Now that it is summer time, I fill the void of a highly scheduled teacher life, with a highly scheduled personal life. It is how a Type A person like me survives.

There is time for reading, for walking, for lifting, for watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, for socializing safely, for writing, and for taking professional development classes. Currently, I am enrolled in two classes. One is on using graphic novels in the classroom and the other is on using reading to support socio-emotional growth. As a teacher and a reader, I approach courses with the same mindset: ‘Okay, how do I use these concepts in my classroom and don’t those books sound fun to read and review?” Are those thoughts at odds? I think not.

As a reader, one who revels in reader response theory, I want to enjoy what I am reading and feel all of the feelings that come with it. As a teacher, I am often asked to put that aside and think about literary devices and standardized testing. However, I find that my students are the most engaged when I do both. I give them something to enjoy, that we can also talk about, analyze, and write about.

One of my courses has gone into great detail about how graphic novels are misconstrued as not challenging texts. Is this another situation where something fun (like romance novels) is not considered academically worthy? Perhaps. I love recommending graphic novels to reluctant readers and I love reading graphic novels. I love being immersed in the complex world that each author and illustrator creates. The colors and style can help to set the tone, sometimes even faster and more effectively than straight text.

The following is a discussion post that I submitted for the course to answer a question about how to use graphic novels in the classroom. I share it because my thoughts about how to use them as a teacher reflect how I see them as a reader:

As a sixth grade teacher, I am fortunate to have some creative freedom and to teach a population of students that are still excited about school and learning ( a devastating but true sentiment.). They want to have fun and from what I can see, graphic novels would be academically valuable and fun resources. I read that graphic novels can provide a rich and challenging reading experience, even though they have less text than a traditional novel.  Students in my class could use a graphic novel to discover character traits and types of conflict, without being bogged down in the comprehension of a difficult text (especially my students with language disabilities or my english language learners.).  I am also excited by an idea in “In Defense of Graphic Novels” to use graphic novels for complex analytical tasks.  The article says, “Eric S. Rabkin discusses how he uses graphic novels to focus his class’s attention on how narrative time unfolds. He explains that he will have “students in turn focus on a single frame of a graphic narrative, speak aloud whatever they see and whatever they infer, including their reflective and proleptic understandings of how the frame fits into the flow of the larger narrative” (Hansen 2012.)  One of our standards in sixth grade is to discuss how a scene in a book affects the plot or overall theme.  We do this with episodes in The Phantom Tollbooth, a novel with some pictures, and the exercise is fairly simple.  Doing the Rabkin exercise with a frame of a graphic novel, would allow for more complex thinking from our students, as they infer actions. traits, themes, etc from text and complex illustrations. And of course, graphic novels are inherently more fun.  They seem, to students, to be not school work, because they have pictures and are related to comic books.  When students see pictures, they often connect them to their own sources of entertainment (like cartoons, movies, comics, and video games.). Completing school assignments using a medium that they consider fun will encourage and excite students.  Sixth graders want to have fun in school and using graphic novels can bring that fun, with valuable learning experiences. 

As I wrote this, I realized that I could substitute “Students” for “I or me.” I am always more engaged in something when it seems fun, vibrant, or interesting. Graphic novels never cease to pull me into a story and are often the first things that I recommend to my struggling or reluctant readers.

How do you feel about graphic novels? Do you have any favorites?

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