Innovative Teaching – Comic Books in the Classroom
Today the focus in education is on enhanced student learning. Therefore all curriculum materials and teaching techniques are receiving careful review.
Just as education begins to emphasize standards and achievement, an innovative method of teaching reading and writing is catching steam. Recognizing that capturing the attention of young readers is an essential component of effective teaching practices, many teachers are turning to comic books as a tool to reach struggling readers as well as students who are new learners of the English language.
Though the initial reaction to the suggested process is that educators are simply lowering their educational standards and reinforcing lazy reading habits, it is easy to see why comic books have the potential to help readers. And if they help young readers become more fluent readers, then educators believe that critics should put away their negative pre-conceived notions and give comics a try.
Because comic books are laid out in frames, it is very easy for readers to track a story. In fact, it is also easy for those readers to both jump ahead and back as a story develops. In addition, the fact that each frame contains some text and a picture makes it much easier for readers to grasp and contextualize a story. Ultimately, the limited text in each frame is beneficial to those for which reading is a challenge.
Therefore comics are very appealing to those readers who are intimidated by and/or frustrated with long text passages. The pictures in the frames of course also add many visual cues to the story line helping students better understand the critical literary points of the story.
Those who advocate the use of comic books state succinctly: “The goal of any good teacher is to educate, even if the method seems unconventional.” Therefore if comics improve reading skills they should become a part of a teacher’s reading tool kit.
Again, proponents of the comic book movement insist that teachers should not simply drop a comic book upon a student’s desk with a demand that he or she read it. The concept is to use the comic book as a tool to teach reaching strategies in much the same manner that youngsters are taught with picture books.
Again, if students possess limited reading skills, teaching writing is also a difficult endeavor. It is even more difficult to teach writing to children if they are not invested in their learning. Proponents insist that comic books work as a method of getting investment from children. Therefore working with the comic book format including the use of frames means that teachers may find that writing, including the teaching of grammar and punctuation can be made more manageable for struggling learners.
In addition, the pairing of the visual with the written word is an excellent tool for helping young writers construct their stories. Such methods seem natural when children are very young yet the visual piece tends to be withdrawn as children get older, a factor that exacerbates the issues for struggling readers and writers.
It is extremely important to note that all proponents of the use of comic books in the classroom stipulate that comics are to supplement current materials, not replace. Therefore no one should see the use of comics as eliminating current grade appropriate reading materials.
Another concept that takes the comic book approach to another level is the creation of a graphic novel. Technically, the term graphic novel is used to refer to multiple issues of a series that have been collected into a single volume. Generally the term applies specifically to the concept of releasing the collected works without serialization.
However, Marvel Comics is set to release a whole line of graphic novels but is actually taking a number of classics and converting them to the graphic format. Each book will feature Marvel’s famous illustrations as well as a glossary of terms for young readers and special content geared toward assisting teachers. Along with “Treasure Island,” Marvel will develop graphic versions of “The Last of the Mohicans” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.”
Without a doubt, the vast majority of critics would likely find such literature in graphic formats more palpable then the traditional comic. It also goes without saying that the new Marvel series represents an enormous investment by the company and can only be seen as a clear belief that there is a strong market for such literature.
That investment can mean only one thing, Marvel at least believes the movement is here to stay.
Next up, we interview Chris Wilson, the editor of the web site the Graphic Classroom and a teacher who is writing his master’s thesis on the use of comics in the classroom.