Monday, June 20, 2011

Comic Clubs and "Who's the Boss?"

Way back when (May 20, 2011, to be precise), I gave up my Professional Activity day and instead of marking in preparation for report cards, I took my school's Graphic Novel Club to visit Borden Business and Technical Institute. Dr. Peggy MacInnis (person on the left in my photograph) is the teacher-librarian at Borden. She and I participated in a study by Dr. Elizabeth Lee from Queens University (person in the middle in my photo) on graphic novel processing vs traditional novel processing. My school club was the elementary school study rep and Peggy's group was the secondary school study rep. We said we wanted to get our groups together to meet one day, and we were finally able to arrange a gathering.

My students thought they had died and gone to manga heaven. See the shelves behind us? Those are all manga, and that's just a small selection of Borden's massive collection. The Borden GNC (Graphic Novel Club) did a wonderful job of welcoming my club. Despite being two very different groups (elementary vs secondary, mostly female vs mostly male, university-graduate "leanings" vs skills and trades "leanings"), my students overcame their shyness because they were able to "talk comics" with this enthusiastic and eager bunch of students. Borden's principal paid for the pizza lunch. Dr. Lee brought cookies. The students planned all sorts of activities like "name that manga character" and sketching in the manga style. There was even a comic book sale in the school of which my students took full advantage.

A little "foot-in-mouth disease" on my part made me once again see the possibilities of a learning commons and notice the differences between elementary schools and high schools. When the adults were making their final comments to the students, I said I wanted to acknowledge the person they called "The Big Boss", Dr. MacInnis. All the high school students laughed at me - "Big Boss" wasn't their teacher-librarian; it was Candace, one of the student members of the club. I was a little embarrassed by my slip-up and talked/apologized to Peggy afterwards.

"All I do is buy the books" Peggy said. "They do everything else. They run the meetings. They choose which books I buy. They do it all. Sometimes it takes them a long time, because of the types of kids I have here. It took them a half an hour to figure out the seating plan for lunch. I let them do it."

Those were pretty powerful words for me. There were several times during the get-together where I wanted to dive in and get things progressing a little quicker or suggest a rule to the game that would make it smoother or more fair, but I sat on my hands (with difficulty). Peggy was right - the students had to learn how to organize things, how to handle a talkative crowd of fellow students, how to select teams in a way that mixed both groups - if I jumped in to "fix" things, how would that help their learning? I thought I was doing a pretty decent job in my school club of letting my students lead the way (by letting them pick which books to read and having them lead discussions) but I saw that I have so much farther that I can go with allowing them more say and power in the club (by letting them decide if or when a club meeting needs to be cancelled instead of choosing to do so myself because I was too busy, or by letting them determine the content of club meetings/activities). I know things are a bit different because it's a high school and these are teenagers, but why is age a barrier? When I admired the excellent condition all of the comics were in, I learned that the students use special book cover materials and they themselves volunteer to coat the covers and preserve the books. One of the high school students offered to have me send my collection to him so he would repair it. I think, if I can arrange it, that he should come to my school and teach me and my library helpers how to do it.

Our comic clubs had a great time socializing. My students didn't want to leave. We hope that we can do it again next year, and maybe I'll have learned a bit more about loosening control of things so that onlookers will wonder who truly is "the boss".

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