As part of their humanities-based Core class, seventh graders read the graphic novel “Dragon Hoops” by Gene Luen Yang. In this autobiographical tale, the author—a math teacher and self-professed nerd—follows his high school’s basketball team on their quest to win a state championship. After reading the book, students attended an assembly in Roth Hall, where they had the opportunity to hear Gene speak about his journey to becoming a published author, the inspiration behind his novels and the details of his writing process.
Last year, students read an assortment of graphic novels for independent reading. Following the overwhelmingly positive response to “Dragon Hoops,” Core teachers Mark Quinto, Howe Lin and Todd Baron decided to dedicate a unit of this year’s curriculum to the book.
“The story is not only engaging, but it also talks about the history of basketball and social justice and ties in overcoming discrimination—it has all the themes that fit into our seventh grade curriculum,” said Howe.
Following Gene’s visit, seventh graders started drafting graphic novels of their own. They began by choosing a topic for their story, based on personal vignettes written earlier in the semester. The teachers led students in a storyboarding exercise to plan and execute each panel of their comic. They also taught mini-lessons on different narrative elements of graphic novels, including utilizing non-sequitur transitions, conveying emotion through facial expressions and body postures and understanding the importance of guiding readers to make connections and inferences in the spaces between each panel.
Seventh grader Ella Townsend adapted a poem she had written, describing how the new form of storytelling presented a unique challenge: “To make a graphic novel, you have to add pictures and actually visualize it, which is what my poem was meant to do by itself. Having less words and descriptive language is a lot more challenging.”
The project encouraged students to practice executive functioning skills such as time management, planning and communication. Leo Berghoff, who wrote about his first time successfully dropping into a halfpipe on his skateboard, drew inspiration from Gene’s visit, recalling the author’s advice and implementing it in his own writing process.
“The main inspiration I took from Gene was when he said it takes a long time and a lot of patience,” said Leo. “The draft took me a good amount of time and I needed to be patient and really manage my time well.”
On May 26, students culminated their unit of study with a Crossroads Comic-Con which included an introductory drawing activity, a panel discussion featuring seventh grade authors and convention-style stations for community members to meet each of the student-novelists. The Middle Schoolers were excited to talk about their work, thoughtfully sharing the empowering messages behind their stories.
“I wanted people to feel like they weren’t alone and show how you can always be yourself,” said Ellie Becher. “In the beginning, I drew different-shaped panels, but once [the main character] started becoming perfect, I drew perfect squares. At the end it’s back to non-perfect squares to show that you don’t need to be perfect. I also included a little note with organizations you can visit if you’re struggling.”