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Michael Langen Comics in the Classroom: Abstract

Comics have been popular reading for adolescents for a long time, and now the genre is moving beyond popular culture and into the classroom. More than ever, comics are being studied as literature. In 1987, Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus: A Survivor's Tale "demonstrated that comics could handle the complexity of subjects like the Holocaust and personal memoir with as much sensitivity and intelligence as film or prose."1Following the publication of Maus, many articles claimed that "comics are not just for kids anymore."1 However, comics can still be for kids, and can offer them much more than action and bright colors. Grade school teachers are recognizing the benefits of using comics in the classroom to promote literacy.

Comics and graphic novels offer children and adolescents a new approach to literature. Comics are fun to read and can teach a lot. Not only does the subject matter of some comics deal with important human and societal issues, but the form of the comics themselves can promote a better understanding of the elements of literature and story-telling, such as plot structure, characterization, theme, symbolism, metaphor, mood, tone, and irony. An editorial from the New York Times states that "Teachers are finding it easier to teach writing, grammar and punctuation with material that students are fully invested in." The editorial also states that comics offer a teacher the opportunity to "bring youth culture into the classroom" and show students that teachers "care about student interests and recognize the value of their contributions to the classroom community."2

Teaching comics is especially helpful for students who are struggling with reading. Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher, co-authors of Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and the Internet in an Urban High School, state that graphic novels are able to "present complex material in readable text."3 Frey and Fisher explain that some students have the ability to understand complex issues but are not strong enough readers to be able to understand and interpret traditional texts. Comics can be a solution to this problem as many comics are easier to read than traditional texts, but still tackle complex issues. Frey and Fisher assert that "graphic novels should not replace traditional texts, but rather provide the teacher with a way of building conceptual understanding and academic vocabulary, thereby making subsequent traditional texts more comprehensible."3Comics can also be studied as art as well as literature, and can even be taught in art classes. An interdisciplinary approach between English teachers and art teachers could be taken when teaching comics. An English teacher could focus on the literary aspects while the art teacher focuses on the artistic aspects---and both teachers could explore the interconnections between language and visual art. Studying comics can allow more artistic students to express their creativity in school.

In short, my research paper will present the specific ways in which teaching comics to elementary school students and adolescents can be an effective tool in promoting literacy, especially with those who struggle with reading skills. I will also explore the benefits of using comics to take an interdisciplinary approach to art and English education. As part of my research, I will interview Geneseo professors from the School of Education who teach "Issues in Teaching Reading," "Children's Literature in Elementary School," and "Methods and Materials in Secondary Education: English." Additionally, I will consider the following sources: Teaching Visual Literacy by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher

Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and the Internet in an Urban High School by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher Cartoons and Comics in the Classroom: A Reference for Teachers and Librarians by James L. Thomas Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels by James Bucky Carter Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom by Stephen Cary Graphic Novels 101 : Selecting and Using Graphic Novels to Promote Literacy for Children and Young Adults: A Resouce Guide for School Librarians and Educatorsby Philip Charles Crawford Comics in the Classroom by Laura Hudson Creating Comics Fosters Reading, Writing, and Creativity by Bill Zimmerman The Comics and Their Appeal to the Youth of Today by Fleda Cooper Kinneman An Experiment in the Use of Comics as Instructional Material by Katherine H. Hutchinson      1 Strum, James. "Comics in the Classroom." The Chronicle of Higher Education (2002).  2 "Comic Books in the Classroom." New York Times. 3 Jan. 2008. 3 Starr, Linda. "Eek! Comics in the Classroom!" Education World (2004).

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2 Comments

  1. Unknown User (ejl6)

    So you're having Prof. Keegan write your paper for you eh? :-P

    Cool idea for sure. You have a lot thought out already and it sounds like a solid plan. I think it might be worth looking into the huge range of comics available, particularly those that work with more traditional classroom texts. Specifically I would point to comic versions of Shakespeare. Persepolis seems to indicate the graphic novels are effective teaching tools - she learns about Marx this way unless I'm mistaken.

    As a minor point, the popularity of comic and comic related movies, games etc seems to indicate their relevance in "youth culture", something to toss in their in some dimension.

    An issue that I can see with this paper (though really more the topic than your approach) is the dynamics of American education systems that make integrating comics into the classroom difficult. I would imagine that your interviews will yield some insights into things like issues of funding, resistance by disciples of the canon, objectionable content, parent reactions. How you deal with these issues could make for an interesting part of your paper. Your paper looks very solid at this point but going from this abstract it feels a little heavy on the research. That is to say, there's a lot of good content to be had but I would find your opinions and reflections more interesting. Responding to stuff like the issues I mentioned with your opinions (with research support) in a more personal way seems like a possible way to strengthen your voice as a writer.

  2. Your project looks to be pretty far along, and I'm heartened by all of the specific titles -- not to mention interview subjects -- you have at hand.  Nice work!  What strikes me most, looking at it all, is a sense of how "graphic literacy" seems to have constituted itself as a fairly well-defined specialty in education.  Is that your opinion as well, or does your list pretty much exhaust the potential bibliography?  A little of what I say might overlap with a response to Megan English'sabstract, in particular my advice that you find a way to insert your own ideas/analysis into the field via a central primary source or two -- a number appropriate to the length of your paper.   But I see your top priority to be one of establishing an independent & critical vantage point upon the subject.  I say this because some of the sources & paradigms mentioned here remind me of efforts, during the 1960s-70s, to harness television or other media in literacy education.  The pattern seems to be 1) demonize the popular culture as rotting kids' brains, 2) "using" the new form as a way of bringing kids back to the classics (a movie of Romeo And Juliet!), then finally 3) wary recognition that there are multiple literacies, and that the portability of reading skills might be more complex.  A very brief historical overview on media literacy movements can be read here.  So just be careful to recognize that, within the field of education, there are pioneers or "entrepeneurs" staking out professional ground; obviously, if I'm teaching graphic novels, I think they're an important art form, but please be careful not to become a "medium"/channeler for these various other writers.  What's your own take on the subject?  Why are you writing about it?  So far, I see a topic and excellent sense of the field; still to be developed is your own distinctive voice and argument.  Let me know how it's going....