Comics in the Classroom

By Adam Umak

Certainly, a lot of writing and paragraph perfecting has happened at Riverside Consolidated School, where Tingley and other teachers clock in each day for work. The building is well over 100 years old, making it one of North America’s oldest freestanding education centers still in use today. The remote schools were consolidated in the early 1900s to centralize education in Canada’s rural locales. The building itself echoes an era long gone. The building’s exterior does little to promote the advances that are being made inside. Within the doors of RSC, Tingley houses his nerve center for ComicsInTheClassroom.net, a website he created and operates. With this site, he is able to promote new books, publish student work, and upload classroom activities so that other teachers can have access to multiple lesson plans.

But, as his students have been feverishly moving their pencils and drawing broad strokes, Tingley’s free time has been spent wrting grant applications for classroom funding. Graphic novels, even for the casual buyer, can be expensive. Imagine, then, a costly receipt for thirty copies of identical trade paperbacks. With approximately $500 gifted from a single grant, Tingley was able to purchase trades and digests.

Always inventive, Tingley selected a page from Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 and asked his third graders to create a fictional story around it. The panel he chose is a familiar one to Mouse Guard fans. The splash page depicts the adventurous mouse Sadie paddling a makeshift boat in treacherous waters. As a pre-writing activity, Tingley asked students to determine what the mouse was doing, where it came from, where it was going, and what it was thinking. The students began crafting some of the most elaborate and genuinely interesting writing pieces he had graded all year. So impressed with his student’s work, Tingley sent the students' papers to Mouse Guard creator David Petersen.

"They recognized the excitement immediately. The students all did great on the project as well; we definitely hit the objective. This would have been exceedingly difficult to convey to them without any visual aids or cues for such a young group of kids," said Tingley. "I teach all subjects but I think that my comics-related reading and language arts lessons are stronger. I am a little bit more creative in my thinking there. When the students bug me at the end of they day to take an extra book home, I know it was meaningful to them."

Petersen was so appreciative of and moved by the students’ writing that he mailed Tingley’s class a sketch showing a teacher mouse reading a book to a group of student mice. Top Shelf creator Andy Runton replied as well after he read thirty new Owly stories that the class scripted.

Tingley has been able to recapture the successful learning experience the students had with the Mouse Guard story starter activity through other strategic lesson plans involving comics. To help students master abstract concepts like mood or tone, he used Jeff Smith’s modern classic Bone.

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