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Teaching Resources for Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale

One Book / One Bucks County 2005

Bucks County Free Library

Bucks County Free Library

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Maus in the Classroom: Unit Two

Interdisciplinary Webquest

(Grades 11 to 12)

Introduction:

Art Spiegelman's graphic novel, Maus, has much to recommend it. It won a special Pulitzer Prize, it is a compelling story of the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors, and it is written in an appealing format that tells a story through words and graphics. But should it be used as a teaching resource in the classroom? After all, it looks like a comic book, and it uses humor and characters with animal masks to talk about serious subjects like the Holocaust and depression. Is it literary enough, artistic enough, historically accurate enough to meet the tough academic standards required by your school? And will it offend survivors of the Holocaust and their families?

Task:

You will be part of a committee appointed by the curriculum supervisor for your school. This committee will discuss whether Maus should be approved for required reading in your high school's English and interdisciplinary studies courses. First you will be assigned a role as an English teacher, a social studies teacher, an art teacher, or a Holocaust survivor. You and other classmates with the same role will work together to evaluate Maus and discuss its merits and issues as they relate to your specialty. Then, you will represent your specialty in an interdisciplinary group to further discuss and evaluate Maus for inclusion in your school's curriculum. Based on what you learn from your own research and the research and opinions of others, you will prepare an essay either recommending or not recommending Maus to the curriculum supervisor.

Process:

  1. Everyone in the class will read the two volumes of Maus. Your teacher will provide a schedule for dates when various chapters are due. You will also be responsible for reading some general background information about the author, Art Spiegelman, in Contemporary Authors. You can access Contemporary Authors through the Power Library on your school's computer network or through the Bucks County Library's network at http://www.buckslib.org. Your teacher may also want to have you complete some writing prompts about your initial reactions to Maus.
  2. When everyone has read the book, your teacher will assign you to one of the following roles: English teacher, social studies teacher, art teacher, or Holocaust survivor. You will then meet with a group composed of other students with your same role. This group will follow the instructions in the "Resources" section, research and discuss the questions and issues assigned to the group, complete a decision-making guide, and come to a consensus about whether Maus should be recommended. The teacher will have the completed decision-making guide from your group duplicated for use in the next step.
  3. When each group has completed its guide and reached a consensus, you will be assigned to an interdisciplinary group. Depending on the size of your class, there may be five or six of these interdisciplinary "jigsaw" groups. In your jigsaw group there will be at least one of each kind of specialist. Copies of each specialist group's guide will be distributed to all members of the jigsaw groups. In each jigsaw group each member will now present the recommendations of his or her specialist group using the decision-making guide to summarize that group's work. During this group meeting, you may ask clarifying questions and offer alternate opinions and insights. You will need to learn as much as possible about all aspects of Maus in order to reach your own conclusions. Use your copies of the four decision-making guides to take your own notes about the jigsaw group discussion.
  4. Now that you have had an opportunity to become an expert in one aspect of Maus and heard the presentations of experts in other areas, you will write a five-paragraph persuasive essay for the curriculum supervisor either recommending or not recommending that Maus be included as required reading in your school's English or interdisciplinary studies courses. The essay will follow the standard five-paragraph essay format including three arguments presented with supporting evidence and examples. Each argument in this essay should represent the work of a different group so that three of the four aspects of Maus (literary merit, historical accuracy, artistic value, or the use of comics to treat a serious subject matter) will be addressed. If you need to refresh your memory about the format for the five-paragraph essay, you can visit this web site: http://www.orangeusd.k12.ca.us/yorba/persuasive_writing1.htm

Resources:

English teacher group

The job of the English teachers will be to evaluate Maus as a work of literature worthy of study in high school English or interdisciplinary classes. The following questions and resources will help you to focus on specific literary aspects of Maus. Your group can decide how you want to divide the questions. For each question, arguments and supporting facts should be recorded in the decision-making guide. You may make as many copies of the guide as you need to record all of your notes. One member of the group should be assigned to compile all arguments and supporting facts onto one easy-to-read copy of the guide. The group should feel free to discuss their findings, and all arguments should be supported with examples from the book or with critical analyses from the resources listed here. Be sure to document all sources used and use proper format when quoting sources.

  • Exemplary works of literature have common characteristics like universal themes, well-drawn characters, and unique styles. Are there universal themes and well-drawn characters in Maus? Find some examples of universal themes in the book. Map some character traits of the main characters. Are the characters flat, or do they have complexity? Find some examples of Spiegelman's unique style? What techniques does he use to tell his story? Are there multiple plots, and if so, how does the author weave them together? Are there things about Maus that make it more than just a simple story?
  • Browse through the following websites to see what various critics have said about the quality of Maus and the techniques Spiegelman uses in his work.
  • http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/introser/maus.htm
  • http://www.class.uidaho.edu/thomas/Holocaust/thomas/maus.html
  • http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/218/projects/oliver/MausbyAO.htm
  • http://www.northern.edu/hastingw/maus.htm
  • http://books.historywiz.org/moreinfo/maus.htm
  • An opinion on whether or not comics and graphic novels should be used in the classroom may be found at http://rosswhite.com/archives/ 000810.php
  • Use the following print resources in your school or public library to find out what the critics have to say about Maus and the graphic novel as literature.
  • McGrath, Charles. "How Cool Is Comics Lit?" New York Times Magazine. 11 July 2004 (24-33+).
  • "Maus." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 178. Ed. Janet Witalec. Detroit: Gale, 2004.


Social studies teacher group

The job of the social studies teachers will be to evaluate Maus for its historical accuracy. Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father and mother's experiences in Poland just as World War II was beginning and describes the German persecution of the Polish Jews both in the towns and cities of Poland and in the concentration camps. The following questions and resources will help you to focus on specific historic aspects of Maus. Your group can decide how you want to divide the questions. For each question, arguments and supporting facts should be recorded in the decision-making guide. You may make as many copies of the guide as you need to record all of your notes. One member of the group should be assigned to compile all arguments and supporting facts onto one easy-to-read copy of the guide. The group should feel free to discuss their findings, and all arguments should be supported with examples from the book and facts from resources. You may use any additional reliable resources you like to research the accuracy of Mr. Spiegelman's story. Be sure to document all sources used and use proper format when quoting sources.


Holocaust survivor group

The idea of telling the story of the Holocaust and other serious life experiences like depression and suicide in a comic book/graphic novel format might be offensive to some readers -- particularly those who have experienced them personally. In addition to the comic-style format, Mr. Spiegelman also uses humor in his story and often pokes fun at his father. As a Holocaust survivor or a relative of a Holocaust survivor, how would you feel about having the Holocaust presented in your community's high school in this format? Your group should also address the issues of stereotyping national groups by representing them as animals. Do you think this device would be a reason not to recommend Maus as a required book in the classroom? Your group can decide how you want to divide the questions. For each question, arguments and supporting facts should be recorded in the decision-making guide. You may make as many copies of the guide as you need to record all of your notes. One member of the group should be assigned to compile all arguments and supporting facts onto one easy-to-read copy of the guide. The group should feel free to discuss their findings, and all arguments should be supported with examples from the book and facts from resources.

  • Probably the best source for answers to these questions is to interview a Holocaust survivor. You teacher or librarian may be able to help you contact someone in the community who would be willing to answer some questions after he or she has had time to look over the book. Perhaps there are students in your class who have grandparents or great-grandparents who experienced the Holocaust. You could ask for their opinion, too.
  • Look in Maus for Vladek and Mala's opinions on these topics.
  • There are a few articles available that deal with these topics. Try to answer the questions above using these websites. You may also use other websites and articles.
  • Art Spiegelman's Maus http://www.northern.edu/hastingw/maus.htm
  • Maus: A Survivor's Tale (Random House) http://randomhouse.com/acmart/teacherguides/maus.html
  • Read the "Sidelights" section of the article on Art Spiegelman in Contemporary Authors. You can get to Contemporary Authors via the Power Library on your school's computer network or through the Bucks County Library's web site at http://www.buckslib.org. Choose Power Library, then Contemporary Authors, then search "Spiegelman, Art."
  • Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Different Type of Holocaust Literature http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/ bassr/218/projects/oliver/MausbyAO.htm


Art teacher group

Part of the appeal of Maus is its graphic format. Many students will like the book because of the pictures. But if the book is to be used as required reading, the art must be of excellent quality, and it should be an integral part of the message of the book. You will need to look at the various artistic devices that Art Spiegelman uses in Maus and try to come to some conclusion about how well the artist succeeds in using art to tell his story. Your group can decide how you want to divide the questions. For each question, arguments and supporting facts should be recorded in the decision-making guide. You may make as many copies of the guide as you need to record all of your notes. One member of the group should be assigned to compile all arguments and supporting facts onto one easy-to-read copy of the guide. The group should feel free to discuss their findings, and all arguments should be supported with examples from the book and facts from resources.

  • Before you begin your research, take some time to look carefully at the art in Maus. You might want to do this as a group. Be sure to record what you find so that you can use it to support your arguments.
  • Look at the figure drawing and the artist's use of perspective.
  • Look at the panel-to-panel transitions and how Spiegelman shows the passage of time using pictures rather than words.
  • Do the drawings enhance the story or detract from it? Do they actually take the place of words in some cases?
  • Can you find some examples of the artist using different styles to represent different themes and moods?
  • Are the pictures logical as they relate to the story?
  • Can you find some visual symbols or interesting devices that enhance the narrative?
  • You will find a great deal of information on comic art and graphic novels at the National Association of Comics Art Educators web site http://www.teachingcomics.org/studyguide.php . Look especially at the sections on "Basic Comics Terminology," "Critique Talking Points," and then look closely at the huge amount of information on the "Exercises" page at http://www.teachingcomics.org/exercises.php .
  • Your school and public libraries will be good sources of books on the art of cartooning. You will find lots of good information there.
  • You might want to interview an art teacher from your school to find out what he or she thinks about Spiegelman as an artist and about the graphic novel genre in literature.

Decision-Making Guide

Argument

Argument (Pro or Con)

1

 

 

 

Supporting Facts

 

 

 

Source(s)

 

 

 

2

Argument (Pro or Con)

 

 

 

Supporting Facts

 

 

 

Source(s)

 

 

 

3

Argument (Pro or Con)

 

 

 

Supporting Facts

 

 

 

Source(s)

 

 

 


Decision-Making Guide

Argument

Argument (Pro or Con)

4

 

 

 

Supporting Facts

 

 

 

Source(s)

 

 

 

5

Argument (Pro or Con)

 

 

 

Supporting Facts

 

 

 

Source(s)

 

 

 

6

Argument (Pro or Con)

 

 

 

Supporting Facts

 

 

 

Source(s)

 

 

 

Evaluation:

Your teacher will provide you with rubrics for evaluating your work on this project. The first rubric might include your individual work in your specialist group as well as your jigsaw group; the second rubric might evaluate your five-paragraph essay; and the third rubric could evaluate your reflection on the project. Perhaps your teacher will want to use other rubrics depending on the amount of time spent on this project and the teacher's educational goals for the project.

Conclusion:

The graphic novel is an increasingly popular literary genre, and the subject of the Holocaust and human rights violations are topics which have relevance in today's world. In Maus, Art Spiegelman has presented us with a unique approach to this important topic. This webquest and your discussions and reflections on the issue it presents will have provided you with an opportunity to get to know Maus well. If you would like to read other graphic novels, you might try browsing in your school or public library's graphic novel section, or got to the "No Flying, No Tights" web site for a list with reviews http://www.noflyingnotights.com/index2.html.

To conclude, please take a few minutes to write a reflection on this assignment. You might want to think about the following to focus your thinking:

  • How has your thinking changed about the kinds of books that can be used to teach literature or social studies or art?
  • What did you find out that you didn't know before?
  • Was the specialist group/jigsaw group format helpful to you in reaching your own opinion about the issue of using graphic novels in school?
  • How well did your two groups work?
  • Would you like your teacher to use this format again for researching information to support an opinion?

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