When I first got the syllabus for the class this summer, I groaned. Graphic novels. This was not what I had envisioned work for a master’s level class to entail. I thought these were like Calvin and Hobbes and Tintin that my brothers devoured when they were younger.
However, when I received the books and thumbed through them before class started, I realized that these were not just “comic” books. These were stories, biographies, and historical accounts written in simpler text with detailed pictures. My mindset was beginning to change. While I was not hooked, I was open.
After reading the first graphic novel, An American Born Chinese, I realized the appeal to students and began to think of ways that I could use graphic novels in the classroom. This continued throughout the semester as I engaged in Twitter chats, looked at and found resources relating to graphic novels, and even started directing some of my students toward graphic novels in the library–something that I never would have done before this semester!
Perhaps the two greatest lessons that I walk away with this semester as a result of reading seven graphic novels are engagement and the writing process.
First, let’s talk about engagement. I tried to read each graphic novel keeping in mind how I could use this graphic novel in the classroom but also what my students’ might appreciate about each novel.
Teacher perspective: While most of the graphic novels we read are more thematically advanced for my students, T-Minus and Primates could be used with my third graders. These books not only relate directly to units I teach (space and animals), but also work to enrich the content. I currently don’t read any novels or biographies about space or animals to my students–they’re all non-fiction texts with photographs and lots of words and information. Both of these texts do a great job enriching my units and providing complex information in a more simplistic and engaging way through the use of pictures and short explanations. In addition, I liked the short descriptions of text and the way that the pictures worked to advance the information presented. That’s a lesson in and of itself–learning how to read pictures! I also found that less text and more pictures would benefit and engage my struggling and/or reluctant readers! That’s always a win!
Student perspective: When I read these books through the lens of a student, I particularly noticed that the book was much easier and more enjoyable to read. The text was short and the pictures (especially the books with color pictures) worked to make the story more interesting.
The second major lesson that I come away with is having a more open mind about allowing my students to write in non-traditional ways.
Teacher perspective: As I read these seven graphic novels and participated in twitter chats with my cohort, I began to see that in order to best help my struggling and/or reluctant writers, I need to appeal to their interests. My students all love the Smile series and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. My students also talk about the social networking games they play online when they’re at home. These are children of the 21st century. I began seeing that allowing them to engage in writing that is nontraditional might be a better route to take at times than teaching them how to go through the writing process with several paragraphs. I found this comic template online and decided to give it a go with my students.
Student perspective- As I read graphic novels this semester and engaged in twitter chats, I began noticing that as the semester went on, I was more willing to let my students experiment in different ways with writing. In fact, I even began to encourage it. A few weeks ago, I told my students that I’ve noticed many of them have read and re-read the Smile series this year. I asked them if they’d like to write their own graphic novels. They started talking at once. “Yea!” “I already have an idea!” “I’ve always wanted to write my own comic story, but didn’t think I’d be able to at school!” were some comments that I heard. I was amazed at what they came up with. My students who tend to struggle the most with writing a traditional paragraph, were writing pages and pages and including detailed text, speech bubbles, and pictures. THey were engaged. I noticed that most of my students kept revisiting certain boxes after they had moved on to add details to their pictures or to change the way they had phrased something in the narrative portion or speech bubble. They were engaging in the writing process. Yes, it looked different than what I had previously envisioned, but they were using the same skills in a genre of writing that appealed to them. I was hooked.
I look forward to carrying these lessons with me through the remainder of the school year and expanding on them as I become more aware of what would engage my students more. I also look forward to sharing my students’ writing with colleagues to show what students can do when they’re engaged and given the opportunity to write or read text that interests them!