by Chris Wilson, Elementary Teacher and Editor of The Graphic Classroom in response to my questions about graphic novels / comics in the classroom.
- Reading motivation increases when students have choice in reading.
- Research shows most teachers do not allow students real choice.
- One study: 84% of students discussed with peers books they choose. 16% of students discussed with peers books assigned by the teacher.
- Comics consistently rate in students’ top 3 choices for reading.
- Comics leads to reading other forms of literature
Personal observation as an elementary teacher
When a student in my school refuses to read, they bring them to me. Why? I offer them choices they’ve never had before. I have several proficient and advanced (even gifted) students who don’t want to read. They will if they have to, but their parents or teachers make them. They don’t want to do it. Those kids come to me and I turn them into students who chose to read for fun. Once I re-activate their love of reading, they voluntarily start reading short stories, chapter books, etc.
I have students of all reading levels (Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced) and all grades (1-4) who come to my classroom to check out comics. They even come during recess to get new books. I will be teaching students, and kids will come in during recess, check in their comics, check out new comics and leave. They love it. They love reading.
What good does it do to teach a child to read well if they hate reading and never pick up a book again in their adult life? How have we possibly benefited that child and soon-to-be-adult? Reading should be fun. It can be fun. A typical stereotype of comics is that if kids are allowed to read them, they won’t read anything else. Research says just the opposite. Comics readers — according to research — read a wide variety of forms including novels.
Let’s Be Clear
We DO NOT promote replacing traditional texts with comics. I don’t know of a single comics educator who wants that. Not one. We simply argue for the inclusion of comics into curriculum because of the power comics have over students. In many ways, comics are a life changer for students of all ages. I believe people should read all forms of literature: novels, short stories, newspapers, magazines, scholarly periodicals, poems, blogs, wikis … and yes, comics and graphic novels.
My point of view centers around choice. People should have choice in their reading. Adults do. Kids generally do not. Many teachers, according to research, do not allow their students real choice. Students read what is assigned. I have no problem using a hybrid. I offer several in my classroom.
I am one of the few who argues for the inclusion of comic adaptations as well. I have written extensively about that on my blog (The Graphic Classroom). That’s a hard one to get English teachers to buy into. I argue for dual readings. The Odyssey (epic Greek poem) read with Gareth Hinds’ comic adaptation of the same name. I recommend that students read a section in the poem and then read the corresponding comic. Or vice versa. Either way, they read both. This helps them to 1) decode the complex language and understand the basic story without the arcane language as a barrier to basic understanding; 2) When students understand the story, then they can really student and appreciate the beauty of the original language (as translated into English). That scaffolds their understanding of the text. 3) Students can also examine originals versus translations or adaptations and explore how a translator/adaptor changes, leaves out, puts in or otherwise changes the reading (or possible reading) of the text. Keep in mind, if the story was originally in Greek, then what we have is a translation.
Think about all the political pundits talking today. Many people we see on the news (pundits or politicians) say they have good knowledge of the Constitution. Do they? Do we rely on what they tell us as fact about the Constitution? The truth is, many of us do. However, if we listen to a pundit, radio show host or politician for our understanding of the Constitution, then we are really “reading an adaptation or translation”. We can use the dual reading of traditional text and comic adaptation to help teach students how to compare/contrast and analyze on their own.
Cavazos-Kottke, S. (2005). Tuned out but turned on: Boys’ (dis)engaged reading in and out of school [Electronic version]. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(3), 180-184.
Edmunds, K. M., & Bauserman, K. L. (2006). What teachers can learn about reading motivation through conversations with children [Electronic version]. The Reading Teacher, 59(5), 414-424.
Guthrie, J. T., Hoa, L. W., Wigfield, A., Tonks, S. M., & Perencevich, K. (2006). From spark to fire: Can situational reading interest lead to long-term reading motivation? [Electronic version]. Reading Research and Instruction, 45(2), 91-117.
Little, D. (2005). In a single bound: A short primer on comics for educators. Retrieved January 19, 2008, from http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/literacy/little.htmMcPherson, K. (2007, April).
Millard, E., & Marsh, J. (2001). Sending Minnie the Minx home: comics and reading choices. Cambridge Journal of Education, 31(1), 25-38.
Norton, B. (2003). The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers. The Reading Teacher, 57(2), 140-147.
Pachtman, A. B., & Wilson, K. A. (2006). What do the kids think? [Electronic version]. The Reading Teacher, 59(7), 680-684.
Schwarz, G. (2006). Expanding literacies through graphic novels. English Journal, 95(6), 58-64.
Versaci, R. (2001). How comic books can change the way our students see literature: One teacher’s perspective. The English Journal, 91(2), 61-67.
Veto, D. (2006, April). Motivating reluctant adolescent readers. School Administrator, 4. Retrieved June 17, 2008, from WilsonWeb.
Thank you, Chris, for sharing your wisdom; you are such a gifted teacher and literacy advocate! ~ Melissa & Imagination Soup readers