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It is important for a teacher to consider the various ways of teaching and to evaluate the effectiveness or failure of each mode. This enables them to assess and employ only those methodologies that aid in the productive and successful transmission of information to students of any rank. When it comes to comics and graphic novels, it is unavoidable that two separate delivery tools, messages, and imagery, are used. This suggests that they want more from the readers – more attention and emphasis, as well as greater use of their analytical skills. It is a great way to sharpen the synthetic skills of students and how effectively they connect the different patterns and comprehend the whole message in the least possible time.
“It always strikes me as supremely odd that high culture venerates the written word on the one hand, and the fine visual arts on the other. Yet somehow putting the two together is dismissed as juvenilia. Why is that? Why can’t these forms of art go together like music and dance?”, asserts Jonathan Hennessey, the author of The U.S. Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation.
John Lowe, Dean of Communication Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia says that he started his Literature journey by reading comics in his early life, which he asserts is the reason of his successful career in literature.
Many schools are preparing students for different required high-level skills using a storytelling approach because they argue that students pay utmost attention and render maximum focus to storytelling method of teaching than they do to any other text based methodology. Educators see a lot of potential in comics and graphic novels towards learning and skill training of high school children when it comes to imparting complex reading and analytical skills. This was initially asserted by Shelly Hong Xu who is a Professor at the California State University in Long Beach and author of Teaching Early Literacy. She makes a valid point when she says that comics and graphics novels are a part of literature and thus should very much be included in a classroom setting as we include all kinds of literature.
Require reader sophistication
One thing that is unavoidable is the fact that graphic novels and comics require sophisticated readers. Now why do I say so is because as we know that graphic novels also has a structured beginning, a middle section as well as a conclusion and all these parts play around the characters depicted in the visual story and are developed through conflicts. Now one of the most important differences between a novel and a comic is that a comic is both textual as well as visual and thus each segment or frame illustrates and interprets the key message of the brief text included in that frame and requires the reader to connect both forms of art and literature. This genre undoubtedly requires extra efforts and concentration as compared to any other form.
Increased scope of understanding
Another very substantial argument that I will put forth is the fact that the students who basically struggle with having to visualize what they read can do that effortlessly with these comic novels. For a reader to understand what they are reading it is important that they visualize each part of the literature; without visualizing and giving some image to the text, remembering those things becomes difficult. It becomes easier for them to understand the crux and the storyline of that comic book identifying the visual elements in a narrative format.
Now let’s dig deeper into the different themes that these comic and graphic novels include in their illustrations and how students can learn and understand these different genres of literature (Wham!: teaching with graphic novels across the curriculum, 2014).
A lot of research on this subject matter reveals that graphic novels are a motivating form of literature; they are great guide for struggling readers and have become one of the most popular methodologies of teaching when it comes to explaining dry and dull topics in areas like social studies and sciences.
Another argument on the enhanced scope of learning is that before these students are ready to read the entire text, the visuals and sequential art on the pages are exposed to them so that they already start making sense out of it. Looking at them from top to bottom or tracking them from left to right, they are practiced to interpret symbols, expressions, pictures and sequential events of the story. This genre of sequential art exposes to them an opportunity to connect these images with their own life story and experiences. It also helps them to predict and infer what might happen in the next frame or the next to that. They are just not required to decode the written words to understand the story; they can do that even by looking at it. Complex subject matters can thus be easily imparted to students.
Figure 1 - An excerpt from "Spiralbound" easily explains the message in merely six frames that could have taken pages of texts to explain.
The above excerpt is a classic example of how easily a complex set of information can be imparted to the students without using so many words. Yet the images can vividly show expressions, emotions, actions and much more detail than words can.
Better exposure to genres
A great many comic use various themes including but not limited to, satire, parody, allusion, irony etc. to help make a point and communicate the message to their readers in a more vivid manner. Understanding these themes and terms through a comic is more plausible because they use two forms of literature than understanding these things through; let’s say a Dickinson’s poem that only uses words to describe things.
More so, students are required to decode the interplay between texts and imagery and thus it is expected of them that they will higher level of analytical skills and though processing to understand synthesis and inference. As it is, the illustrative structure is sometimes more complex than merely the text and thus students would be able to put in more focus to understand the patterns on the pages that they would if it was merely verbose. The metaphors, puns, and symbolism are yet another way in the illustrative novels to open different genre to students to comprehend (Schwarz, 2006).
Figure 2 - An excerpt from "The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook" demands readers to understand the actions of the characters as well as the timing associated with each of their actions.
Comprehension of the above comics is quite challenging and would not have been possible to structure it the same way by using words only.
The 3 E’s of Comics and Graphic Novels
Josh Elder who is an American journalist, a writer, a lecturer and the President of Reading with Pictures has quite beautifully summed up the significance of comics and graphics novel on a high school level using the Three E’s. He says that Engagement, Efficiency and Effectiveness are the three E’s that should serve as a basis of why comics should be made part of the school curriculum. Let’s find out each of these E’s in greater details below:
Textual messages and juxtaposed images in a sequence gauge active and attentive readership. Readers feel obliged to make out meanings using both words and pictures as well as keep their brains active in making a sequence and filling the gaps that are intentionally kept between the frames for readers’ analyses.
Elder argues that comics are perhaps the most efficient way of literature or imparting any message to the kids because it uses the least possible spaces and time while conveying the maximum amount of information possible.
Experiments and research linked with neurological studies show that texts, as in words and pictures, both are processed in different parts of the brain. The Dual Coding Theory of Cognition, as termed by the neurologists, suggests that processing of both of these form happen separately and thus require all parts of the human brain to remain active and focused. Once human brain starts pairing an image with a related text, memory retention becomes easier and leads to better recall and thus enhanced learning. This means children can learn anything by this means effectively and at a fast paced compared to only text.
Great teaching methodology for reluctant readers
Let’s agree on the fact that not all students are good in reading let alone the fact that all students don’t have a high level of grammar and language skills. Another aspect of this is that, students get intimidated by a lot of texts and they just don’t bother opening up their books for this reason at times. This way when comics or graphic novels are used to impart learning, students feel motivated and read more. It also encourages students who are weak in language so that they may enjoy and understand great lessons without having to keep struggling with words. A reluctant reader is less likely to open up a book full of texts but give them a graphic novel, and they would love to dive in – this is what the objective of a teacher is – to understand the mode of learning of the children that yield optimum results and use them for their benefits.
For anyone who might disagree with this point of view may disagree stating that students will begin taking the course less seriously when the course curriculum would include comics and graphic novels than how they would have taken an all-text based curriculum.
To respond to such point of views it is important to ask yourself your particular objective of teaching. As a teacher, isn’t this your core objective to impart as much knowledge as we can? Isn’t this a teacher’s objective to make the students use as much of their skills as they can to understand the concepts? Isn’t this a teacher’s objective to keep aligned each of their students including the ones who might struggle with the language as well as the ones who just give up when it comes to too much reading? All these objectives are very well and effectively responded when a teacher uses graphic novels as they enhance the comprehension, make students use more than one skills to comprehend as well as be an aid for struggling readers.
Children live in a dynamic visual word, they need to connect with images and texts both at the same time to analyze and remember the connection between the two to comprehend subject matter faster and effectively. The more they have some visual aid, the more they remember them, and the more it will lead to better learning and development opportunities. Visual and textual forms, given together, demands children to engage more than one sense for comprehension.
Gavigan, Karen W.; Tomasevich, Mindy. (2011). Connecting Comics to Curriculum: Strategies for Grades 6 – 12, ABC-CLIO, LLC.
Niemtus, Zofia. (2015). How to teach…graphic novels. The Guardian on www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/nov/30/how-to-teach-graphic-novels
Schwarz, G. (2006). Expanding Literacies through Graphic Novels. English Journal, 95(6), p.58.
Wham!: teaching with graphic novels across the curriculum. (2014). Choice Reviews Online, 52(01), pp.52-0389-52-0389.
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