Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The comic book project, II: the problem with boys

He colored, he captioned, he concocted an original plot. But, given panels such as these, below, J's teacher has asked us, ever so politely, to have him redo his 6th grade English comic book assignment:

Having watched parts of the PBS documentary Raising Cain, I strongly suspect that the creative output displayed here is a function not of autism, but of maleness.

If so, it illustrates yet another way in which open-ended projects, combined with implicit expectations of niceness, shortchange boys in particular.

Particularly those who lack the social motivation to please their teachers.


Mrs. C said...

I tried your Raising Cain link and it isn't working right now.

I am sorry your son is going through this. Is there a way you could request a male teacher next year? Someone who gets it? :[

I think his argument about the school and the explosion in the house is exactly (!!) what army generals and the like do in wartime. It just doesn't make a very funny comic. :[

Sue VanHattum said...

I think it is funny - to 6th grade boys. He has the drama of a crisis, and some kids being heroes, getting rid of the explosions.

Looks like it fulfilled the requirements, too, unless the teacher thinks it doesn't meet: "9. Your comic book must be rated for general audience reading". Will you be telling the teacher he's done it and done it well?

Many kids, high or low level, probably enjoyed this assignment. To me, the particular assignment isn't the big problem. It's that everyone has to do the same assignment, or worry about the sorts of consequences you describe.

Sarah said...

Had I received this assignment from one of my students, I would not have asked him to redo it. I agree with you...boys often ARE shortchanged in America's schools.

Anonymous said...

Had I received this from a student of mine, I would have focused on correcting the cause-effect issue. That's not an explosion, it makes one.

However, please don't tar all female teachers with the same brush. I teach a number of students with various special needs in my classes. Each one is special, and gets what they need as I can provide it. However, there are some times when what I think a child needs, and what their parents think they need, differ.

Males and females absolutely learn differently, and prefer different types of assignments. However, certain ideas need to be clarified and reclarified, especially for boys who are excited by violence.

One idea is pretend vs real. A second is "audience". One thing you can ask the teacher to do is add an intended audience to her assignments. This helps students situate their creations in terms of knowledge they wish to impart.

The teacher can also use that as an opportunity to work on categorizing typical human responses. This is useful for all children, not just those who may have difficulty doing so for themselves.

You may have a particularly dense teacher. You may also have one who is trying to teach a particular lesson, and having trouble doing so.

I'm sorry you're unhappy, and I do hope that your son gets the education you want, and he needs.

lefty said...


Thanks for your thoughtful response.

There's just one thing I'd take issue with. As a linguist who has spent much time teasing out linguistic issues from conceptual issues in autism, I feel that people often mistake what are actually purely linguistic issues with conceptual ones. Cause and effect is a case in point. High functioning kids have no trouble whatsoever with this concept, but their language difficulties may suggest otherwise. My son incorrectly used the word "explosion" for "bomb," but he fully understands that bombs cause explosions!

For this, the academic remedy is building vocabulary.

Sue VanHattum said...

Hey lefty,

I'm wondering if you've seen http://web.syr.edu/~jisincla/

I loved it! I learned so much. I have a student who is NOT autistic, but Jim's site is still helpful, as I think about issues of respecting differences, and respecting this child for who he is.

I saw change.org's autism page on your follow list, and that's how I found this, so perhaps you have seen it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your point. This is like an uncontrolled experiment and you don't know what you are going to get. A good teacher would have added more structure to the assignment. I would have done some pre-editing and not left the parents to be puzzled by it.

The story was imaginative and creative. Children need to see there are consequences, even when their actions are unintentional. Did James cause the accident or did Emmit? Its like a paradox and that's very age-appropriate.

Most pre-teen boys I've met are not all that artistic (nor expressive). My son, the musician, tried art once and really struggled with a D (it was a gift). He like drawing Pokemon-style. I warned him ahead of time, but he had to experience it for himself.

Anonymous said...

I did a dilemmas project like this that was used to teach students that they had choices.

So we made problems they encountered at school, brainstormed some possible endings, surveyed the students and then put our results into a book form so other students could read it. Some of the problems had to do with situations that resulted in fights - so we were able to anticipate the situation ahead of time and lower the number of fights our students were getting into.

Here's a similiar situation that might occur at school.

A 'bad' kid (maybe your friend) tells you to hold onto his ipod for the day and during lunch another kid says that the ipod belongs to him. So are you a thief or is this kid telling a lie. Since you are a 'good' kid, because you were honest and told on the bad kid (that makes you a snitch) the teacher believes your story and punishes the bad kid. Adult law would make you an accessory and if you were tried as an adult, you would get the same sentence.

Here's one I encountered last week with ninth graders that has a twist.

A 'bad' kid gets out of his seat and takes a pencil from a girl. The 'good' girl raises her hand and says to me - would you tell him to give me back my pencil. I looked at the bad kid and he says but the pencil is mine and he shows me that he has a pen that matches the pencil. I say to the girl. Are you sure this is your pencil? And she nods her head - Yes. I'm still not convinced. So I have to call the boys mother and tell her the story - and she says she bought him a matching pen and pencil the previous Friday (I have to believe his story and not hers.) I give the pencil back to the boy - the girl doesn't make any protest - but says she'll go buy another pencil and I never hear another thing about it.

I don't want to overanalyze, but you can see how kids use classrooms like small laboratories to test out their hypothesis. They are, to an extent, experimenting on their teachers.