an amazing autobiography in which a woman looks back on her childhood in revolution-era Iran. This book is ideal for a teacher, in that it is broken up into bite-sized bits that can be used separately from the main text.

I use “Shabbat,” which spotlights Marji’s childhood days of hanging out with friends, shopping, talking about boys and avoiding Iraqi bombs. With the exception of the last bit, this helps my students – most of whom have never gone more than 50 miles from the place of their birth – connect with someone from a culture different from their own. It also shows a little-shown aspect of Muslim-Jewish relations: Muslim and Jewish kids can be friends (a revelation to my students, as Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians make up less than one percent of the local population).

Oh, and I am eternally grateful for VLC Media Player, once I learned I can record short segments for class, rather than playing an entire movie (sorry, students who would rather spend two or three days watching a film). This allowed me to record just the part of the pretty dang good 2007 film that applied to the reading.

I do not go into the second volume of Persepolis, as it goes into areas of self-discovery that some of the more impressionable students might take the wrong message from.

Maus, by Art Spiegelman

​I use comic books to teach

This one goes without saying, of course. Stories about World War II have long been
part of the curriculum, but Maus’ anthropomorphized sort-of-autobiographical take on the Holocaust provides a unique take that helps students intimidated by more verbose literary accounts or distanced by cinematic versions. Side note: it’s amazing how many students don’t know that some movies are based on real life – they didn’t know Titanic was based on a real event (yet they were devastated when I said “Rose” and “Jack” weren’t real).

This is one graphic novel that I use (nearly) all of. There comes a point in which many students get too bored, and I need to shake up the readings a bit to keep them going (before you cry “foul!” remember that some of my students are struggling to learn English, and others will – hopefully – be the first in their family to graduate high school and go to college), but the complex modern story and intriguing historical setting is enough to keep them going for a long while. And again, many go back and finish the story on their own.

Interestingly, the modern story bits about dependency, suicide and family problems
helps a lot of students look at emotional issues from a new angle.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

​I use comic books to teach

I use the flashback story from the second volume of the Scott Pilgrim saga (don’t sue me King) because it is a nice, self-contained vignette that can be understood without knowing anything else about Scott Pilgrim.

It helps that there exists an animated version of the same scene.

This is usually one of my first-day readings for British literature (Canada counts as British, right?) as it’s a fun way to get kids into the process of reading.

Watchmen, by the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

​I use comic books to teach

Speaking of British lit, Watchmen is a great resource. No, I don’t use the entire graphic novel – a little too much full-frontal nudity for most classrooms – but I do use the first issue. And thanks to DC’s continual reprints (which, unfortunately, keep Alan Moore from getting his book back), I now have a class set of issue #1 (no penises in that issue).

Here’s how it worked: I found out DC was reprinting issue 1 as a $1 intro to draw in new readers, so I asked the comic book store to order me 30 copies. Being all around cool dudes, they cut me a deal so I could get them at cost (or near to it), allowing me to fairly affordably get enough copies for all of my students to read together.

No, I do not play the movie in class. I can sometimes
be persuaded to play Rorschach’s monologue.

Superman: the Dailies, by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

​I use comic books to teach

Superman I use when teaching American lit, because what’s more American than an undocumented immigrant, adopted by a poor family who goes on to become the most famous person in the world?

More specifically, I use the opening scenes of Krypton. These were barely touched on in the original newstand comics, but in the newspaper editions, Siegel and Shuster went into detail, showcasing the world of Superman’s birth for the first time.

I use this to illustrate the differences between mediums. Kids read this version, act out the radio play version, watch the Richard Donner version, and if I have time, the 90s animated version as well.

They can see how some elements were repeated, some changed for the medium or era, and some forgotten about altogether.

Yotsuba, by Kiyohiko Azuma, and Chi’s Sweet Home, by Kanata Konami

​I use comic books to teach

I use these two when working with English language
learners (ELLs, also LEP for limited English proficient).

Both stories have simple narratives and feature young children as the main characters. There’s no over-arching plot involving demon princesses or time traveling alien robots, just simple family life presented in extremely cute packages. Sadly, the official translation of Chi’s New Home features baby-talk, which does not help students trying to learn English, but it is fun to think that “chi” is slang for urine in both Japanese and Spanish.

Calvin & Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes, and for that matter Far Side, are often included in literature books, and honestly, they are great ways to get kids into something with only a few panels.

I haven’t used these for full lessons yet, but I have used them to supplement other things.

Doraemon, by Fujiko Fujio

​I use comic books to teach

Interestingly, this is one title better known to my students from Mexico than many US comic book readers. It seems the most popular cartoon in Japan was dubbed in Spanish and put on Spanish television, but not in English (at least, not that I’ve heard).

I was lucky enough to go to Japan several years ago as part of the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund, and as part of the deal, I was supposed to tell American students about what I learned overseas. The deal was for me to talk about it one year, but I now make it an annual (sometimes bi-annual) event. I dress up in a kimono, put on geta and bring out a kendo sword (I’m careful to point out that I am not “dressed as a Japanese person” but rather “dressed as an American wearing random Japanese things” – it’s a culture, not a costume). I have multiple lessons I created to tie into Japanese culture, but one of the simpler ones involves using an ELL version of Doraemon I found in a Japanese bookstore. The same book intended to teach Japanese students English, now teaches my students.

Others for later…

​I use comic books to teach

I have not yet incorporated these two directly into my lessons, but I’m planning on it for later – probably the next time I teach British lit – but I have incorporated them somewhat.

Every November 5th I encourage my students to remember, remember.

So anyway, that’s what I teach with.

An Alternate Take On The “Close Reading” Standard

An alternate take on the “close reading” standard

By Mike Fisher

The first standard in the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading under the Common Core State Standards for Language Arts says, in part, that students should “read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.”

There has been a national push to get “close reading” into the curriculum in a variety of ways, and much of the new offerings from almost all of the vendors focus on close reading as an essential instructional skill.

Let’s take a few steps back and look at this from a more aerial standpoint. We are interpreting this in a slightly biased way, I think, dependent upon the resources we are using and how adherent those resources are to what “close reading” should be. Consider this: the anchor standard is the ONLY place that the phrase “reading closely” is mentioned; it is not used again in any grade-specific reading standards.

When we focus on a portion of a standard or decide to agree with what vendors tell us, then we lose the intention of the standard. The intention of this standard, and all of the other reading standards, is for students to comprehend what they read. The skill of reading closely is great, but that is not the objective. Reading comprehension is the objective.

In order to get to comprehension, the focus should not necessarily be on all the ways students closely read a text, but on the evidence they provide for thinking what they think. Metacognition is where it’s at. The important words in the standard are not necessarily “read closely,” but rather “what the text says explicitly.” The grade0level standards are pretty clear about what students need to know and be able to do. At the lower grade levels, they must be able to ask and answer questions about specific details in the text and then in sixth grade, the verb changes. In sixth grade, the students have to “cite evidence” that supports their thinking, which becomes sophisticated over time depending on the best evidence to support their thinking and evidence across multiple texts.

This can be done through “close reading,” and it can also be done through new questioning habits that focus on the details. This can be done whether we are developing “close reads” or not.

When all of this hullabaloo around close reading started, I admit, we read books at home with our six-year-old and we explored main ideas, gists, and re-read text to support the main idea with text-dependent questions. I would try stuff out on her that I was going to use with teachers in workshops, but she caught on to me quickly. She became wary of reading with me and said to me that she would do so, but only if I “don’t test her.” Close reading at home turned into disruptive fluency; we overused it.

What we’ve shifted to at home lately has more of an emphasis on text-dependent questions that are developed in the moment and focus on important details rather than overall main idea. I rarely disrupt her reading to ask a bunch of questions, waiting until we’ve finished a story or a book to ask questions that would require going back to a particular page and providing specific evidence of her thought processes. Often, it is just a question or two, which seems to go over better than the close reading I was forcing her to do. I’d like to note though, that we’ve extended this into her writing as well. She thinks of story ideas and the main message she wants to get across, brainstorms the details and then writes. Often the stories involve the same revolving cast of characters: ponies, princesses and Spongebob Squarepants, but discussions about details in her writing are helping her to be a better reader as well.

I also am not asking questions about everything she reads. Sometimes I just want her to read for the fun of it or because she’s interested in something. We get better at the things we do with regularity and in their totality, not because we learn sets of isolated skills and expect those skills to magically connect when it’s time to perform. Those skills always have to feed the overarching idea, which, in this case, is becoming a fluent reader, not just a close reader.

The research is pretty clear about what impacts comprehension the most: reading voluminously. Lots and lots of text at instructional reading levels is the best way to develop good readers. You don’t tell an athlete how awesome running is and then expect them to win the race. The athlete has to run, often and far, in order to be a better runner. Analysis of their running technique is great, and valuable, but it doesn’t negate the fact that lots of running is necessary to improve.

Reading is the same.

Later School Start Times Improve Sleep and Daytime Functioning in Adolescents

Later School Start Times Improve Sleep and Daytime Functioning in Adolescents

by Jeremy Dean

How much extra sleep can make a difference to adolescent depression?

A new study finds a link between later start times at school and improved mood and sleep in teenagers.

The study, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, delayed the waking up time of adolescents at a boarding school by just 25 minutes 

They found that afterwards the number of students getting more than 8 hours sleep a night jumped from 18% to 44%.

On top of this, the students experienced less daytime sleepiness, were less depressed, and found themselves using less caffeine.

Unsurprisingly, students who benefited the greatest were those who were most sleep deprived at the start of the study

The lead author, Julie Boergers, a sleep expert, said:

“Sleep deprivation is epidemic among adolescents, with potentially serious impacts on mental and physical health, safety and learning. Early high school start times contribute to this problem. Most teenagers undergo a biological shift to a later sleep-wake cycle, which can make early school start times particularly challenging. In this study, we looked at whether a relatively modest, temporary delay in school start time would change students’ sleep patterns, sleepiness, mood and caffeine use.”

The reason that most adolescents are sleep deprived is that they need more sleep than adults, but often don’t get it.

Unlike adults, adolescents need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night.

American high schools usually start at 8am and since most teens find it difficult to fall asleep before 11pm, there simply aren’t enough hours in the night.

Julie Boergers continues:

“The results of this study add to a growing body of research demonstrating important health benefits of later school start times for adolescents. If we more closely align school schedules with adolescents’ circadian rhythms and sleep needs, we will have students who are more alert, happier, better prepared to learn, and aren’t dependent on caffeine and energy drinks just to stay awake in class.”

This is far from the first study to suggest that early school start times have adverse consequences.

Others have found links between early start times and reduced academic performance, lower mood (as in this study) and even more car crashes.

The evidence seems overwhelming, but later start times remain controversial.

A common complaint is that later starts leave less time for extra-curricular activities.

However, there was no evidence of this in the current study, with students engaged in athletics and other activities for the same amount of time as before.

In addition, instead of being exhausted in the evening, they had more energy to complete their homework.

To Inspire Learning, Architects Reimagine Learning Spaces

To Inspire Learning, Architects Reimagine Learning Spaces

By Allison Arieff

As K–12 schools refocus on team-based, interdisciplinary learning, they are moving away from standardized, teach-to-test programs that assume a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. Instead, there is a growing awareness that students learn in a variety of ways, and the differences should be supported. The students often learn better by doing it themselves, so teachers are there to facilitate, not just to instruct. Technology is there as a tool and resource, not as a visual aid or talking head.

Gensler, a national architecture firm that’s working with a broad range of schools — from primary schools in redeveloping inner cities to NYU Magnet, Wharton, and Duke — is working with one of the global pioneers, the PlayMaker School in Los Angeles. Behind the venture is GameDesk, which views gaming as an interactive medium for learning.

Launched with a sixth-grade class, the PlayMaker program builds on play and explores how its young students can use a variety of tools and games to learn in new ways. Instead of classrooms, PlayMaker School has a suite of spaces that are interconnected physically and visually. There’s an ideation lab, a maker space, and an immersive gaming and learning zone where the students can try out the games they create and the software they develop. [Read more about PlayMaker School here.]

“There’s no teacher at the front,” says Gensler’s Shawn Gehle.
“The rooms are like different scenes in a video game. They inspire active learning.
Also in Los Angeles, Wiseburn School District will collocate three charter schools into a renovated 330,000-square-foot building, the former high-security offices of an aerospace firm. Given the radical change in function, “we’re basically hacking an office building, using strategic interventions to reshape it to fit the schools’ project-based curricula and support their combined staffs and 1,200 students,” says Gensler’s David Herjeczki.

Like PlayMaker, Wiseburn moves away from the traditional classroom, opting for neighborhoods of teaching spaces — “pods”— that open out to a large commons area for each school and an atrium that interconnects all three but provides each with a unique address.

When it comes to integrating STEM into classroom space, there are real implications for how teachers interact, says Thaler. “When you put math and science teachers together, they can cross-collaborate on lesson plans. If they’re teaching trigonometry or wave properties in math, they know they have to pull in the physics faculty also.” Schools that embrace STEM end up retraining. “They have to stretch their conception of what’s being taught.”

When Gensler first looked at the Dwight-Englewood School in New Jersey, an independent prep school, its campus planners realized that the STEM program had separate buildings for math and science. “It wasn’t really STEM,” Thaler says. “The new campus plan called for a building that would support a truly interdisciplinary curriculum.” The faculty, administrators, and the design team toured 16 private schools, colleges, and universities on the US East Coast to try to understand the hallmarks of interdisciplinary STEM.

They were inspired by facilities that “let spontaneous collisions happen,” Thaler notes, but the takeaway was less a model than a point of view. Gensler documented it in a paper on STEM education. One of its major findings was that, to succeed, STEM and other interdisciplinary programs need to create propinquity—literally, “nearness”—among their participants.

“We learned that a STEM building is not a linear thing, with math on one side and science on the other,” Thaler explains. “What we designed is like the petals of a flower, with math and science sharing the classrooms and a great melting pot in the middle.”

There are still labs. They operate in two modes: students seated around a large table or working as teams around a lab bench. The lab classrooms can shift easily between the two modes, so they’re slightly larger than tradition dictates. The idea is that you can do a math lab at the table or a science lab at the bench.

The labs have all the traditional equipment, but—designed for mobility and portability—they can be quickly reconfigured. “What’s radical about the building is that it can support the gamut—biology, chemistry, whatever anyone wants to teach,” Thaler says.

Students Skipped Buying College Textbooks Due To Expense

Majority Of Students Have Skipped Buying A
College Textbook Because They’re Too Expensive

By Tyler Kingkade

The cost of college textbooks extends far beyond the bookstore, with students factoring in textbook expenses when they decide about everything from classwork to course loads, according to a report released Monday.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a progressive research and advocacy organization, found in a survey that 65 percent of college students had at some point decided against buying a college textbook due to its high price. Of that group, nearly all — 94 percent — had concerns that their decision not to buy the book would affect their grades.

The survey also showed that almost half of respondents — 48 percent — said they factored in textbook costs when deciding how many or which classes to take.

The high cost of textbooks is just one of the many ways that higher education can exact a heavy financial toll on students. College graduates are already leaving school with an average of nearly $30,000 in student debt, according to the Project on Student Debt.

“Despite the growth of used book programs, rental markets, and e-textbooks, student consumers are still captive to the high prices of the traditional market,” Ethan Senack, the federal higher education associate for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and author of the report, said in a statement.

Students spend an average of $1,200 on books and supplies each year, according to the College Board. College textbook prices have jumped three times the rate of inflation over the past decade, U.S. PIRG notes.

However, the report suggests one thing that might help relieve students’ concerns about the price of reading material: open textbooks.

Four out of five survey respondents indicated they would do better in a course if the textbook were free online and a hard copy was optional, U.S. PIRG said. The report noted, for example, that one calculus book that costs more than $200 could be replaced by a free online version.

Legislation introduced in Congress in November would establish a grant program for colleges and universities to develop and expand the use of textbooks that can be made available online, offered with free access to the public.

Poll: Teachers Don’t Get No Respect

Poll: Teachers Don’t Get No Respect

by Julia Ryan

People think respect has declined among teachers,
administrators, students, and parents since they were in school.

“Anyone? Anyone?” a high-school teacher asks at the front of a classroom in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. His dazed students, popping bubble gum and falling asleep, gaze toward the front of the room, unaware a question has been posed. After a moment’s pause, the teacher answers his own question and drones on with his lecture while his students fight to stay awake.

This scene, set in 1986, doesn’t show much esteem for the teaching profession. (The movie doesn’t have much regard for administrators, either. Ferris continually outsmarts the cartoonishly spiteful Principal Rooney.) And yet, a recent poll found that adults believe that people respect teachers and administrators even less now than then did in the past. While 79 percent of Americans said students respected teachers when they were in school, only 31 percent believe students respect teachers today, according to a Harris Poll of 2,250 American adults.

When they were in school, 91 percent of respondents said that parents and teachers respected each other, but when asked about today, only 49 percent said parents respect teachers and 64 percent said teachers respect parents.

Respondents continued to report a decline in trust between teachers and students: When they were in school, 86 percent said teachers respected students, but only 61 percent say that is true today. Eighty-eight percent said the administration respected teachers when they were in school, while 58 percent say that continues to be true in today’s schools.

Parents of school-aged children, who might be in the best position to judge the environment of today’s schools, tended to mirror the opinions of the group as a whole, except when asked about parents and students respecting teachers. While 49 percent of the total group said parents respect teachers in today’s schools, 58 percent of parents said that was true. Parents gave their children a similar bump: 40 percent believed that students respect teachers, but only 31 percent of the total group agreed.

There could be a couple of explanations for these results. Asking adults to compare themselves to today’s youth is always a dangerous game. That respondents considered themselves more respectful than today’s students is perhaps not surprising. Furthermore, asking adults to remember the environment of their childhood schools is not a foolproof method of evaluating respect. Parents, teachers, and administrators might have convinced students they held mutual respect for each other; adults are more likely to see through a charade. But these results could also hint at a real decline in respect that is making teaching and learning even more difficult. Today, controversy, suspicion, and accusations plague education, from the kindergarten classroom to federal level policies. Teachers are fighting against the Common Core State Standards, students are staging walk out protests in New Orleans, and parents are yanking their kids out of standardized testing. Maybe declining respect among teachers, administrators, students, and parents has played a role in bringing so many debates to the forefront of American schools.

School for Superheroes

School for Superheroes

by Chris Gavaler

What do you want to be when you group up? My daughter, like lots of teens, has been fielding that question since she was two. She’s looking at colleges now, so the question has morphed into “What do you want to major in?” But she told me that her answer, her secret answer, the heart of hearts answer she’ll never write on any application form, hasn’t changed since she wore big girl pull-ups:


That’s still the first word that pops into her head. “Astronaut” is the second. But Batman is better. “He doesn’t have X-ray vision or any other crazy powers,” she says, “but he still spends his life and money helping people.” Also the Batmobile is really cool. And his ears. My daughter has always thought the bat ears on his hood were cute. She used to chew on them. The dolls in our attic have her teeth marks.

Several graduate and undergraduate programs in comic book studies have popped up since she stopped hosting tea parties with action figures, but to the best of my knowledge, no school offers a major in Batman. Not even mine. We live a five-minute stroll from campus, so my daughter would rather blast off to an alien planet than stay in our Virginia smallville for college. Her brother is still in middle school, and still peruses the occasional comic book from my childhood trove. He’s gnawed on his fair share of attic superheroes, but I suspect he’ll be feeling the warmth of alien suns soon too.

Which means neither will get to take my Superheroes course. I’m teaching it for the fifth time this spring. It spawned back in 2008 when a group of honor students were scouring campus for a professor willing to design and teach a seminar on superheroes. They’d suffered a few rounds of blank stares and grinning rejections when they wandered into my wife’s office. She was chairing our English department at the time, and you’ll never guess whose office she sent them to next. I said yes. Of course I said yes. I’d always enjoyed comics as a kid and then with our own kids. Now I’d just augment that with a bit of research.

My wife doesn’t regret her choice, but neither of us predicted the black hole-sized obsession the topic would open in me. Conference panels, print symposiums, international journals, radio interviews, cybercasts, newspaper op-eds, lit mags, one-act festivals, my appetite for cape-and-mask forums keeps expanding. When my wife and another good friend spurred me to start a blog, neither had superheroes in mind then either. I could blame those meddling honors students, but that first class of sidekicks flew off to solo adventures years ago. I’m the one who keeps offering revised versions of the course every year while posting blog links on campus notices once a week.

The first day of ENG 255 usually begins with some polite but bemused variation on “Why superheroes, Professor?” Colleagues ask me the same, only with the preface “Don’t take this the wrong way but.” The short answer is easy. Superheroes, like most of our pop culture productions, reflect who we are. And since superheroes have been flying for decades, they document our evolution too. On the surface of their unitards, they’re just pleasantly absurd wish-fulfillments. But our nation’s history of obsessions broils just under those tights: sexuality, violence, prejudice, politics, our most nightmarish fears, our most utopian aspirations, it’s all swirling in there. But you have to get up close. You have to be willing to wrestle a bit. I think we should pull on Superman’s cape. I think we all need to sink our teeth into Batman’s head.

Spring registration at Washington & Lee University starts soon. I have yet to work visiting superhero poet Tim Seibles into the schedule yet, but for interested students and the occasional scholar who’s asked me for a copy, here’s the syllabus-in-progress:

ENGL 255: Superheroes

The course will explore the early development of the superhero character and narrative form, focusing on pulp literature texts published before the first appearance of Superman in 1938. The cultural context, including Nietzsche’s Ubermensch philosophy and the eugenics movement, will also be central. The second half of the course will be devoted to the evolution of the superhero in fiction, comic books, and film, from 1938 to the present. Students will read, analyze, and interpret literary and cultural texts to produce their own analytical and creative works.


The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy

The Adventures of Jimmie Dale, Frank L. Packard

Gladiator, Philip Wylie

Superman Chronicles, Vol. 1, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster

Batman Chronicles, Vol. 1, Bob Kane, Bill Finger

Wonder Woman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Marvel Firsts: 1960s

Soon I Will Be Invincible, Austin Grossman

Missing You, Metropolis, Garry Jackson

Additional texts:

Spring-Heeled Jack, Anonymous

(excerpt from) Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Frederick Nietzsche

“The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” George Barnard Shaw

(excerpt from) Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs

(excerpt from) A Civic Biology Presented in Problems, George Hunter

“The Reign of the Superman,” Jerry Siegel

(excerpt from) The Clansman, Thomas Dixon, Jr.

“A Retrieved Reformation,” O. Henry

(excerpt from) The Curse of Capistrano, Johnston McCulley

“The Girl from Mars,” Jack Williamson and Miles J. Breuer

(excerpt from) Alias the Night Wind,

“Don’t Laugh at the Comics” (1940), William Moulton Marston

“The Sad Case of the Funnies” (1941), James Frank Vlamos

“Why 100,000 Americans Read Comics” (1943), William Moulton Marston

(excerpt from) Love and Death: A Study in Censorship (1949), Gershon Legman

Comics Code Authority Guidelines

“Secret Skin: An essay in unitard theory” (2008), Michael Chabon

VQR Spring 2008 Superhero Stories


The Mark of Zorro (1920)

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

The Gladiator (1938)

Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman (2006)

Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked (2003)

Unbreakable (2000)

Hancock (2008)

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)


The Shadow, The Blue Beetle

Writing Assignments:

1. Two 4-page analytical essays examining assigned texts on topics of your design.

2.  A 6-page essay combining creative and analytical writing. You will invent superheroes and discuss the characters’ relationships to the history of the genre, responding to specific literary and cultural elements of the evolving formula.

Week One


*early afternoon film: Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman (2006)

Tues     Superman Chronicles; “Don’t Laugh at the Comics”

Wed    eugenics chronology; Nietzsche Zarathustra (excerpt); Shaw Handbook (excerpt); Tarzan (excerpt); Civic Biology (excerpt); “The Reign of the Superman”; Nazi response to Superman; selected historical newspaper article

Thurs   Spring-Heeled Jack; The Scarlet Pimpernel (chapters 1-14);

Fri        Scarlet Pimpernel (complete); The Clansman (excerpt);

*early afternoon essay conferences

Week Two

Mon     rough draft of 4-page essay due

Radio serial: The Shadow

* optional paper conferences after class

Tues   Jimmie Dale (Chapters 1, 2, ?, 11, and one additional story); “A Retrieved Reformation”;

“Murder by Proxy”

* early afternoon film: The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Wed    final draft of essay due; The Curse of Capistrano (excerpt)

Early morning film: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Thurs   Gladiator (Chapters 1-11); “The Girl from Mars”

Fri        Gladiator (complete); Alias the Night Wind (excerpt)

* early afternoon film: The Gladiator (1938)

Week Three

Mon     Batman; “The Sad Case of the Funnies” (1941);
“The Shadowy Origins of Batman”

Radio serial: Blue Beetle

Tues     rough draft of 4-page essay due

*early afternoon film: Hancock (2008); begin superhero project

Wed    NO CLASS; individual essay conferences

Thurs   final draft of essay due; “Secret Skin”

morning film: Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked (2003)

Fri        Wonder Woman; “Why 100,000 Americans Read Comics” (1943)

Week Four

Mon     Marvel Firsts (selections); Comics Code; preliminary draft of superhero

*early afternoon film: Unbreakable (2000)

Tues     Soon I Will Be Invincible (Part One, to p. 153) [BEGIN CLASS AT 9:00]**

*7:00 Austin Grossman reading, Northen Auditorium

Wed    Soon I Will Be Invincible (complete)

Austin Grossman class visit

presentations of superheroes

*early afternoon conferences

Thurs   VQR Spring 2008 Superhero Stories

presentations of superheroes

Fri        Missing You, Metropolis

presentations of superheroes

* Superhero poster exhibition at the library during the Spring Term Festival from 12-3

Sat       Final draft of project due 12:00 at my office




Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

by Whitson Gordon

Ever feel like your brain is out to get you? Like it’s convincing you to do things that aren’t actually in your best interest? Our brain is a funny thing, and sometimes the only way to fight it is to trick it right back. Here are 10 ways you can overcome your brain’s tricks and get it to do what you want.

10. Stay Healthy Instead of Giving Into Cravings

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

It’s amazing how the mere mention of cupcakes can make you crave cupcakes. Don’t give into cravings just because your brain tricked you! Serve healthy food before the unhealthy food to curb your hunger, for example, or link up a healthy habit (like exercising) with something you do every day. The more you can reward your brain for positive things, the less it’ll crave the positive reward from something you know isn’t good for you.

9. Declutter Your Life Instead of Getting Attached to Your Junk

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

You know your life is full of clutter that you don’t need, but every time you go to clean, you hardly throw anything out. For every item you touch, your brain convinces you that you “might need it one day.” Sound familiar? It’s amazing how just touching an item can cause you to feel a sense of ownership. So instead, work in reverse: what if you lost everything? What would you re-purchase and what would you let slide? If you think about it that way, you can finally kick that clutter habit for good—despite your brain’s illogical protests.

8. Make Your Day Last Longer Instead of Wondering Where It Went

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

No matter how productive you are in a day, it always seems like there aren’t enough hours before bedtime. Part of this is due to the way our brains perceive time. Luckily, you can turn this around. The more information your brain has to process, the more time it feels has passed. So, to make the day feel longer, present your brain with new information regularly: keep learning, meet new people, visit new places, or learn a new skill. You’d be surprised what kind of difference it makes.

7. Get Stuff Done Instead of Procrastinating

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

Your brain doesn’t want you to get things done. It’s always worrying about what can go wrong, and will abandon ship at the first sign of distress, making it hard to achieve your goals. Luckily, you can trick your brain into getting more done, both with simple tricks (light changing the lighting or playing unfamiliar music) and a new outlook on your goals (like focusing on the long-term benefits). Treat it like any other involuntary bad habit, and you can overcome your brain’s bad choices.

6. Make Friends Instead of Enemies

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

When someone wrongs you, it’s hard to give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s easier to just make an enemy out of them instead. When that isn’t in your best interest—say, if that person is your boss, or your sister’s boyfriend—you can trick your brain into liking them. Try working on a difficult task with that person, which will bond you together. And if they’re the ones who don’t like you, you can trick their brain into liking you by asking them for a favor.

5. Focus on the Positive Instead of the Negative

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

Ever have one tiny thing ruin your entire day? That’s your brain tricking you again. Our brains like to focus on the negative. It can even convince you that you hate something you like. Don’t let it ruin your day—remember that one small issue or false start does not make the whole. Make your brain store the positive memories instead of that negative one and you’ll remember it more fondly. (Though sometimes, negative thinking isn’t such a bad thing).

4. Base Your Decisions on Reality Instead of Optimism

There are exceptions to your brain’s negativity, though. If you’re looking forward to something, or want something really bad, the opposite happens: your brain gets overly optimistic. It’s why anticipation makes you happier than the result usually does, or why you think you could win the lottery but smoking will only kill other people. Don’t fall for this trick, since it’ll lead to poor decision-making. Similarly, don’t confuse the number of choices you have with the importance of any given choice—like the brand of toothpaste you buy. Your brain tends to think the two are intertwined, when they are obviously not.

3. Save Money Instead of Blowing It

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

Saving money is harder than it should be. We all know we should do it, yet as soon as we come into some cash we think “look at all this money I can spend!” This is because our minds are quick to forget what it was like to not have money. It doesn’t help that stores try to trick your brain into buying stuff, either. The solution? Trick your brain into better money habits. Adopt new money mantras and repeat them over and over, so your brain can’t tempt you. Send your money to a savings account automatically. But most importantly, think about what that money should go towards instead of just thinking “I should save” or “I shouldn’t blow it.” It’s a lot easier when you have a clear goal in mind.

2. Be Happier

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

Everyone wants to be happier, right? Your brain, unfortunately, makes that easier said than done. So, instead of resolving to “be happier,” resolve to do more things that make you happy. Even simple things like getting more exercise, getting better sleep, or going outside more often can make you happier without you even realizing it. Small changes can make a big difference.

1. Realize That the World Doesn’t Revolve Around You

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want

It’s not surprising that our brains force us to be self-centered, but it can be detrimental. For example, you probably think you’re never wrong, you’re great at everything you do, you’re just unlucky when bad things happen, and that the other lanes of traffic are always moving faster than yours. The reality is, most of this couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, this is one area in which your brain tricks you, but you can’t really trick it back. The best thing you can do is be aware of these phenomena so you won’t fall prey to them as often.

Intervention — Ready or not, here I come!

Intervention — Ready or not, here I come!

By Jennifer Davis Bowman

I recently had a student walk out of the classroom in a fit of frustration. Before leaving, I was able to squeeze a few morsels of details from her as to the source of her irritation. Almost in tears, she said that the in-class review session for our next test simply “was not working” for her. A million thoughts were racing through my mind. The student had never asked for assistance before. In addition, I was unaware of any desire on her end to improve her performance or current course average — she was bordering on a C+/B- average at that point. I felt blindsided. I felt completely in the dark as to how I could reach out to this student.

Have you had a similar experience with a student in need of an academic intervention? I believe that a big part of the frustration lies in the fact that as teachers we want to help all of our students, but all of our students are not ready to receive the help. Often there is a disconnect between our desire to intervene and the student’s willingness to accept our help. In psychology, the mismatch between feelings and actions is often labeled as “cognitive dissonance.” In the classroom, I tend to view the misalignment between the helper (teacher) and the receiver (student) as “coaching dissonance.” In an attempt to decrease coaching dissonance — and the challenges that accompany it — I created an intervention readiness checklist that teachers can use as an indicator for student receptiveness.

Answer “yes” or “no” to the questions on
the Intervention Readiness Checklist below:

1. ___Was the student’s intervention need expressed directly? Direct expression versus indirect  — lack of class participation or low attendance — may be a stronger indicator that the student is ready to accept help.

2. ___Did the student’s intervention need manifest quickly? Student needs can appear within a few days or more slowly over the school year. Try to monitor student needs efficiently. Sometimes an unmet need can incite hidden student irritability.

3. ___Does the student have an intervention history in your classroom or in the school? The student’s history with seeking and responding to help may be very informative in planning and monitoring future classroom interventions.

4. ___Can the student contextualize the need and the impact of academic help? Discuss with the student, the benefits and consequences of seeking/responding to help.

5. ___Can the student identify examples and non-examples of utilizing academic help? Understanding that the need for help is natural and normal may help relieve some of the student’s anxiety with the help-seeking process. Examples of individuals needing and utilizing help can be identified with reference to classroom peers, characters in literature or celebrities in the media.

6. ___ Is the student aware of the range of supports available to ensure a positive intervention experience? Discuss with the student examples of classroom, community or possibly culture-specific supports that may strengthen the student’s potential for academic success

As for the student who walked out of my class, she never shared how I could have intervened to improve her experience in my class. As I review the intervention readiness checklist, I search for help in understanding her academic needs a little better. More importantly, I reflect on my role in supporting students to better receive assistance in the classroom.

8 things we know better but do anyway…

8 things we know better but do anyway…

by Justin Tarte

1). We continue to point fingers and do the same things over and over and expect different results. If kids continue not doing what we are asking them to do, then maybe we are the ones who need to reconsider what we are asking them to do. If parents just don’t understand, then maybe we need to do a better job of working with them and helping them to understand. If it didn’t work the first 10 times, then now is a perfect time to try something new.

2). We treat a brand new teacher/administrator the same as we do a 25 year veteran teacher/administrator in terms of their growth and improvement. Here’s the deal, if our 25 year veteran folks have the same needs as our brand new folks to the profession/position, then we have a major problem. We talk about personalizing and customizing education for our students, why aren’t we doing this for our colleagues?

3). We pull kids out of their elective courses (the courses they most likely enjoy the most therefore giving them a reason to enjoy school) and we put them in even more classes they are struggling with. School quickly becomes something that kids resent and try to avoid simply because we force them to spend all their time dealing with their weaknesses and their deficits.

4). We continue to develop and implement our school schedules based on what’s convenient and easiest for the adults. Let’s think about this for a second. Accountability and testing seem to be more and more prevalent in our schools, but yet we are making scheduling decisions that aren’t in the best interest of our students. Why don’t we make scheduling decisions based on what’s best for our students (start and stop time and the elimination of bells) and in turn see an improvement in test scores, which then will be what’s easiest and best for adults?

5). We continue to use and structure our learning environments in isolation and in silos with very little transferability and connectedness. Our classrooms have four walls and are packed with uncomfortable desks. Schools are designed with a segmented approach and most information that is presented is not presented with context and connection to other classes, but rather presented in isolation. The gap between the ‘real-world’ and the ‘school-world’ couldn’t be more apparent, but fortunately, the same advances that are widening this gap also have the ability to shrink the gap.

6). We say we want people to try new things and we say we want our kids to take risks but yet our actions tell a completely different story. Instead of punishing students and educators for taking risks and finding limits to their abilities, we should be encouraging kids and educators to explore, discover, and attempt what has never been done. On a related note, when we reward and recognize simple ‘compliance’ and ‘robot like behavior,’ we are sending the same basic message.

7). We know that incentives and ‘carrots’ only work for a short time and are not long-term solutions to issues in education. Despite us knowing that best case scenario it a short-term boost, we continue to use these incentives and are conditioning students to always ask, ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘what do I get when I’m done?’

8). We know a free-thinking and independent mind is the path to prosperity, but yet we continue to approach education as if it’s only for certain folks in certain areas. We need to focus on creating learning opportunities for all… even more so for those folks who wouldn’t otherwise have these opportunities. Education should be and needs to be a societal gap minimizer and equalizer, not a reminder of our differences…