Comic Peeps You Need to Know

You may or may not have noticed this, but we are kind of in the midst of a high point of comic love, especially for kids. Graphic novels (or as they’d been called for years before people got freaked out by their kids reading comics instead of traditional books, “comic books”) were honored by the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz committees this past awards season. The Kids’ Comics Revolution Kids’ Comics Awards were announced just a few weeks ago at the Kids Read Comics Festival in Ann Arbor. The Eisner Awards were just announced last night at the San Diego Comic-Con, and we saw authors who write mainly or exclusively for children win major awards — awards without a “kids” category.

In all of this, I’ve been thinking about some of the best and smartest people in the comics industry, especially when it comes to bringing comics into the classroom with success. I assume that, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know the likes of Cece Bell, Jenni Holm, Matthew Holm, Jeff Smith, and Raina Telgemeier. If you don’t, go look them up, read their works, and get them for your classroom. You probably won’t see those books for months, aside from when your students have them open.

But what about some superstars who aren’t, for whatever reason, as well known? There’s a few I’ve become familiar with over the past few years, and they are absolutely stellar.

Jerzy Drozd
Who is he? Jerzy is an accomplished comics creator, including the webcomic Boulder and Fleet and as part of the trio who created the graphic version of The Warren Commission Report.
Why should I know him? While Jerzy’s comics creating skills are unquestionable, his teaching is beyond compare. I’ve been fortunate enough to witness him give a workshop for kids, and the amount of teaching he did and the amount of learning that the kids did was mind-blowing. I’ve seen good educators do their thing, but. . .wow. You can find Jerzy on Twitter @Jerzy or on his website (with links to his webcomic and workshops).

Faith Erin Hicks
Who is she? Faith is the creator of 10 comics for teens, including the Eisner-winning Adventures of Superhero Girl.
Why should I know her? In addition to writing amazing things, Faith is a strong advocate for intelligent things: using comics with people who like to read them, treating women and men with equal amounts of respect and admiration, and the benefits of being Canadian. Basically, she’s the entire package, and you should be hunting down her every book and including it in your classroom (preview first — some of her stuff tends to skew more YA than MG). I was able to read an early copy of her upcoming solo project, The Nameless City, and, you guys. Holy crap. It’s amazing. Not at all surprising. Follow Faith on Twitter @FaithErinHicks or her website.

Scott Robins
Who is he? Scott is a Children’s librarian for the Toronto Public Library system. He writes on a School Library Journal blog called Good Comics for Kids and is also the author of A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics.
Why should I know him? Okay, if the above two sentences didn’t give you enough reason, then I don’t know what you’re looking for. Scott is incredibly knowledgeable (like, top of his field knowledgeable). If you haven’t heard of him, then he is absolutely the best librarian dealing with comics who you haven’t heard of. If you have heard of him, then he is the best librarian dealing with comics who you have heard of. You can find Scott on Twitter @scout101.

Dave Roman
Who is he? Dave is the creator of several comics for kids and teens, including one of my absolute favorites, TeenBoat! (co-created with illustrator John Green).
Why should I know him? He is the smartest person I’ve ever heard talk about comics. If you find yourself needing some rational thinking about why comics are good to use with students or just a shot in the arm to support what you’re already doing, look up Dave Roman and the things he has to say. In addition to being a great comics creator and possessing a superior comics brain, Dave and Jerzy Drozd (see above) also run the Kids’ Comics Revolution Podcast. It is worth every second of your time. You can find him on Twitter @yaytime or at his website.

Bonus Website! Reading With Pictures
Reading With Pictures is not a person, I know. But it’s a website run by some amazing people. Their mission statement says it all, I think:

Reading With Pictures advocates for the use of comics in the classroom and beyond to promote literacy and improve educational outcomes for all students. We work with academics to cultivate groundbreaking research into the proper role of comics in education. We collaborate with cartoonists to produce exceptional graphic novel content for scholastic use. Most importantly, we partner with educators to develop a system of best practices for integrating comics into their curriculum. At Reading With Pictures, we get comics into schools and get schools into comics.

So there you go! If you’re not familiar with these people (or website), go check them out. We’re living in an age where comics are amazing, and those being written for a school-age audience are both well-written and enjoyable. Why would you not want to do everything you can to include them for your students?


Google Drive as a Lesson Organizer


Doesn’t Summer just feel nice? I know for some of you, it’s way too hot. Where I am, it’s been a bit cooler than normal. But if you’re a teacher, there’s a good chance that Summer means you don’t have to go in to work every day. For a month or two. That’s a pretty darn good feeling.

But, of course, if you’re a teacher, you probably also have the itch to do something for your classroom. So while I’ve been reflooring my house, salvaging a flooded basement, and awaiting the birth of my first child (his due date is today, and as you can probably infer from the fact that I’m writing a blog post and not at the hospital, we’re still waiting on Baby Wyzlic), I’ve also been doing a lot for school. There’s one thing I’ve been working on in particular that maybe you find interesting/helpful as well: using Google Drive to organize my lessons.

I’m a big believer in using Google Drive for basically all things communication among staff members. Need to do athletic eligibility checks? Make a spreadsheet and share it. Have a roster of students who will be going on a field trip all day? Make a document and share it. Organizing a potluck? Make a spreadsheet or even a form and have everyone add their items to the list.

I love it so much, that my school has asked me to do a short PD on it in the fall so we can start to use it more as a staff. And while I was putting this together, I thought about how I might use this not with my students (I use Forms all the time with them already), but for myself as a teacher.

So I’ve created a spreadsheet for each class and I will be using it as my yearly lesson planner. Here’s what my first week of English 9 looks like:

First Week


I need this structure so I can keep track of the grammar, reading, writing, and speaking skills I’ve covered, as well as the standards we’ve hit. In the “Lesson Plan Outline” section, I’ve linked to the lesson I’ve created (I don’t have a lesson plan for every lesson, but I will try to have at least a basic outline created), also using Google Drive. Each of these is then nested in folders in my main Google Drive area.

This is no different than what many people do with a paper lesson planner, but I think it’s going to work really well for me. The main benefit is going to be CTRL+H. Many people are familiar with CTRL+F on a Word document or in most web browsers as being the “find” command. That works in Google Drive items as well, but is limited to searching through only the active sheet in a spreadsheet.

CTRL+H usually brings up your history in a web browser. But if you’re using a Google Spreadsheet, this happens:


It’s a find and replace! Not necessarily all that handy, until you look at the search options. Do you see it?


With this tool, I can easily search through my entire year’s worth of lessons and look for when we hit a given standard. “You’re saying I didn’t hit RL.9-10.7? Let me show you exactly when, where, and how I did.” Or if a student asks when we learned such-and-such a thing, instead of saying “oh, it was last Tuesday — wait, no, Wednesday — I think,” I can do a quick search, tell them the exact day, and also any other times we happened to touch on that (at least according to my plans).

This also makes for an easy way to make changes for the future, as Google tracks changes and can go into “comment” mode quite easily. For me, these are the things that have made curriculum mapping and unit planning difficult: having a place where it all exists together, and being able to make changes or suggestions for the future.

It’s possible this will blow up in my face. But I’m feeling pretty good about this.

It’s May Already?

After completing a more or less successful Slice of Life March (I missed a day at the beginning and a few at the end), I apparently took April off from blogging. Oops!

It’s that time of year, though. The snow has melted. The crocuses have bloomed. Spring break has come and gone. So now, it’s time for the break-neck sprint to mid-June and the end of the school year.

I’ve been at 4 different schools in my career, and each school has a different feel to it in May. However, there is one thing that is consistent: May is busy. Spring sports wrap up, so athletes are missing more and more school as tournaments abound. Seniors can see, smell, taste, and nearly touch the end of their high school career. Prom planning takes over at least one or two teachers’ lives and occasionally their classes. Honors nights are emphasized and de-emphasized. Graduation is planned, and it will happen.

Meanwhile, we need to not forget our focus: teaching our content. Even though it’s 75 degrees outside and 92 in our classrooms. Even though a promposal is happening between classes and all the students are atwitter (and a few even on Twitter). Even though even though even though.

Something I’ve found helps in these months: knowing what’s going on at the school, top-down. Is next week Tuesday a different schedule? Why? When do the students need to know? You don’t want to be the teacher without these answers. Also, keeping a solid bond between teachers and students. If the students trust you and your teaching, they’re much less likely to rebel in this last hectic month. You can actually get a full year of teaching in! And finally, keep a solid bond among teachers. This is not the time of year to cancel the Friday happy hour (or whatever you may do as a staff to keep connected). In fact, it’s even more important now as sometimes emotions and tempers can match the weather for increase in heat.

To teachers everywhere: good luck this month! You can do it!

Slice of Life: Multi-Lingual English Class

Slice of Life

My students know that I love Spanish. And many of them are taking Spanish, so there’s some solidarity there. But many others are taking French or Italian. So there’s a lot of good-natured teasing back and forth.

Something pretty cool has been happening lately, though. The French students have been doing what they can to pepper French into our class. They’ll greet me with a bonjour! or ask me ça va? when we pass in the hallways. Yesterday, we were writing haiku in class. One student called me over, a huge grin on his face. I knew something good or something funny was about to happen — either way, I was excited.

When I got to his desk, I looked at his haiku: completely in French. He looked up and asked me, with a smile, “What do you think?” I turned the tables on him, though, asking why he used the word for “funny” when he meant to use the word for “smart.” Our gentle teasing continued, while he was practicing his French.

A little background for this next snippet: teaching at a Catholic school, I start every class with prayer. Every day, I ask each of my classes if anyone would like to lead us. In every class but one, I’ve had volunteers throughout the year. One class, though: not a single person stepping up to lead. That’s fine; I would never force anyone to pray, I just ask that they join in if they’d like and be respectful if they’d rather not. But I ask every day anyway. I don’t want to deny someone the chance to do something just because I’m making an assumption that saves me 10 seconds of time. So today, I asked. And a hand went right up. I took my seat, and the student led us in prayer.

She chose the Our Father.

In Spanish.

The language battle continues 🙂

Slice of Life: Getting Excited

Slice of Life

In two days, literacy professionals will descend on Grand Rapids, Michigan for the annual Michigan Reading Association Conference.

There are a lot of things I’m excited for:

  • Meeting up with my English teacher family
  • Finding new friends, those I’ve interacted with online and those I don’t even know exist at this moment
  • My first-ever solo presentation at a major conference
  • Friday night (so big, it gets a subsection)
    • I’m giving an Ignite talk as are several other Michigan educators. I’m a little nervous, but mostly excited.
    • There is a lip sync battle scheduled, and I just might be a part of it. I’ve picked some ridiculous songs. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
    • There will be plenty of Nerdy Book Club people around, and that makes this one of my favorite nights of the year
  • Grand Rapids: the city is just a wonderful place to be for a weekend

I can’t wait. Will you be there? Come to the Pure Michigan event Friday night! See you then!

Slice of Life: Skype, the Aftermath

Slice of Life

Today was the Skype day. Everything was set. We had questions prepared. We had a schedule set. We HAD SCHOOL, which was what foiled us the first two times.

Then I got to school. Our schedule had changed. The Skype times needed to be adjusted, too.

Of course.

Fortunately, we were able to be flexible, and our students finally got the chance to connect with some students in another classroom in another part of the country. Some questions worked, and some didn’t. Some students got stage fright, and some didn’t. It’s how it goes. But I was glad we connected. Just not without some hiccups, because that’s just how it goes. Thanks, Mrs. Minnich, for Skyping with us today!

Slice of Life: Skype!

Slice of Life

 As the school year has gone on, my friend Cindy and I have realized that since we both teach a bunch of freshmen and wouldn’t it be great if we had them Skype with each other? So we arranged a time. Our kids were excited.

And we had a snow day.

So we rescheduled. And our kids were excited.

And we had a cold day.

So we decided not to schedule. Bad things happen when we schedule it. So yesterday, Cindy approached me with an idea that we should Skype, as my students are beginning their poetry stuff, and her kids have good things to say about poetry. So we’re doing it! Tomorrow! It will happen.

::checks the weather forecast::

Yes! It will happen!

Slice of Life: A Chance to Breathe

Slice of Life

Today is a Sunday with not much planned. It’s been nice. I woke up, went to church, where the priest gave a nice homily on our duty to serve others, and then my wife and I went shopping. We’re just sort of lazing around now, getting a little cat nap in and some reading.

Which is good.

Because tomorrow, the 4th quarter begins.
This coming weekend is MRA.
The weekend after that begins spring break, and we’re taking our honeymoon trip (finally!).
Then the school year goes on full blast.
Then nErDcampMI is right around the corner.
And around the same time, our first born will be born.
Then there’s the rest of my life, being a parent.

So I’m grateful for today. And I’m sure every relaxing moment will be treasured four times as much as it ever was in just a few months from now.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Slice of Life: A New Pair of Old Shoes

Slice of Life

As some of you readers may know, my wife is Canadian. I am not. She lives in Canada. I do not. But I’m working on that. It’s a lot of paperwork and official forms from both Canada and the United States. The biggest thing is actually the waiting period as things get processed. Today, I was working on the finishing touches on my application.

Also today, I was working on what my 9th graders will be doing when we start the fourth quarter on Monday: poetry. So it only makes sense that I write a poem today.

“A New Pair of Old Shoes”

Something new, feels like
Something old.
Traveling south
To move north.
Heading east to the girl
From the west.

Everything is backward,
Yet like facing forward for the first time.
Comfortable and easy.
At home after years on the road.
Peace. Harmony.


Some things never change.

Slice of Life: A Memorable Day

Slice of Life

I’ve only thrice in my teaching career showed up for work and then left, sick. The first time, back in spring 2010, I had the swine flu. The third time was a week ago today. The second time was a year ago today.

I got to school and my body just wasn’t feeling it. Cramps, difficulty catching my breath, headache. I wasn’t going to be able to make it through the day. I went home before first hour even began.

But then, as I got home, I actually started feeling better. So I told myself, “Self, take a nap. If you feel better by noon, then I think today’s the day.”

So I took a nap.

And I felt better.

So noon came. I came up with a plan that was nothing like I had thought of to that point, even though I had thought for more than I’d ever thought of anything else about how and when to do what I was about to do. And then I started the 3-hour drive to Canada.

When i got there, I had to make a stop and pick up an order I had put in a few weeks ago. “When do you plan to give this?” they asked. “If all goes well, in just a couple hours!” They wished me luck, and I was on my way.

As I got to my girlfriend’s apartment, her roommate was [fortunately] not home. That allowed me to make some preparations.

But I was ready too early. I texted my brother, and he was excited (and distracted me from my nerves a bit).

Then my girlfriend got home.

I hit play, and she walked up the rose-petal covered staircase while our song was playing in the background, until she opened her bedroom door and saw me, ring in hand.

One year ago today, I made the best decision of my life as I proposed to my then-girlfriend. And she said yes! Life has never been the same, but it has been sweeter every day.

Happy engage-aversary, my beautiful wife!