Wizard’s Best Comic Book Creators Circa 2000

I’ve posted a few things from Wizard #105, where they went with a lot of rankings (characters, comic book stories, etc.) They also had a top ten creators (technically, a top 13 since it included three pairings.)

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I wouldn’t call it definitive, although it captures the mindset of people who read a lot of superhero comics at a particular time.

Eisner’s reputation would probably be higher now, due to the emphasis on the graphic novel. Alex Ross likely wouldn’t rate so high, mainly due to limited output. He’s one of the best cover artists, but he rarely produces original work, and the rest of his material didn’t have the impact of Kingdom Come or Marvels. I kinda doubt Ditko would be surpassed by Eastman and Laird. Art Spiegelman might be the guy selected to represented the Independent comics scene in a modern list, due to his work on Maus (the most prominent autobiographical comic book) and his stint as editor of RAW magazine. Alternatively, you could go with the Hernandez brothers for Love & Rockets.

It’s interesting to consider how the list would be different now. Writers are more prolific, so they’ll have a bit of an advantage in terms of their ability to have an impact. There are strong cases to be made for 2000s Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar with all his film deals, and Marvel/ DC writer Grant Morrison.

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Helping English Language Learners

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This was something I wrote for one of my classes when I was going for my education masters.

One of the major issues in education in the United States is determining how to help ELLs (English Language Learners), students whose command of the English language is not particularly strong. This leads to difficult questions that have not been resolved, such as whether the students should be segregated from the rest of the student body, and what specific kinds of institutional support would be most appropriate and effective. The textbook provides statistics on ELLs in the United States, although the numbers are different for New York state, and New York City. The National Center for Education Statistics notes that in the last available school year (2012-2013) 7.5 percent of students in the state participated in programs meant for English Language Learners, which is below the national average of 9.2 percent. However the percentage is higher in New York City. According to the 2013 Demographic Report from the New York City Department of Education, “ELLs make up 14.4% of the entire DOE student population, as there are 159,162 ELLs enrolled in the school system.” A further 41% of NYC students speak a language other than English at home, double the national average.

Statistics for the city aren’t going to be consistent from school to school. The Center for New York City Affairs from The New School produces an excellent website, Inside Schools, which has information on the percentage of the students who are ELLs – defined in this case as “the percentage of students who require English as a second language in the 2014-2015 school year” – in a particular school. For example, I can look up the page for I.S. 119, the middle school I went to, and determine that four percent of students are ELLs. I also learn that the same is true of Brooklyn’s P.S. 119 Amersfort, while P.S.119 in the Bronx has 22 percent English Language Learners.

The textbook mentions how SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Educations) kids have additional difficulties, including a lack of familiarity with formal schooling. Bang, Suarez-Orasco and O’Connor (2011) noted that students who lack strong literacy skills in their first language also have greater difficulties learning English, as they have less of a foundational knowledge about how language functions. They list the additional pitfalls for ELLs and SIFE kids: a higher likelihood of poverty, which corresponds with a lack of resources; limited parental support (often because the parents lack the necessary background knowledge to be able to help); and incentives to focus their energies on nonacademic tasks with more immediate awards. Teachers will need to learn how to help the students who struggle with so much.

It would be difficult to divide ELLs equally in New York City schools since so many schools are zoned, so an area with a higher percentage of immigrants is going to have more ELLs in the local schools. Demographics will differ for Chinatown and Spanish Harlem. ELLs would also have a difficult time getting into any school that requires examinations, and the parents are less likely to have the institutional knowledge to take advantage of any school choice.

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The Rule of Three in Humor

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Stealing a joke.

A little girl was walking through the park when she saw three dogs lying by the pathway. Being an animal lover, she approached the dogs and proceeded to pet one of the dogs on the head.

She said to the dog, “How are you? Are you happy? I wish you could tell me your name.”

The dog suddenly spoke up, “My name is Moe and I had a great day going in and out of puddles.”

The girl was amazed and said, “You can talk?! Do your friends talk too?”

The second dog also spoke up, “My name is Larry and I had a great day going in and out of puddles.”

The girl was pleasantly surprised to hear two dogs speaking to her so she approached the third dog and said, “Now let me guess – your name is Curly and you had a great day going in and out of puddles?”

“No,” the third dog said. “My name is Puddles and I had a lousy day.”

I recently went to a free lecture on humor in writing, and the guy talked about the rule of three. Basically, lists are funny if it’s kept to three.

He wondered if it was tied to three-act structure, giving a joke a beginning, middle and end.

I think it’s the right way to suggest a pattern, without taking too long to make the joke. It can be a list of three funny things, or a subversion of a pattern that’s already been established.

This has been written about elsewhere.

It keeps thinks brisk, useful for speeches.

According to an old New Yorker article, it’s an established part of a comedian’s repertoire.

There is a long-standing tradition—Leo McCarey, who directed the early Laurel and Hardy films, called it “almost an unwritten rule”—that jokes work best when there are two straightforward examples, to establish a pattern, and then a third, to shatter it. (“My favorite books are ‘Moby Dick‘, ‘Great Expectations‘ and ‘Rock Hard Abs In Thirty Days‘.”) The “rule of three” also holds that a running gag should be called back three times. The joke begins losing its savor the fourth time (and then, according to “comedy torture theory,” becomes funny again about the seventh time, as the audience realizes that the performer is being deliberately exasperating.)

“Del’s theory was that we have three brains,” Halpern said. “The joke is got first by our reptile brain, which appreciates slapstick, then by our mammalian brain,” which, Close believed, handles our wants and needs. (The few documented instances of animal humor are physical in nature. The researcher Roger Fouts reported in 1997 that Washoe , a chimpanzee he had taught to sign, once urinated on him while he was riding on his shoulders, then signed “Funny”—touching its nose—and snorted.) Finally, Halpern continued, “the joke reaches the humans neocortex,” which in Close’s view, was in charge of manners and customs.

 

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Concerns About English Language Learners

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This was a final essay for one of my classes when I was going for my Education masters. If I wrote it now, I’d have some additional paragraphs on the troubles with students who speak unconventional languages such as Mixtec, as well as the problems of SIFE (students with interrupted formal educations) kids who don’t know their first language well enough to use techniques for learning English as a second language.

English language learners (ELLs) in American schools face numerous literacy challenges. Standards have changed for a variety of reasons, so expectations are higher than ever. ELLs often lack access to their native language. Text selection is a problem, and their frame of reference may differ from that of classmates. Different ELLs will have different proficiency levels, which further complicates things for teachers and students.

I plan to teach Adolescent English Language Arts 7-12, also known as Middle School and High School in New York City. I was slightly concerned about being placed in a class that has an emphasis on younger students B-6 as this one does. However, the information has still been invaluable. It is very possible that, even as a Middle School or High School ELA Teacher, I will have to deal with students who do not have a significant command of the English language. While I would be less likely to deal with the slight majority of ELLs who are native born, it’s certainly possible that I’ll come into contact with the 45% who are foreign-born (Wessels, 2011.) That will come with unique difficulties. The gap in proficiency can be even greater between recent immigrants and their classmates in high school. Of course, there is also the reality that many adolescent students born in the United States are more capable of communicating in the language of their community than in English, especially as we are in a country that does not have an official language.

The first major problem for ELLs is high benchmarks. Their numbers are great, so they’re in more schools than ever before. The emphasis on testing, which is the standard by which schools are assessed, also applies to ELLs and incentivizes increasing their scores as quickly as possible. Another reason for the higher expectations is a belief in the effectiveness of immersion strategies, as well as an understanding of the need to insist that all students achieve their full potential. The current expectation is that ELLs will be placed in classrooms on day one (Rance-Roney, 2010.) Under the old system, ELL students had up to a year to acclimate to their new environment, and to learn the language, before placement into classes within the larger school community. Even this was criticized for developing unrealistic expectations, as it typically takes years for someone to become competent in a new language.

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Academic language is particularly difficult for ELL students (Echevarria, Richards-Tutor, Chinn & Ratleff, 2011.) Even students able to communicate effectively with their classmates using informal conversational English struggle with this. The level of English understanding required to summarize a text or to comprehend exposition is higher than the level required for small talk. Some students will be more proficient at one than the other (Ajayi, 2009) so an emphasis on academic language might obscure an individual’s skills at conversational English. The higher expectations may restrict efforts to gauge a student’s ability.

There are research-based techniques that work to build the academic language skills of ELL students, such as the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (Echevarria, Richards-Tutor, Chinn & Ratleff, 2011) but overworked teachers often fail to implement these appropriately. The best thing I can do as an instructor is to do the things teachers know that they’re supposed to do, even if they sometimes fall short. An example of something that is proven to be effective, but easier said than done, is to provide content objectives and language objectives that are clearly defined rather than implied. It will also be better to spend time with ELLs going over material in advance, so they have more time to prepare for anything they struggle with.

Another challenge is that ELL learners are diverse. They can be at different proficiency levels, to say nothing of the multiple possible native languages. The category of English Language Learner can include recent immigrants who barely speak English, recent immigrants who have taken English as a second language courses since they were toddlers, native-born speakers more skilled in their home language, less recent immigrants who are close to grade level, and others. These students will all need to be educated, and will have to be able to work with one another.

A third-grade teacher known as Seth found group projects to be a method that is effective when working with students who have diverse proficiency levels. (Iddings, Risko, & Rampullo, 2009). By grouping ELLs together on certain assignments, a teacher can use scaffolding techniques for those students who need it.

A drawback to group projects is that while it may increase participation, it may also make it difficult to assess an individual’s skill level.  A teacher in one of my classes spoke of a problem she encountered in a job interview for a middle school. She was asked to demonstrate a sample English Language Arts lesson to a small group of students. She was able to speak Spanish, which made some aspects of communication much easier. However, it took her some time to realize that one of the students was barely proficient in English. The other members of the group were covering for him, to help him save face.

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Numerous students find themselves in a different situation. A major problem for many ELL students is limited access to their native language (Iddings, Risko, & Rampullo, 2009). There will be an obvious difficulty in communication between an ELL who is barely proficient in English, and an ELA teacher who doesn’t speak their primary language, to say nothing of the student’s interactions with the larger school community.

The hiring of multilingual teachers helps, but this comes with significant drawbacks. There are few complaints about how there are too many people qualified to be teachers entering the profession. Placing a premium on another talent makes it even tougher to find the most effective educators. Policies will also differ based on the language. Spanish is unique in the United States due to the number of people who speak it, and there are quite a few communities where a particular language is prevalent. It may require a change in policy to actively seek out candidates from the pool of available teachers  who are effective at speaking a necessary second language. There will still always be languages too obscure for this to be a feasible option. It seems unlikely that a school will have enough Estonian ELLs to make my proficiency in that language into an asset.

In some cases, the solution isn’t to provide support in the native language, but to make the material more welcoming. As teachers, we can make an effort to pick topics where ELL students can feel comfortable participating with the rest of the class, and material that fulfills several diverse goals.

Text selection can thus be a problem for both teachers and students. If the texts are too difficult, students will be overwhelmed. If the texts are poorly chosen, students won’t learn. The best teachers find material that serves a multitude of purposes. Seth chose Curious George books for his third graders because he had enjoyed the material, and because he was familiar with educational theories suggesting that students can learn from multiple texts with consistent characters, narratives and conflicts (Iddings, Risko, & Rampullo, 2009).

Children’s books might not be effective in an intermediate school setting, although other formulaic work would be available (IE- short stories with the same characters, television scripts, lyrics by the same musician, etc.) There are additional alternatives that can be accessible to ELL students, but also educational for their classmates. As the definition of literacy has become more complex, there is the expectation that teachers familiarize their students with various forms of multimedia. The example was given of a middle school classroom (Ajayi, 2009) that interpreted the meanings of an advertisement for cell phones. All the students learned to be more critical about media they’re exposed to, while the visual nature of the subject matter made it easier for ELLs to participate, and to demonstrate their knowledge. This can’t be done, and honestly shouldn’t be done, with every lesson, but it seems like something worth doing on occasion. As teachers we don’t have to make every lesson as complicated as possible.

A final problem for ELLs is that they will have different frames of reference than other students. From my experiences as a student teacher, we’re encouraged to incorporate popular culture into lesson plans, as a way of developing lessons that are relevant to the students. They may learn about forms of narrative conflict better if it’s in the context of things they like. In settings where they’re the minority, ELLs may feel excluded. Bogum Yoon observed the experiences of two ELA teachers, and determined that one teacher’s emphasis on a mainstream American context might have kept the majority of the class interested, but it wasn’t relevant to recent immigrants. These students were not familiar with American football, and didn’t watch Survivor. In comparison, another teacher selected material that encouraged ELLs to participate, and to share their unique experiences.

In situations where ELLs are a small percentage of the class, teachers will need to determine how much time and effort should be devoted to them. Yoon observed that students were interested in the experiences of classmates born in other countries, but it’s not clear that it was the same level of interest as they had when discussing sports and television. Teachers have to make sure that efforts to be more inclusive towards two ELL students don’t result in three other students losing interest.

Seth’s class was able to incorporate their cultural knowledge by writing a new Curious George adventure in which he visits Mexico (Iddings, Risko, & Rampullo, 2009). That type of material allowed ELLs to participate along with the rest of the class. It demonstrated the advantage of stressing creativity.

Some of these challenges are intertwined, and one problem can exacerbate another. ELL students may find that the subject matter of a class isn’t particularly relevant, which further discourages them, along with the difficulties caused by limited access to their native language. Meanwhile, expectations are high and proficiency levels vary. Teachers must balance the needs of all their students.

I don’t know what kind of class I’ll teach, or what my experience will be with ELL students. It’s possible that I may find myself in a district where ELL students are a rarity (not very likely in New York City, but certainly possible elsewhere) or I may determine that the best available school is in an area where the majority of students speak English as a second language. I may end up working somewhere that is similar to the schools I attended, where there were enough ELL students to merit institutional support. So it’s essential to learn about strategies that are effective at allowing all students to participate, to demonstrate their learning and to share what they know.

Works Cited:

Ajayi, L. (2009). English as a second language learners’ exploration of multimodal texts in a junior high school.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(7), 585-595.

Bogum, Y. (2007). Offering or limiting opportunities: Teachers’ roles and approaches to English-language learners’ participation in literacy activities.  The Reading Teacher, 61(3), 216-225.

Echevarria, J., Richards-Tutor, C., Chinn, V.P, Ratless, P.A. (2011). Did they get it? The role of fidelity in teaching English learners. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(6), 425-434.

Iddings, AC.D., Risko, V.J., Rampulla, M.P. (2009). When you don’t speak their language: Guiding English-language learners through conversations about text. The Reading Teacher, 63(1), 52-61.

Rance-Roney, J. (2010). Jump-starting language and schema for English-language learners: Teacher-composed digital jumpstarts for academic reading. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(5), 386-395.

Wessels, S. (2011). Promoting vocabulary learning for English learners. The Reading Teacher, 65(1), 46-50.

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Best Presidential Launching Pads

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An interesting question was posed in a political debate: What is the best launching pad for the presidency? What is the best public office to hold if you want that job?

In the 2016 election the Republicans nominated a reality TV star/ businessman, while Democrats nominated a first lady/ Senator from NY/ Secretary of State. It seems unlikely that we’re going to see either combination again. These were people who were seen as potential presidents for some  time, even if they took different routes to get there. The main reason Hillary ran for Senator in New York because there was an opening for the office. A popular Republican Governor was in his second of three terms, so that seat wasn’t available.

An inherent weakness in a cabinet post is that it means the presidential contender will have been in the spotlight for a long time. Running while your party holds the White House means that you run against political winds since parties tend to peak, and gradually lose support. If you run when your party’s out of the White House, there’s a new generation of leaders to face in primaries, and the candidate is likely to be old (as they had to be plausible cabinet members at least five years before the presidential election).

The previous Presidents: Barack Obama and George W Bush might represent the ideal launching pads for their parties, in terms of getting elected.

A Senator from Illinois with 4-8 years in the office can have a liberal record in a state next to Iowa, while also gaining Midwestern appeal useful in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as benefiting from the Chicago media market. Democrats believe in national government, so they have a preference for members of Congress.

A Governor from Texas has credibility due to the size of the state, and appeal to Southern and Western voters, while the power of the state legislature provides some plausible deniability for any controversial developments. Republicans believe in states rights and laboratories of democracy, so they have a preference for executives.

This would suggest that Democrats should keep an eye on Tammy Duckworth, and if there’s an open Republican primary Greg Abbott would have a shot.

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Petrarch, Boccaccio and the Road to Latin Becoming a Dead Language

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An aspect of the Humanist movement is that they emphasized the work of the past, but also favored writing in contemporary languages. Petrarch and Boccaccio get credit for their decision to write in Italian, rather than Latin, among the first major writers to do so in prose; Dante and others had previously written poetry in Italian. The decision of these Renaissance writers to utilize the Italian language has educational implications in several ways.

One question is to imagine what it would have been like if Petrarch and Boccaccio did not write in Italian. Having great works of literature tends to freeze a language. English has changed a bit since Shakespeare’s day, but it is similar enough that his work is widely read today. In a similar way, a well-educated Italian can read Dante or Boccaccio. One of the results is that teachers can cover older material in a classroom setting, without requiring translations. In contrast, I’m fluent in Estonian, and Mid-19th Century Estonian is much tougher to follow than the work of Mid-19th Century English writers like Charles Dickens or Herman Melville. 16th Century Estonian is close to indecipherable for a non-specialist, while the plays of Christopher Marlowe are not.

There are varied consequences when a particular language is preferred for a particular purpose. One of the reasons the first great Japanese novel was written by a woman was that Japanese men in the day of Lady Murasaki were expected to write in Chinese. It is worth noting that there is no Chinese novel with the literary reputation of Tale of the Genji, so the quality of the work remained a major factor. As Petrarch and Boccaccio established that it was socially acceptable to write in Italian, the foundational texts of the language would be written by elites. This approach would influence many English writers. The subject matter, however, would be varied.

In a review for the New Yorker, Joan Accella noted that the use of the common tongue reflected a difference in subject matter. “More and more books were written in the common tongue and (as was not the case with Dante) about commoners. From that seedbed grew the idea that the lives of ordinary people could be described in literary language, and thereby ennobled.” This ethos continues in the English classroom, where there may be disagreements about what books to utilize, but there is an understanding that the subject matter will not be limited to historical figures and the wealthiest Americans.

Although Petrarch’s best known work was in Italian, the majority of his writing was in Latin. He thought Italian was better at communicating interesting ideas than Latin, which had become more practical, a method of discussing business with speakers of other languages, rather than producing vital art. As described in an Atlantic piece about second languages, “One aspect of understanding what Renaissance was and why it happened was that Petrarch and others like him noticed how much more complex, sophisticated, and, to their ears, beautiful, the classical Latin of Cicero and Horace was. They then tried to recreate that flowery, rhetorical style in their own day and time, in large part because they thought that the beauty and sophistication of the language also helped it convey beautiful and sophisticated ideas.” English writers like Chaucer and Shakespeare were exposed to Petrarch and Boccaccio’s work, and inspired to do similar things with that language, contributing to the development of the unique English culture.

As educators and consumers of culture, we take it for granted that any material we’re interested in can be found in English. Some students learn Latin, especially within the Catholic school system, but it isn’t the universal language that it used to be. Foreign languages tend to be taught in order to help people understand the culture of their contemporaries, rather than ancient texts. Some might say that there’s a parallel between the usage of Italian rather than Latin, and debates about whether students should be taught in the manner in which they’re accustomed to speaking (Spanglish, Ebonics) although that’s a different discussion.

Looking at the history of education and culture, I gain a deeper understanding of the ways that modern debates─and the policies that are so accepted we forget there ever was a debate─are shaped by developments that occurred generations ago in other cultures. The main debate is the extent to which classes should cover the great works of English literature, as well as English translations of great works of world literature, or contemporary material that may be more relevant to students. Both of these are the result of Petrarch and Boccaccio’s decisions to write in Italian rather than Latin, since it’s taken for granted that the students will study English. It’s a bit weird to imagine how things could have gone differently.

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Resources on District Policies

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This was something I wrote for a class when I was going for my education masters.

One of the difficulties for new and pre-service teachers is determining the standards in effect for a specific locality. My professor suggested that I examine three resources: the website Education World, the National Center for Educational Outcomes and the various state websites, before describing the information these provide on state and local school district standards.

I started with Education World. There are various links on the bottom of the home page, including a School Resources section which provides a hyperlink for “State/Nat’l Education Standards.” That introduces a page that provides links to various national standards (including Common Core, Department of Defense schools, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ American Indian Content Standards) as well as state standards grouped by either state or content area. When I clicked on the link for the page that provides standards by state on the morning of September 10, I was sent to a page that simply had the message “You are not authorized to access this page” without any further information on how to obtain access.

Clicking on one of the standards grouped by content area sent me to the appropriate page. The links are imperfect, as an attempt to find the requirements for a content area in a state leads to a general website for the state, but these eventually lead to the right place. I tested it out by searching for the ELA standards in Florida, and was eventually directed to a website that listed the relevant information. While searching for the Math standards for North Dakota, I was directed to the home page of the state government’s Department of Public Instruction website. That website was slightly more difficult to navigate (The “Assessments”  subsection of the Educators section was blank) but I eventually found the standards in the Community section.

The National Center on Educational Outcomes provides information relevant to teaching certain kinds of students. The State Policies section provides links to resources on the policies for ELLs, as well as students with disabilities, in a given state. The Standards and Accountability section does not provide links to national or state standards. There is a brief overview and Frequently Asked Questions section, although the focus remains on students with disabilities, and ELLs. There isn’t much information about state standards for the rest of the student body.

State websites also provide resources. The local department of education website is typically the first result on Google when you search for a state and the word “education.” There are still some complications. The first result for “North Dakota Education” leads to the state government website, and it is cumbersome to find the relevant information in the Education section if you are unaware that it is contained in the links for the Department of Public Instruction. Fortunately for us, the New York state website is relatively easy to navigate, as there is a link about common core on the home page which leads to the Engageny website. That allows anyone interested in the information to download a PDF with the national standards, as well as corresponding standards that are exclusive to the state.

These have not provided information for how the standards differ in a particular school district. That requires searching for the individual school districts, although the resources can be limited and of mixed quality. To give an example, there is no explanation in the website of the Buffalo Public School system about standards that are unique to the city. There is an explanation of common core, and a link to various state standards. This is arguably of greater relevance to the majority of the audience, the parents and local educators who have no need to compare their hometown to any other location.

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