Teaching With Zombies and Caped Crusaders: Using Comics To Teach Argumentation and Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum

Presentation for 2015 Kentucky Council of Teachers of English Conference


The Common Core State Standards Initiative notes that writing is an important part of building a foundation for college and career readiness. Anchor standards include crafting arguments and drawing evidence to support those arguments across the curriculum; exploring complex ideas through writing; and conducting sustained research projects. The Common Core further stresses the need for authentic writing tasks to develop these skills and build a foundation for college and career readiness.

This session will explain how student-developed Comic Projects can address each of these Common Core Anchor Standards as well as support Writing, Arts and Humanities, Practical Living and Career Studies Program Reviews which are responsible for determining a large percentage of each Kentucky school’s accountability score. The presenter will provide teachers with practical assignments, strategies, and tools for classrooms from middle school through college.

This interactive session will help individual teachers craft a comic project for their unique classroom context using project-based (or passion-based) learning to increase student engagement and integrate differentiation. While on the surface comics are engaging and entertaining, many comics also explore rich layers of complex cultural, historical, philosophical, and psychological ideas. Using comics as a springboard to engage in discussion, reading, research, and writing about these complex ideas provides students with a framework to delve more deeply into a range of texts from classical literature to nonfiction as well as explore topics in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences.

Throughout the session we will explore how comic projects can address a number of learning goals and offer a variety of authentic writing experiences. We will discuss ideas for adapting this approach to different content areas and course topics. Teachers will leave this session with specific strategies for using comics to support argument writing and critical thinking in both one-time assignments and sustained research projects.


This session will demonstrate how student-driven Comic Projects can address the Common Core Anchor Standards as well as Program Reviews by supporting argumentation, critical thinking, and college and career readiness. Teachers will leave this session with specific strategies for adapting this approach to their unique classroom context.

Teaching.With.Zombies powerpoint slides and notes

Relevant Blog Posts:


What others say about teaching with comics:

Teaching On-Demand On the Down-Low

Integrate writing practice into your daily routine while reinforcing content learning with low-stakes writing, and do it without adding more grading.

Teaching On-Demand On the Down-Low powerpoint

3 Keys to Teaching Kids to Write

Writing Project Professional Development Continues to Yield Gains in Student Writing Achievement

K-Prep resources from KDE

Previous presentation with relevant tips: High- vs. Low-Stakes Writing

Blog posts about on-demand and low-stakes writing:

Teaching With Zombies and Caped Crusaders

Presentation for 2014 Kentucky Writing Project Fall Conference

Description: Harnessing the power of comics to inspire engagement and foster reading, writing, and critical thinking across disciplines, this session will share the scaffolding and assignments used to create comic projects demonstrating college readiness for first-year college students with developmental needs.

Presentation Powerpoint

Relevant Blog Posts:


What others say about teaching with comics:

Just In Time: Embedded Tutors Supporting Writing Across the Disciplines

Deanna Mascle, Morehead State University, Alvin Madden-Grider, Morehead State University, Kelly Collinsworth, Morehead State University,  Megan Ison, Morehead State University, & Demi Jacques, Morehead State University

This session will begin with an overview of the Morehead State University pilot embedded writing fellow program. After a reflective writing exercise, participants will discuss the unique needs of their individual programs and how their institution might implement a writing fellows program.

Kentucky Pedagogicon Conference Program

Just In Time powerpoint

Badges, Blogs, and Google+: Clicking in an Online Learning Community


When we teach online we must do more than build a course. We must select the right tools and tasks to both encourage student learning and allow effective demonstrations of it, but we must also intentionally build social capital and create a learning community. Creating a learning community that clicks, or connects, is a challenge under any circumstances, but even more difficult in an online class where there is little social capital. As both an online instructor and student, I have found that you can create an online learning community that clicks and will share the tools that I use with my students, including badges, blogs, and social media, to create connections and foster active engagement. These tools have successfully worked to engage first-year students through graduate students and include adaptations of methods I learned as an online student at Texas Tech and through the National Writing Project.

2014 CCCC – Computer Connection

Saturday, March 22 ~ L Session 9:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. ~ 3rd Floor of the JW Marriott

Inspired by:

Session Notes

Resources, strategies, and tips:

Composition as Open Environment: A Roundtable Discussion of the Writing Studio

  • H.32 Composition as Open Environment: A Roundtable Discussion of the Writing Studio
  • 11:00 AM to 12:15 PM on Friday, March 21, 2014 CCCC ~ Session Flyer
  • Grand Ballroom VIII, Third Floor

Over the past two decades, the field of composition has sought out innovative strategies for delivering writing instruction to various student populations. Distance learning education, service learning, prison and workplace…

Emerging studio models diverge more widely from the Grego-Thompson model. Some programs are expanding writing studios through new designs that draw on blended course design principles and research on student conferencing, and others on learning communities as enacted in the National Writing Project. Still others are assessing the impact of financially-driven designs that aim to teach more students while reducing cost.

For this roundtable presentation, administrators and instructors in programs with writing studios will discuss the structure of their studios, reflect on the path taken to create these writing spaces, and offer ideas for the future of the studio model. Significant time will be left for full discussion with audience members.

The NWP Studio Model: Exploring New Possibilities

At Morehead State University, our Writing Studio is unique because we are located in a National Writing Project Site. For 40 years, the mission of the National Writing Project (NWP) has been to improve the teaching of writing. Nearly 200 NWP sites, located on college campuses across the United States, and educators at all levels, primary through postsecondary, and in all disciplines work toward this goal. At the heart of this successful professional development model is the learning community. This makes the writing studio model, which creates learning communities focused on writing, a natural connection and extension of the work of NWP sites.

Our Studio work takes a variety of forms. While we have more traditional Studio groups embedded within developmental writing classes we also run Writing Studio with First Year Seminar, Early College, High School English, and elementary classes. Our Studio work is both outreach – working with developing writers – and professional development – modeling how to support writers not teach writing.

Our Studio groups are led by preservice teachers who work in the classrooms of our NWP teachers both on and off campus as well as on and off the internet. We support the instructors and Peer Writers through our own Learning Community where we address both theory and practice.

The benefits of the NWP Studio model are two-fold. The students in classes offering our Writing Studio groups gain in confidence, motivation, and skills, but the Peer Writers who work with them are also learning and developing as writing teachers. We are able to use our Studio classrooms as a showcase and model for NWP methods while providing support for a wide range of developing writers. We are able to provide more long-term individualized writing support for more writers and we are able to show how (and why) this is the best way to teach writing to educators at the very beginning of their careers.

We have also found an unexpected benefit – participating in the learning community we use to support our Studio work, a community including site leaders, instructors, and peer writers, has reenergized our pedagogy and motivation. We have grown and developed as educators in ways that we might not have without the impetus of these weekly conversations about our teaching, students, and pedagogy. This has proved to be a tremendous benefit to us as an NWP site because one of our foundational professional development practices is the teacher as a reflective practitioner. It is easy to lose track of this during a busy semester but our Studio meetings have forced us to be reflective as the Peer Writers, as new teachers, question and challenge student behaviors and classroom practices alike. Our Studio learning community has given us fresh eyes to look at our students, our classes, and our pedagogy.

Blog posts about the MWP Writing Studio:

Information on the MWP web site:

Creating a Community of Writers Using Social Capital and Low-Stakes Writing

Badges, Blogs, and Google+: 

Social media offers many tools to support the creation of a learning community and foster the transformation to writer, but strategic planning is necessary to engage students in constructive learning. We will discuss tools and methods that can be used to create connections and foster active engagement.


One of the challenges we face with our own students is that they do not understand the importance of reading and writing to their own lives in the past, present, or future and they certainly do not understand the relevance of the assignments they typically complete for school or college to the development of these essential skills. Instead of telling them of the role literacy plays in their learning and success, as they have been told by countless teachers before, we focus on demonstrating it through reflection, discussion, and practice using social media.

We will bring examples of our own classroom practices and assignments and share feedback and examples from our students in developmental reading and writing classes as well as first year seminar and composition. We will then engage the audience in reflection and discussion of how these activities can be adapted to their unique classrooms and content. Our goal is to bridge the literacy gap by engaging students in constructive learning through social media, social capital, and lots and lots of literacy practice. We hope to learn as much, if not more, as the audience.

With Megan Ison – Accepted for 2014 KCTE Conference

Bridging the Writing Gap: Creating Authors

This interactive session will be led by a panel of college instructors and high school teachers, representing the Morehead Writing Project. They will share strategies and best practices endorsed by the National Writing Project for teachers interested in creating writers ready for college and life.


The National Writing Project was born in the 1970s in the wake of a writing crisis epitomized by the Newsweek article “Why Johnny Can’t Write.” Despite these concerns and countless initiatives intended to counteract them, we still find widespread dissatisfaction with the writing abilities of our students in general and particularly their preparation as writers. It is time to focus on creating writers confident in their ability to adapt to changing rhetorical situations.

This session offers an argument for National Writing Project methods, which have been proven by numerous studies to improve student writing performance . Research has established that NWP methods are effective, but artificial writing assignments such as isolated skill drills, on-demand practice, constructed response workouts, and other inauthentic writing exercises , which seem to be the focus in today’s schools, are not. Furthermore, college level writing requires writers able to demonstrate critical thinking and write in varied context. Successful writers, both in college and life, require a collection of writing strategies to address the varied rhetorical situations they will face.

Dr. Deanna Mascle, College Readiness Coordinator at Morehead State University, will share the expectations of college level writing based on more than a decade of experience working with undergraduate writers. Brandie Trent will bring her experience bridging the gap as both a high school teacher and early college instructor. Mandy Lawson will share her experience creating a writing workshop in her high school classroom. Leslie Workman will demonstrate how writing for a variety of purposes yielded results for her high school students.

This session will be interactive and offer resources and strategies teachers can use to create college-ready and life-ready  writers in their classrooms.

Accepted for 2014 KCTE Conference

Collaboration as Catalyst: Reinventing College Readiness at Morehead State University

Presented with Emma Perkins, Assistant Vice President for University College, at 2013 Kentucky Association for Developmental Education Conference


This interactive session will feature a discussion of the partnerships fueling new College Readiness Programs including supplemental instruction, co-requisites, and alternate pathways made possible by collaboration with the Morehead Writing Project, First Year Programs, First Year Seminar, Tutoring and Learning Center, and Adult Education.


The Morehead State University College Readiness Program (formerly known as developmental education) is in metamorphosis and the catalyst fueling our reinvention is collaboration. We know that it is essential to leverage existing programs and personnel to serve our students in these challenging times. Each new element of the college readiness program involves one or more partnerships. These include working with First Year Programs on our Summer Success Academy, the Morehead Writing Project Writing Studio to provide supplemental literacy instruction for remedial writers, the First Year Seminar to embed instruction for remedial readers and writers, the Tutoring and Learning Center to create a Writing Center with programs targeted to meet remedial needs, and Adult Education to offer alternate paths and supplemental instruction for students with remedial needs. Our session will be an interactive conversation during which we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a collaborative approach to remedial education. Audience engagement and participation will be encouraged.