What’s funny? Reading!
By: Courtney Holtsclaw — October 2012
As the teacher finishes the lesson, she wipes the board clean and turns to her students. “Reading time,” she says with a smile on her face, as she walks back to her desk to browse through her computer or finish grading her papers contently.
While the ruffles of papers begin to die down and books begin to open, the boredom, anxiety, excitement or frustration sets in. Some of the students sit at their desks with their noses deep in their books, engulfed in their adventurous chapter books. However, some of the students sit there with blank expressions, acting as if they are reading. Others stumbling across words, while spending twice as much time on one page as the student next to them spend on half of a page. This happens twice or three times a week in this classroom, just as other classrooms across the country.
Is anything being done to get all students engaged and excited about reading time?
When looking at a classroom book shelves, more than likely, you will see chapter books, old text books, biographies, or picture books depending on what grade of classroom you are in. However, not all students are interested in reading this selection of books that are typically present in classrooms, but are there any other options? One option that is becoming popular with all ages of students is graphic novels. Graphic novels are longer versions of comic books with more detailed artwork that are bound, such as books (Schwarz, 2006).
There are many benefits to using graphic novels in the classroom, such as motivation. School librarians and educators have reported substantial success getting students to read by using graphic novels (Crawford & Weiner, 2009). Not only do they attract students that are struggling readers, they are attracting advanced readers as well. Therefore, graphic novels can be for students at any reading ability level. For example, students that are having difficulty with the traditional text format can read a graphic novel. Research shows that even below level readers enjoy reading when there is a graphic novel near (Crawford & Weiner, 2009).
Students with learning disabilities or English-Language Learners can use graphic novels to promote their reading. This can be achieved because the illustrations that go along with the text can provide students with contextual clues to the meaning of the text (Crawford & Weiner, 2009). Many students with learning disabilities, such as some students with Autism, cannot pick up on body language or emotional cues, but seeing the illustrations with the text can help them grasp the emotion. A benefit of graphic novels is the motivation that English-Language Learners have toward them. These students that are struggling can read the text and use the illustration to help come up with the meaning. Even though it is little text, it is promoting literacy for students by allowing reading to be approachable and not intimidating, such as books that have traditional text where there are is no illustration and pages and pages of possibly unfamiliar words that gives the students negative feelings toward reading.
With all the benefits that come with the incorporation of graphic novels, isn’t every educator promoting them? Many educators and librarians are promoting graphic novels; however, some educators do not use graphic novels in their classrooms because graphic novels are not on the state or nationals tests (Schwarz, 2006). They believe that this type of literacy would not be included, so why promote it in their classroom? There is a logical argument there, although research shows that graphic novels require the same skills that are needed to understand traditional text. In some instances, graphic novels actually contain more advanced vocabulary than traditional text at the same grade level (Crawford & Weiner, 2009). This type of vocabulary requires the readers to be actively engaged while they are reading. When critically thinking about a book that appeals to an entire classroom, the graphic novel is an easy choice.
There are other ways that graphic novels promote literacy as well. According to Shelley Hong Xu, an associate professor in the department of teacher education at California State University, preservice teachers should have to read unfamiliar graphic novels and record what strategies they used to comprehend the text.
“I think that every preservice and inservice teacher needs to experience this activity in order to better understand literacy knowledge and skills that students use with reading comics and graphic novels” (National Council of Teachers of English, 2005).
For example, when reading a graphic novel, students are introduced to narrative elements such as, beginning, middle and end of the story, main characters, setting, conflicts and solutions. Students are also exposed to structures of literacy such as, point of view, metaphors, symbolism, use of puns and alliteration, inferences, or punctuation for dialogue (Crawford & Weiner, 2009).
Another way that graphic novels can promote literacy in classrooms is using them to teach students about outlining skills. Rachael Sawyer Perkins, a teacher at Dolores Street Elementary School in Carson, California believes that graphic novels and comic strips are a way to teach students reading and writing skills, such as outlining.
“Using a comic, the students were able to understand that each panel represented a paragraph. The narrative text at the top became the topic sentence of sorts, communicating the main idea of the paragraph. The details were found in the visuals and in the dialogue” (National Council of Teachers of English, 2005).
This idea demonstrates one of many uses the graphic novel can do to benefit students’ literacy practices.
Gene Yang, a high school teacher and cartoonist, had to miss a couple of days every week because he was the school’s educational technologist. Therefore, he couldn’t be there to teach his Algebra class several times a week, so he came up with idea of “comic lectures.” He would give these to the sub and he/she would pass them out to the students on the days he was not present. His students responded very well to these commenting on how effective they were. When asking the students why the math comics he created were beneficial, he found that students love how graphic novels are visual, since students enjoy visual media, considering the time period that students are growing up in. Yang argues that by combining image and text, graphic novels bridge the gap between media we watch and media we read (Yang, 2007). This demonstrates that graphic novels can be integrated into different subjects other than reading as well as how important graphic novels can be for our future students.
Graphic novels combine many genres into one piece of work, which can benefit students in this time period. Scholars Donna E. Alvermann and Margaret C. Hagood state,
“As a result of the greater demands that students face in New Times, they must acquire the analytic tools necessary for critically ‘reading’ all kinds of media texts — film, video, MTV, the Internet, and so on; hence, our interest in incorporating critical media literacy in school curricula” (Schwarz, 2006).
Children are surrounded by these technologies, so shouldn’t schools be preparing students in all environments? Traditional text has a large part in the classroom, although more and more schools are moving towards technology to help students become familiar with way the world is changing. Therefore, shouldn’t educators be promoting graphic novels to help students with reading that they are immersed in everyday? More than likely students are not going to be presented with a classic novel after they graduate from school and even if they were presented with difficult traditional text, reading graphic novels beforehand would prepare the students for the reading.
In a 2009 article written in the Scholastic Graphix, Philip Crawford and Stephen Weiner explain that novels present the reader text, picture books give the reader mainly illustration, film tells a story by images and dialogue, and poetry can create meaning differently than the narrative text. However, graphic novels combine all of these genres into one to communicate a story providing the reader with many ways to interpret the meaning. This demonstrates to the reader all the possibilities there are to communicate a message. Students can see the difference between visual representation and written expression while reading graphic novels. Students can also gain experience with the idea of poetry and how the imagery and text create a message that wasn’t written as a description.
Another benefit is creative writing, which can generate from reading graphic novels because students could view how easily it is to create an alternate ending, by removing the last frame or use this framework as a way to create a story as mentioned previously (Crawford & Weiner, 2009). This demonstrates a tie between reading and writing in the classroom by allowing students to use readings they enjoy to help them write their own stories. Not to mention, the narration and dialogue in graphic novels that can help the students refer back to for examples when they are creating their own writing.
In conclusion, graphic novels can appeal to students at all reading levels: reluctant readers, struggling readers, English- Language learners, students with disabilities, average or advance readers. Graphic novels promote literacy in the classroom by providing students with exciting plots, narrative structures, and combination between illustration and text to create connections that possibly wouldn’t have been made otherwise. Not only are graphic novels beneficial to read, they also can be used to promote writing skills, outlining skills, and use in other subjects. Overall, the reading of graphic novels is a great way to promote literacy practices in the classroom.
Crawford, P., & Weiner, S. (2009). Using graphic novels with children and teens: A guide for teachers and librarians. Scholastic Graphix, 2–7.
National Council of Teachers of English (2005). Using comics and graphic novels in the classroom. The Council Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/magazine/archives/122031
Schwarz, G. (2006). Expanding literacies through graphic novels. The English Journal, 95(6), 58–64.
Yang, G. (2007). Graphic novels in the classroom. Language Arts, 85(3), 185–191.