Tuesday, August 18, 2009

10 Most Memorable School Visit Moments: #2

Every school I've had the privilege of speaking at has given me a great experience. Some have given me a great story, too.

“The First Time Someone Got It Right”

year: 2008
state: Nevada

My first time in a Nevada city besides Las Vegas brought another first.

At a Reno middle school, I combined my standard presentation with another I do called "The Language of Cartoons: What's So Funny?" It’s not a how-to-draw workshop—I don’t do those. Rather it’s a look at the (visual but also verbal) tricks cartoonists use that add up to a language we all learn without being formally taught—and without realizing it. Think of it as the special effects of the printed page—or PGI (pencil-generated imagery).

I show kids that when we read cartoons, we’re being detectives. The mystery, though always the same, is not always obvious: why is this funny? The clues are the words and the art. How do they work together to give meaning, but not quite all the meaning, letting the reader figure out some of it on his own?

In one segment of this presentation, I sketch various types of word bubbles one at a time and ask the kids what each means. They all know the standard oval speech bubble and the cloudlike thought bubble; many also know (or guess) the shout bubble:

Then I draw this:

And it stumps them. Of course they have guesses for that, too, some of which have been so clever I really should remember them. Yet I did remember that of the dozens of times I’d asked what that bubble means, no one (student or educator) had yet answered it correctly.

Until Nevada.

Jason (let's call him) knew that the slight difference from a shout bubble—the more angled points—makes it a static bubble. It is shown coming from devices that transmit sound electronically—a TV, loudspeaker, cell phone. I told Jason that he was the first ever to give me the right answer.

I went on, I finished, the students left. Then a teacher came up to me and said something to the effect of, "You have no idea how cool it was when you told Jason he was the first to know that type of word bubble." She explained: Jason kept to himself. When I praised him in front of his classmates, it was a huge boost for him.

The teacher was so moved by how this positively affected Jason that tears rimmed her eyes and she said she was about to cry.

For that alone, yet another worthy nominee for Teacher of the Year.

Read #1.

Read the whole countdown.

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