Thursday, March 26, 2009

Coimcs as a Tool for Learning Spanish

As a social studies teacher, my students appreciated the innovative ways that I used comics in the classroom. I have found that comics are even more powerful and appropriate at a tool for teaching foreign language. I developed a method of using comics to teach a foreign language while teaching Spanish at SummerBerg camp in Tiffin, OH, where I also served as director. Working with a cartoonist the previous summer, I developed a course that teaches kids how to make comics. This method will help participants ace standardized foreign language tests, prepare for trips to Spanish-speaking countries and build appreciation for other cultures.

The first reason why comics serve as an effective tool for foreign language acquisition is because of the combination of words and pictures. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, the images in a comic provide the reader with a critical base of information. Once the images provide the reader with a context of setting, atmosphere and character, they must complete the essential task of interpreting the text. While school typically focuses on verbal learning, using a medium that combines verbal and visual information supports verbal learners to develop visual intelligence and vice versa.

The second reason why comic books are an effective tool is because they increase student engagement, which manifest in careful reading and lively conversation. Because many learners find comics more exciting then typical school materials, comics facilitate increased attention and engagement. Unlike watching a movie or listening to a song, readers can pace themselves at the appropriate speed and reread passages until understanding is achieved. Because most text in a comic book is dialogue, the comic book format facilitates reading out loud and developing conversation skills.

The final reason why I have found comics to be an effective tool is because my passion about comics and personal experience with Latin American cartoonists inspires students to because enthusiastic about engaging with another culture. Comics served as a powerful gateway into Latin American culture for me and I enjoy sharing that with students. While traveling through South America, I met cartoonists who wrote and illustrated stories about local politics and history, tales of sci-fi and adventure and also autobiographical accounts of the daily lives of teens. These stories provide unique insight into life in another society.

In conclusion, there are several reasons that I have found Spanish-language comics to be a powerful tool for supporting student learning. The combination of words and pictures provides an appropriate scaffold for language learners. The format of comics facilitates engagement in a variety of forms. Comics also provide a rich and fascinating window into other cultures. As an added bonus, students also discover how kids like them around the world are using self-publishing in print and on the internet as a low-cost means of personal expression.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Summary of Explorations of Comics in South America

While traveling through South America in 2006-2008, getting to know local cartoonists and their work was one my richest experiences. It all started at a book fair in Mendoza, Argentina, where I met Cristian Mallea, visiting from Buenos Aires. I sent him an e-mail begging for an unpaid internship and he invited me to a comics convention in Montevideo, Uruguay. At the convention, Montevideo Comics, Latino cartoonists maintained a tight-knit community amid of sea of kids enthralled by Japanese comics.

Back in Buenos Aires, I visited a class taught by Cristian and his colleagues to children and teens. I also met the other cartoonists in the publishing collective to which Cristian belongs. Following in their teachers' footsteps, the students create their own comics and publish them with photocopiers and on the web. One of the students illustrated a script that I wrote about the Holocaust (page: 1, 2, 3).

After leaving Buenos Aires, I visited various cartoonists along my route, contacting friends of Cristian. I met an autobiographical cartoonist in San Luis, Argentina. In Chile, a cartoonist explained the status of publishing there and I attended a museum exhibit. In Bolivia, I attended Vinetas con Altura. In contrast to Montevideo Comics, this convention focused entirely on artists from Latin America.

Inspired by the Bolivian gathering, cartoonists in Buenos Aires organized Vinetas Sueltas, presenting independent comics from Latin America and also inviting four European artists. Through these travels, I met a variety of talented cartoonists, all of whom present their works on the web. One of the most exciting books I found was the first Chilean graphic novel, which I translated and reviewed.

Back in the States, I seek to develop the power of comics as a gateway of intercultural exchange. I guided kids in Spanish class through translating some Bolivian political cartoons. I translated Destino Invisible, also about the Holocaust, by Gervasio, another of Cristian's colleagues. The first few pages of which now appear as a free webcomic. I also created a Spanish-language blog in order to help latino cartoonists navigate the American market.