It is becoming increasingly important to develop cross-curricular programs in all stages of schooling. I have recently embarked on developing a new unit in English based on picture books, graphic novels and comics. This was a great learning experience for me but also highlighted the wealth of cross-curricular possibilities available.
Picture books are no longer just for children. Authors use picture books to communicate complex messages including current affairs, politics, history, geography and social trends. I loved reading The Flood by Jackie French. This gave a fascinating insight into the social impact of floods from the perspective of a child. Mirror by the very talented Jeanne Baker gave a fresh perspective of western and eastern culture and society. Using picture books to help students explore new issues and topics gives them the opportunity to focus on the raw subject instead of battling through extended slabs of written text.
The English curriculum encourages skill development in conjunction with other curriculum areas. For example, Factors that Shape Place (Geography Stage 3) can easily tie into Responding and Composing Text, (English Stage 3). Students could be given a topic to focus on from The Bathurst Goldfields, including the environmental impact of goldmining or the social experience of individuals on the goldfields. This content, research and personal narratives can be converted into picture books. This is a powerful learning experience that students will en joy composing and help them find further meaning in their learning across all curriculum areas.
Graphic novels are extended comics that include works in fiction and non-fiction. Different to comics, graphic novels contain a standalone story with characters, themes and plot. As a teaching tool these can be used in cross-curricular programs to enrich learning experiences. For example, when students come to the Bathurst Goldfields, they often have a highly glorified image of the historic Australian goldfields in their minds. Many are shocked when they learn about the food, flies, violence, disease and conditions men, women and children were exposed to. The joyous digging on the banks of a river with your mates, sharing a carefree lifestyle is put aside when they are exposed to some personal narratives in the form of diaries, letters and poems. Students love hearing about flies and maggots! As the polish miner Seweryn Korzelinski stated “As we proceeded in the heat, the flies – a real plague in Australia – got in our eyes nose and ears. It is impossible to keep them away…One species has a very virulent sting. If they barely touch the eyelid the eye stings and within 24 hours the whole side of the face swells closing the eye.”
Students can combine these narratives with the information they collect on the Goldfields to produce a whole class graphic novel about experiences on the Australian goldfields.
Typical diggers tent life near Ballarat circa 1865 – Courtesy National Library of Australia. Original oil painting by Edwin Stocqueler
Comics can be a fun way for students to record a unique experience or event. Teachers witness, quirky incidents and humorous events that are all part in parcel of a successful out of school excursion. These are often the learning experiences that students remember and recite to their parents when they return home. These are great learning opportunities that should be harnessed by classroom teachers. Students can develop a quick and simple comic strip that illustrates a memorable event or a situation they encountered. From a curriculum perspective students can learn about:
- The text type of comics
- Using illustrations to communicate information
- Using basic text to communication information
- Using specific colour and style to communicate tone and ‘voice’.
When considering excursions, think cross curricular!