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Comic Books in the Classroom? How Reading and Writing Comics Boosts Literacy
by Monica Fuglei
Teaching is a tough job, and teaching literacy in underserved areas can be particularly challenging. With an increased focus on student performance, many teachers must push literacy for their students but can sometimes meet resistance from disinterested students who feel their assigned reading is boring. It’s no wonder so many teachers are feeling beat up these days.
Wham! Biff! Kapow! How comics help win the battle for literacy
Never fear — help is on the way. As superheroes often can be, this help is in disguise, wearing the brightly-colored pages of a comic book. With a little work, they can sweep in to help save the day. Comics are winning increased respect in the academic field as a powerful combination of storytelling and art that builds student engagement with course content.
Jason Tondro, author of the blog Doctor Comics, provides an excellent review of several books about comics and their positive effect on literacy. These publications speak to an increased movement among teachers to find material that combines attractive form with content. This both engages students and allows them to attach the curriculum to their own worlds, reinforcing content knowledge by making it personal.
Comic books in the classroom: A powerful storytelling tool
Comic book heroes have been taking over classes in Denver, Colorado since 2010. Comic Book Classroom is a non-profit group whose mission is to improve literacy and arts by providing a free comic-based curriculum as well as support for the teachers who use it.
While much of their current outreach is local to Denver, CBC provides curricular support to teachers across the nation and has helped increase the literacy and arts engagement of over 400 students in their first three years. They currently provide a unit called “Problems in My World,” a two-45-minute-class unit that helps introduce comic book language and techniques to students while connecting five Common Core Standards to their own experience. Comic Book Classroom’s website also provides an area for teachers to share and discuss their own comic-based lesson plans.
Literacy outreach to kids at Comic Con
Comic Book Classroom recently had their second annual Comic Convention. With a focus on their mission, the CBC ensures that the Denver Comic Con pays ample attention to their Kids’ Corral, which highlights their goal of connecting youth with the power of comics by providing age-appropriate comics, a reading area, a stage for youth-oriented presentations, and plenty of hands-on activities to exhilarate young people.
This year, Kids Corral highlighted special reading guests. Peter Mayhew (Star Wars’s Chewbacca) read from his own children’s book. William Shatner snuck into the Kids’ Corral to read “Where the Wild Things Are” to the crowd:
Beyond engagement: Writing comics teaches students plot analysis, story elements and problem solving
Comic Book Classroom is far from alone in their mission: several other organizations seek to marry curriculum content with the excitement of comics. The National Council of Teachers of English and several other online resources like Edutopia focus on the importance and benefits of using comics in the classroom while other sources like Free Technology for Teachers and Comics In The Classroom provide tangible strategies for integrating comics into the curriculum.
As the Comic Book Classroom describes, the visuals of a graphic novel can provide an excellent means for teaching basic movements of plot. Because so many of the features of writing are apparent right on the brightly-colored pages, one excellent way to use comics is to show early readers the parts of a story and help them with plot forecasting and recall. More developed writers and readers can use a graphical representation of a story to ensure that all major story elements are present in their own writing or to easily identify them in the comics they read.
Additionally, the marriage of classroom content with a graphical interface can further open students’ eyes to literacy content in their own at-home worlds. A homework assignment that encourages students to find an example of a comic to discuss in class encourages them to explore reading and writing online, in print media, or even in advertisements. Sending students home or to the library to find comic books provides opportunities for content discussion that further reinforces the idea that writing and reading are a part of their world and can help save the day, one student at a time.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.