Monday, February 05, 2007

Comics In The Classroom

I was a poor, unmotivated reader in school and to some extent, even during my college years, despite the fact that I was seeking (and earned) a degree in English. My emphasis during my post secondary years was on creative writing. We’ll just ignore the hypocrisy of the writer as the reluctant reader for now. Recognizing in the first grade that I was an utterly incompetent reader, as compared to the many girls in my class whose wonderful progress was charted nicely above the green slate chalkboard, I handed over all types of reading to the rest of the world. I just wasn’t interested.

It wasn’t until I had a child that I decided that the road traveled was the wrong path. Not wanting to pass down my poor reading habits, I sought out something new for me: I looked for reading that would somehow help me find my long lost inner reader, that child who enjoyed stories, myths and fantastical adventures. At the same time I wanted something that had a strong female presence, girl power if you will, something to share with my daughter in future years. Something different and fresh and interesting.

I finally found myself in a local comic book store, with my friend Larry, looking for some adventures that a child and her father might enjoy together. My early impression of comics was a misguided and stereotypical one. Like many, I just assumed that comics were for young boys and old geeks, a form of low art – a bastardized form of sub-literature, nothing worth my skills as a writer with a formal degree. I don’t exactly recollect why that changed, but my perspective changed and continues to change.

There I stood, staring at the racks of comic books, realizing that there was an untapped source of legitimate reading material that was not just for little guys and geeky fan boys. There were rich and deep stories from many manufacturers. In the five years since that day, the comic industry has continued to evolve with the culture. In 2002 the American Library Association invited several comic book artists to the group’s convention. Much to those comic creators’ surprise, the librarians knew something about the comic industry that others did not. Comics were key to helping children, especially boys, get involved with reading. Comics are slowly entering elementary classrooms as a cross-curriculum endeavor. They are used to teach history, social studies, science, and other subjects, while also meeting communication arts requirements.

With the prevalence of technology, video games, and animated films, our culture has mutated and evolved. The written word, the traditional book, is not being replaced by comics. Rather, comics are taking their place in the social consciousness right beside its older cousin. Comics are influencing the modern cultural landscape. Just last year the 9/11 Commission released its report in graphic novel form in hopes of finding an audience uninterested by the traditionally-printed report. Today, many comics and graphic novels are produced: both fiction and non-fiction. Classic literature is being reinterpreted for the graphic novel format, and historical figures are being captured in the pages of non-fiction comics. They ain’t your Daddy’s comics anymore.

Understanding the children with whom I will be interacting on a daily basis in the classroom is vital to my making lasting impacts on their young minds. As I have argued before, simply teaching as I was taught is not sufficient in today’s classroom. A good teacher, an ethical and motivated teacher, will seek out ways to enhance learning in a meaningful and lasting way. I believe that comics are simply one tool that can be used in the classroom to help reluctant readers find a way to be interested in the written word. Reading is not just for girls or for children with purely academic interests. Even struggling readers can find enjoyment out of literature, a definition which I proudly state consists of comics and graphic novels.

I have help in my endeavor. Canadian elementary teacher, Scott Tingley, runs the Comics in the Classroom website. He’s been a great help to me in finding the right comics for my future classroom. Comic distributor, Diamond, also has a division geared toward getting comics in the classroom.

It is exciting to be on the forefront of an exciting movement toward the education of our youth. Every good elementary teacher has his own collection of literature for his classroom library. Most educators suggest having at least 200 books. I am amassing my collection now, which will include graphic novels and comics. From time to time, I will write reviews of those comics and post them here for you.


Anonymous said...

Although I think comics are a bit dorky, it is neat that you and others are using them to promote reading. Even I am interested in the comic love story of Spiderman and Mary Jane. Who would of thought I would want to read a Spiderman comic!

-Fat Jack's wife

Rick In Buffalo said...


I couldn't agree with you more. A few years ago I became aware of the Reading Crisis in our schools. Kids can't /won't /aren't reading up to the levels they should be. Lots of reasons why- won't go into them here.

I always did well in school - because I could read very well. That's the key. And I truly believe that I developed my reading skills thanks to Batman, Justice League, Green Lantern, and MAD magazine, etc.

Long story made short, I decided to create a company that uses a comic-based format to help middle school age kids read better. We use the techniques that have worked for decades with comics and apply them to required academic subjects like History and Math. It's a user-friendly way to learn.

We're a start up company - and breaking into schools is tough. Incredible barriers to entry. Especially with a program that is radically different from what is being used now ( even though textbooks clearly are not working well for many students) ...and there is the "stigma" of "comic books" not being legitimate educational; tools.

If you get a chance please visit our website and if you like it
spread the word

And thanks for the reminder on Diamond...I will have to contact them.

Rick in Buffalo