Classes ended today -- yay! The only grading I have to do over the weekend is to respond to my juniors' first draft of their college application essays, which they turned in today, and then on Tuesday my three freshman and sophomore classes will take their final exam. But the end is clearly in sight.
But before I mentally head off into summer, I want to write about the other cool thing my sophomores did this spring (in addition to their Othello performances). And I need to give credit where credit is due; this is a project that all of the sophomore English classes did (although we each tweaked it slightly as we liked), and it was the brainchild of one of my colleagues, but I loved the lesson and will definitely be repeating it in future years.
After the class had finished reading and writing about Othello three weeks ago, we launched into our final book of the year, the first volume of Art Spiegelman's Maus. (Note for next year: I'm used to going through this book very quickly with college students, and I should have given it more time for high school sophomores, who often wanted to stop and talk about the Holocaust in addition to discussing the book itself. Fair enough, and important conversations to have, but I needed more class days than I allocated to it.) I had them write up panel analyses, analogous to passage analyses, but then, as their last project of the year, they wrote their own comics, their graphic memoirs.
I gave them two options: either their own story of facing an obstacle or tragedy, or the story of their interview with someone else who had faced such obstacles or tragedy (a la Spiegelman). They knew that they were going to share these memoirs with the rest of the class, so I counseled them to choose their story carefully with that public readership in mind.
And of course most of them aren't artists, so we offered them a software option: Pixton for Schools, a very cheap software program for making one's own comics. So part of the lesson was in getting up to speed with a new software quickly. Even the students who drew their comics by hand had to go on to Pixton and figure out how to create an avatar (their "pixture") so that they were getting at least some of this software lesson, although I decided that the writing/creative process was more important than the software learning process, so students could create their graphic memoirs however they wanted to. I even showed them an XKCD comic to make the point that there were many options for creating comics.
I was really impressed at how very hard the students worked and at how good most of their comics were, considering that it was their first attempts at such a genre. I wish that I'd scanned the hand-drawn comics, some of which were really good, but at least I can show you what the students were able to do with Pixton (which is what most of them chose to use):
Here are a panels from six different students' comics:
The students followed a pretty typical learning curve with Pixton, I'd say. I gave them class time to work on their comics, and on the first day there was so much griping and groaning about how it was "impossible" to do this or that. But by the end of the class period, they were doing all kinds of cool things, and in their final comics theycreated all kinds of cool effects:
The students took the project very seriously and showed real care for and pride in their stories. Many of them worked in symbolic elements, a la Spiegelman, and they thought about their craft.
After a week of work (some in class, much at home), they presented their comics to the class and were an incredibly appreciative audience for one another. It was a fabulous way to end the year! (although I've also thought about doing it next year in that awkward three-week period post-Thanksgiving, pre-winter break.)