comics project

New work area

Published by Lori Pickert on April 6, 2009 at 07:40 PM

My nine-year-old is still writing and drawing comics; recently we realized he had been working on this particular project for almost two years!

We moved the drafting table into his room so he could have an area dedicated to drawing comics. (As you can see, it’s still a work in progress!) We also outfitted a small ikea cabinet to organize his single-panel comics, his comic books in progress, finished projects, etc.

Lately he has been drawing full-length comic books and making plans to copy and sell them online. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Comics project: Writing

Published by Lori Pickert on November 10, 2007 at 12:58 PM

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The comics project has branched off into two different types of writing work.

snoopy-computer.pngSnoopy and his typewriter inspired the writing of stories. Jack first asked for a typewriter, to which I didn't say no (I love typewriters, too, and I typed on one all the time when I was his age!) but did gently suggest that while we shop for one, he might utilize the computer we already had.

His stories are wonderful. I will probably have to type an entire one in here to share. Maybe "The Hot Dog and the Hog". I believe that one was inspired by Just So Stories.

comicbk.jpgNow he is writing comic books. First he copied individual comic strip characters (Calvin & Hobbes), then he copied whole strips, then he drew his own C&H strips, then he made up his own characters (still related to C&H) and drew their strips (George & Falkin). Whew. Then he drew entirely original strips. Then he wanted them to be published, in the newspaper, for everyone to read. (Pause for explanation of why we might not be able to get that to happen by, say, Monday.)

He reads comic collections in book form, so he made two books of comics, as in actual books. He used hardcover blank sketchbooks, but he is also interested in having copies made so he can sell them. (Of course.)

And now he is writing comic books. He has been reading some books he dredged up from our home library about the Incredible Hulk and Spiderman — books that have chapters up front about the writers and artists and comic book publishers. His Spiderman book lists all the villains, so that's what he's concentrating on right now for his characters: Mom Lady and her sidekick, Son Boy.

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Comics project: Extending ideas

Published by Lori Pickert on October 26, 2007 at 12:28 PM

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When Jack was first interested in/obsessed with Calvin & Hobbes, he started by reading the books over and over and over.

Then he started drawing the comics. He tried to draw the characters as closely as he could to the originals. He filled two large sketchbooks with these drawings.

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It was at that point that I began to support his deep interest with project materials and resources.

It is fascinating to watch as he makes the work more and more his own, as he becomes more confident. After mastering drawing the characters, he began copying whole strips.

After mastering copying the strips, he moved on to making up his own original C&H stories and drawing those.

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After filling a book with his own C&H comics (which were hilarious, and very much in the original style), he invented his own comic, George and Falkin. George was the grown-up son of Calvin and Susie (Calvin married Susie Derkins!), and he had his own imaginary friend Falkin, a stuffed bear.

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At this point, I have to stop and just admire my 7-year-old's grasp of storytelling and humor. He drew Calvin's dad the same, but older, and used a lot of the same running gags as the original strip. As Calvin used to pretend to be Stupendous Man, George pretends to be Fantabulous Man. And so on.

He was no longer just copying, he was extending the ideas.

At each level, he sticks with one thing until he feels confident to make the next step. I play no part in this. I just watch and admire his work. I don't say, “Why don't you…?” or “You should…” (Sometimes it’s difficult.)

At each level, he gains mastery (as defined and measured by himself) then moves on naturally and fluidly to the next, more complex thing.

His natural inclination is to stick with something until he thinks he does it well enough. He assesses his own efforts and decides when he’s satisfied.

His natural inclination is to make connections (noting similarities between two comics, among the drawing styles of different cartoonists and illustrators, across story and character development, and so on.

His natural inclination is to reach out to other people — to share his work, to talk in person with artists whose work he admires, to talk with people who do work that interests him.

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His natural inclination is to enjoy everything he does. He pours his heart into his work.

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If he doesn't someday become a professional cartoonist (right now he says cartoonist-scientist), he may not ever require the exact skills he is learning from this particular project at this moment. But he certainly is picking up a lot of intangibles and habits of mind.

Jack's comic: Ghosts

Published by Lori Pickert on October 25, 2007 at 02:27 AM

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Comics project: Questions

Published by Lori Pickert on October 21, 2007 at 03:03 PM

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J wants to talk with a real cartoonist. He is making a list of questions to ask him or her.

He is very interested in the work of being a cartoonist.

Another new development: because of Snoopy's novel writing ("It was a dark and stormy night..."), J has requested a typewriter to write stories.

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Book review: Artist to artist

Published by Lori Pickert on October 19, 2007 at 09:40 PM

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artisttoartist-wells.jpgI ordered this beautiful and inspiring book because it fit so nicely with J's project on cartooning and comics. He has loved reading books that contained interviews with his favorite cartoonists, and this seemed like a lovely continuation of artists talking about their work.

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This book is published by and benefits the Eric Carle Museum, which has a few lovely activities for kids at their website. I would love to visit the museum in person someday.

Each illustrator (some of whom are author/illustrators) tells a little about how they came to be an artist and give some encouragement or advice to the young artists reading the book. There are pictures of their studios and showing the process of how their work progresses from sketches to finished products. Finally, they have self-portraits done in their signature style.

artisttoartist-carle.jpgForget about the kids, *I* loved and was very inspired by this book! It makes a lovely read. Look for it at your library, or think about giving it as a special gift (maybe with a pad of nice paper and some colored pencils) to your favorite young artist.

Comics project: Inquiry-based learning

Published by Lori Pickert on October 19, 2007 at 02:37 AM

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In our projects, we use an inquiry-based approach.

We keep track of our questions. In the classroom, we would keep a whole chalkboard full of them, or giant posters of questions divided by subtopic. At home, we keep a list in our journal.

Every question is valuable, even if we're not going to try and answer it right away. While the boys write their own questions in their journals, I also keep a list of questions in mine, perhaps things they wondered about but didn't think worthy of writing down. I might bring them up again later, if the project seems to have stalled, or if something related is being talked about. “Remember when you wondered…?”

In the classroom, disagreements are also fertile ground for inquiry-based learning. They might not be obvious questions, but they show that more information is needed. Even if the children decide they agree and move on, we'll write down a note about the lack of consensus, which again we can bring up later.

Making sure we keep track of ongoing questions is part of how we “facilitate” rather than teach. The point is to have the child(ren) drive the project. Their questions are what is important. Helping them figure out how to find the answers to their questions is the goal. Not giving them the answers. Not telling them the facts and saying “I’ll test you on these later.” And not providing them with a set of questions we devised. Helping them articulate what they wonder about, then showing them how to own the process of learning about something they want to learn about.

Some online resources on inquiry-based learning:

Online workshop: Inquiry-Based Learning

The Inquiry Page

Inquiry Page: Definition of Inquiry

Exploratorium: A Description of Inquiry

Comics project: Supporting investigation

Published by Lori Pickert on October 15, 2007 at 06:40 PM

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When I realized J had taken his interest in Calvin & Hobbes to a whole new level, and I thought it might translate into an interesting project, the first thing I did was support what he was already doing.

He asked me for a sketchbook that would be only for drawing comics. So we got that. (My job is so hard.) Then I went an extra step and I bought him a couple of expensive (a couple of dollars each) drawing pens and gave them to him, telling him “These are the kind of markers artists and cartoonists use.” He was suitably impressed, and very pleased. Offering him high-quality tools was my way of showing that I respected the work he was doing.

comic6.jpgNext he asked for a special desk just for drawing comics. We already have a table set aside for drawing in our art studio (though that’s way out in the barn) and he already has a regular desk. I suggested maybe we could just outfit his desk for drawing. He was perfectly amenable to this plan, and together we cleaned it off and found the materials he said he needed — pens, markers, pencils, etc., a stack of paper, his comics sketchbook, and his C&H books. (Note: Later on, when this project was showing some staying power, we did create a new drawing space in his room.)

He wanted new Calvin & Hobbes books, so I suggested we go to the library and see what they had. I also went online and did a little research. (We have a lot of C&H books already.) We found the Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, which has essays and stories about the comics written by Bill Watterson.

comic7.jpgI remembered reading somewhere that Bill Watterson loved Peanuts. I remember Charles Schulz saying that Bill Watterson drew shoes that looked like little dinner rolls. So I found a copy of the Peanuts Treasury for the boys to check out. They loved it. (Oh, the hours I spent as a kid reading Peanuts!)

The trip to the library yielded two Peanuts books (found by Jack) that included interviews and essays by Charles Schulz: Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Me (out of print) and Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown: Celebrating 30 Years (also out of print). Both books include Charles Schulz’s stories about the comic strip and its characters.

So now we have a pile of comics anthologies, a stack of autobiographical works by famous cartoonists, tools for making comics, and a space to make them.

Let the fun begin.

Comics project: Recognizing a strong interest

Published by Lori Pickert on October 15, 2007 at 05:25 PM

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When I look for a project topic, my main criteria is interest. I am looking for something that my child has a strong, lasting interest in.

One "hey, look, that's cool" is not enough. I am browsing for something that has captured his interest for more than a few days.

The boys have been obsessed with Calvin & Hobbes for some time, but Jack (seven years old) took it to a new level when he started filling a sketchbook with drawings of the characters, which then became his own C&H comics.

The intensity of his engagement caught my attention.

One of the things that holds teachers (and homeschooling parents) back from trying new approaches, I think, is simply fear. Fear that you will do it wrong. Fear that you will lose control. Fear the children won’t learn anything. Fear that you will reveal you don’t know what you’re doing.

Fear you won’t know the answer to every question. (Project-based learning doesn’t have a teacher’s edition. There are no answers written in red at the back of the book.)

I have no such fears. I do things wrong all the time. I lose control of the project. It stalls. It races ahead without me. I accidentally step right on a fantastic moment and kill it. Oops. My children are well aware I don’t have all the answers.

I always told my teachers, “Feel for the edge. Cross over it and don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You won’t know where the line is if you don’t cross it once in awhile.” Ideally, we want to let the children direct and manage their own learning. We want to help them find the answers to their questions, not give them questions and then tell them the answers. We want them to figure out how powerful they are as learners, not tell them what to learn and how to prove to us that they learned it.

Life is seldom ideal, however. When I was struggling to learn to drive a stick-shift (a 5-speed), I told my boyfriend (now my husband), “I just need you to tell me that I can’t do something that will cause the engine to fall out onto the road.” He stared. “You can’t do anything that will cause the engine to fall out. You can’t break the car.” “Okay, then.”

There is nothing you can do while exploring this method of learning that will irrevocably destroy your children’s respect for you as a parent or mentor. There is nothing you can do that will cause them to never learn again, or completely lose interest in learning (or even this project) forever, or will stunt them creatively forever, or will keep them from getting into a good college.

So, what’s to fear? I saw that J’s interest in Calvin & Hobbes had gone on to a new level without any word or help from me. On his own, he was pursuing something that he really cared out and making it his own.

Making a successful project is like making a campfire. The child’s interest is the spark. Your job is to run around a collect little twigs and sticks and offer them up. Also to say, “Can I get you anything?”

Turning this little metaphor around, you can see that without the child’s interest, a thriving project is difficult if not impossible. You can gather interesting resources, you can plan an exciting field trip, you can gather a pile of library books and a cool science kit — but if you don’t have a child’s intense interest, it can be an uphill battle. However, if you start from a child’s intense interest, and add those other things … well, it can be an exhilarating downhill ride.

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Artwork (top) by J Pickert, age seven, and (bottom) by Bill Watterson.

Project-based homeschooling: Choosing a topic

Published by Lori Pickert on October 11, 2007 at 07:51 PM

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I was wondering if maybe I should talk about a different project ... because as much as I lecture other people (literally lecturing! behind a lectern!) that projects work no matter where the starting point, the whole comics thing seemed to be pushing it.

I always get asked if I would allow a project on anything, like … guns? video games? And my answer is no, I wouldn’t start projects on just anything. (It’s not so much “allowing” as it is “deciding to actively support.”)

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Possible project topics are not one in a million — your child will have more than one authentic interest. True, if you reject their deepest interests, you are less likely to spark a really complex and layered investigation. But if you can’t or won’t support a particular interest, you can simply look for another one.

I advise teachers not to choose project topics that they don’t find interesting themselves. How can you facilitate a group of students for months on end if you think the topic is boring? A group of children will offer up a well of interests; be sure to pick one you also find interesting.

Don’t choose something that you already know everything about because you think it will be easier. It’s actually more difficult because you are already out in front, trying to tamp down your own knowledge about the subject. You may feel more confident, but confidence is boring. Better to pick something you always wished you had time to learn about, because guess what, now you do.

(A big part of mentoring rather than “teaching” is that you are helping children find the answers to their own questions — not answering their questions for them or making them answer yours. So, really, your knowledge is beside the point and can actually work against you. It’s easier not to blunder in with the answer if you don’t have it in the first place.)

Now that I’m homeschooling and have only two students instead of 20 to think about, I don’t worry about whether I’m particularly interested. My kids are old enough (8 and 11) to do their projects with minimal input from me. It’s very different from working with a multi-age class of 20 kids (age 5 through 9) or a large preschool class.

(Finding a topic I don’t already know everything about is easy, as long as we stay away from Star Wars and the works of Jane Austen.)

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In a classroom situation, you only do one project at a time, because all your work (your facilitating, your support, your mentoring) is focused on this topic and the myriad directions it will shoot off to — you’re only able to handle one project at a time because it will quickly become multi-branched and complex. A single large project is made up of dozens of smaller projects. The children explode in different directions like a handful of marbles dropped on a linoleum floor, and soon you have umpteen different mini-projects to support. Luckily, they are all connected, and the kids learn from each other as fast as they learn on their own. It’s magical.

At home, each son is usually doing one or two projects. Two projects on very different subjects tend to cover a lot of subject areas, and I’m not overtaxed in helping them find materials and get what they need because, after all, there are only two of them and they can only work at a certain pace. In a classroom of 20, working alone or in small groups, with diverse interests and focusing on different things and needing different things constantly, you can quickly be overwhelmed. With two children and a few projects, you can maintain enough focus to dig deeply.

That said, if you are just beginning, a single project is best — for you, that is. Remember, your project is to learn how to best support your child to direct and manage his or her own learning. Start slow and start small, then complicate things later when you feel like you have a handle on things.

What is a project anyway, and how is it different from regular learning? A project is an in-depth study. You are going to help your child stick with an idea, an authentic interest, for a good long time. You are going to marinate yourself in it. Anyone who thinks small children don’t have a decent attention span should see a group of 3- and 4-year-olds dig into a project topic. They will happily study the same topic for a full year, then come back to school the following fall with big grins asking to resume the same topic.

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It’s we, the grown-ups, who have lost our ability to stick with a subject longer than five minutes. Kids have short attention spans? Hello, haven’t you met a two-year-old who wants the same exact book read (in the same exact way) every night for a year? A four-year-old who knows absolutely everything about dinosaurs or space or trains? Kids don’t have short attention spans. Actually, it’s just the opposite. They have the ability to immerse themselves in something until you think your ears will bleed listening to the exhaustive differences between types of dinosaurs, or Thomas the Tank Engine characters, or Dora the Explorer stories. We’re the ones who are ready to move on, not them.

Learning through projects means stopping the constant forward movement and taking out your shovel to dig deep instead. No more shallow glazing over things, we’re going to stop right here for awhile and see where we get.

I was thinking maybe I should talk about a different project … but I was wrong. Again. Why do I doubt the process? Already, the project has … well, I’ll save it for the next post.

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