Interpreting Cartoons Helps Teach Analytical Thinking

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Tom Brossart/Roundup

Working their way through several political cartoons Monday morning were Jayme Chilson, Ali Tenney, Rochell Schmidt and Zoe Wright during Kristi Kisler’s seventh-grade gifted language arts and social studies class.

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Tom Brossart/Roundup

Students in Kristi Kisler’s seventh-grade class had to review 20 political cartoons and decide what the cartoons were trying to convey. The students then compared notes and presented their views to the class. Students Miriam Garner, Trevor Clawson, Adam Shannon, Anthony Tantimonaco and Tiara Reidy got together to compare thoughts.

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Tom Brossart/Roundup

Ali Tenney, Jayme Chilson and Zoe Wright, confer to write their meanings.

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Tom Brossart/Roundup

Mckenna Cave takes a moment to think about the cartoon she is viewing.

As the familiar saying goes: sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. For editorial cartoons, this could not be truer. Filled with visual metaphors and symbolism, political cartoons draw attention to social and political issues and events.

Without adequate background knowledge of an event however, even many adults fail to comprehend a cartoon’s message.

Although many of Kristi Kisler’s, seventh-grade gifted language arts and social studies students at Rim Country Middle School had never analyzed a cartoon before Monday, they jumped at the chance to take a stab at interpreting their hidden meanings.

Rather than giving a ton of background information on political cartooning, Kisler had the 20 students start with an activity to pique their interest in the topic.

After dispersing 52 cartoons throughout the classroom, Kisler had the students complete a scavenger hunt. Throughout the cartoons were symbols such as a soldier, Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty.

The students’ task was to identify these and after finding 20, present to the class what two of the cartoons meant to them. Although some of the cartoons dealt with complex social issues, some were easier to understand, like a cartoon of a weeping Statue of Liberty in front of the collapse of the two World Trade Center buildings.

Most of the students understood this was a depiction of the tragic Sept. 11, 2001 events.

“We are building the meaning first,” she said. “They may have some opinions about cartoons, but this teaches them analytical thinking.”

Most of the students said were excited about the new unit because it gave them a chance to draw and be funny. Steven Martinez said he had looked at cartoons before, but never gave much thought to their meaning.

“I am excited to make them,” he said.

This draws the question Kisler hopes to answer, what is the purpose of political cartooning? For Kisler’s class it will be a way to analyze the Bill of Rights. For cartoonists, it is a way to add input and their viewpoint on a historical event.

Monday’s dip in the world of political cartoons is the kick-off point for a unit on the Bill of Rights.

However, rather than only lecturing the students on the historical document, students will create their own 10 cartoons that depict the first 10 amendments of the Constitution.

Students will have to research historical data, learn how to draw cartoons, identify their own points of view on each amendment and draw a cartoon to depict that.

“That is what is cool about gifted kids, they have a desire to research,” she said. “They hyper focus on things that interest them.”

Although Mckenna Cave said she could not draw well, she is excited to make her own cartoons.

“If they have the desire or interest, they go after it,” Kisler said.

Kisler admitted that the Bill of Rights could be dry, so this is a way to “liven up the topic” and teach critical thinking at the same time.

This unit will ultimately lead into the Civil War. It is important students learn the Bill of Rights before learning about the war, so they understand why the north and south went to war in the first place, Kisler said.

Class history

This is the first time Kisler has taught this unit with gifted students. Just this year, the school started a cluster language arts and social studies gifted program for the 20 seventh-grade students. The school also started a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) class.

This is the first year the school has had enough gifted students to cluster into one class. Before this, gifted students were placed in normal classrooms and given differentiation with additional or advanced work.

Currently, 10 percent of the schools 600 students are gifted, Kisler said.

In Kisler’s class, she works with the students on advanced language arts and social studies topics for two hours.

“You lose momentum when you break it up into different classes,” Kisler said of traditional one-hour periods. “With this we can have an in-depth analysis and gifted kids get it, they already know the basics and I provide the details.”

Because of this, the pace of Kisler’s class is faster than most. Rather than raising their hands, students are encouraged to build off each other’s ideas in an open format.

Cave said she learns quicker in the gifted classes and sometimes feels bored in a traditional classroom.

Kisler said boredom is a common reason gifted kids drop out of high school.

“Research suggests gifted and special education kids feel isolated,” she said. “They found gifted kids don’t get their emotional needs met and they try to hide their giftedness so they don’t get teased.”

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