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Common Core Comics

Esther Keller

It’s hard to believe that November is knocking on the door and the school year is well underway.  (If it wasn’t for Hurricane Sandy, I’d be thinking about elections, Thanksgiving, and yes… the Winter Holidays!) Of course, what my thoughts are constantly busy with are the buzzwords “Common Core” that are being chirped up and down every corridor in our school building.

A Little Background

The Common Core standards were created, approximately two years ago, to have a “clear and consistent framework” to prepare students for college. The Common Core are meant to be more rigorous than the existing state standards and focus on the skills students need to succeed in college, since many high school students are entering college in need of major remediation to  succeed on the college level. A majority of states have adopted the standards; only Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia, & Puerto Rico have not.  (See “In the States”)

Here in New York the State 6 instructional shifts have been identified. (See Engage NY)

1. Balancing Informational & Literary Text.Constitution 200x300 Common Core Comics
2. Knowledge in the Disciplines.
3. Staircase of Complexity.
4. Text-based Answers.
5. Writing from Sources.
6. Academic Vocabulary.

Where Comics fit in:

So, Keller, you might be thinking, what does this have to do with comics?  Well, the thought of Common Core and how comics fit in the new educational landscape came to me last year, when I had the opportunity to write a grant for $1,500 towards my graphic novel collection. My comics collection is part of the NYC CCD initiative, where specialized resource-sharing collections are housed in various NYC school libraries. But the focus of the grant was how to use the proposed monies to address the instructional shifts that the Common Core has presented.

I admit this stumped me at first, so I put out a request on GN4LIB to ask how they thought comics fit into the Common Core. I didn’t get many answers, but the answers I did receive were very useful.  I wrote my grant and I did get the money.  But it continued to niggle on my mind: How can we use comics to address the Common Core instructional needs?  I’ve spent the last nine or ten years of my career advocating for comics in the classroom, and because text complexity and nonfiction are the new catchwords, comics should fall to the wayside?

Then this summer, I stumbled across Kathleen Odean’s blog Great Common Core Nonfiction, and the idea for this regular feature on Good Comics for Kids was born. I hope to regularly show (how regularly I’m afraid to commit to) how comics—some old, some new, some fiction and some nonfiction—can be used to address the common core standards.

Common Core Comics: Election Edition

obama2 237x300 Common Core ComicsRight now, we’re busily preparing our students for the presidential elections. They’re too young to vote, and will be too young for a number of years, but they are old enough to be aware of and knowledgeable about current events and issues.

I read The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation about four years ago when it was released, just before the last presidential election. While much of the title explains the components of the Constitution and doesn’t pertain directly to the elections, there is one section that describes the Electoral College system.  Students are always surprised to hear that a person’s vote doesn’t directly elect a president. Reading this section will clearly explain how the Electoral College System works.

Social Studies teachers could use this section to better explain the Electoral College system. Students can then write an essay that explains the process in their own words.

But Social Studies might want to add some complexity to this unit by finding articles that debate whether or not we should change the system. This is a debate the always comes up when we are electing a president.  (I was easily able to find articles on this topic using two reference databases – Sirs Knowledge Researcher and Gale’s Opposing Viewpoints. I imagine there are many other databases available to find further information on this topic.)  Using the comic and the articles, students can argue whether or not they believe the system should be changed.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

Other graphic novels that are relevant to the elections are in the Capstone’s American Graphicpalin 237x300 Common Core Comics Series.  One title, Obama: The Historic Election of America’s 44th President, tells of Obama and the historic election that elected our first African American President. It starts from his keynote address in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention. It set the stage for his Senate win and later his race for the White House.  The other title, Sarah Palin: Political Rebel, tells the story of the first lady’s run for Vice President on Senator McCain’s ticket. While Palin isn’t quite relevant to this year’s presidential election, she is a relevant and interesting figure of the recent past.

Teachers can use these titles together to show the differing takes on political ideas or the difference in how the American public received both of these candidates.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.3 Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.

If you have any ideas for topics that you would like to see addressed, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments section.

Titles mentioned:

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell.  October 2008.  Hill & Wang Publishers. ISBN 9780809094707. $16.95.

Obama: The Historic Election of America’s 44th President by Agnieszka Biskup. 2012. Capstone Publishers. ISBN 9781429660167.  $22.49.

Sara Palin: Political Rebel by Nel Yomtov.  2012. Capstone Publishers.  ISBN 9781429660181. $22.49.

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Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 3 and regularly reviews for SLJ, LMC. In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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