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Sense that your students may be losing enthusiasm for education? According to Quinn Rollins, a fix may be to introduce graphic novels into the classroom.
In his Sunday morning session "Beyond Batman: Using Nonfiction Graphic Novels as Serious Texts," Rollins discussed how a variety of students aren't getting what they need out of traditional classroom materials—from English language learners, to special ed students, to gifted students.
"So my philosophy is we need to engage them more, we need to teach them better," said Rollins.
That's where graphic novels come in. According to Rollins, there are many benefits to using this resource in the classroom—graphic novels pair the image and the text (which is helpful for struggling readers), model concise verbiage for skilled readers, reinforce the left-to-right sequence, and engage reluctant readers.
And it's not all about Superman or the Avengers. Rollins stressed that graphic novels explore many different themes and topics; they are a medium, not a genre.
For example, the wordless graphic novel The Arrival, by Shaun Tan, seeks to tell a universal immigration story. Or there's Lewis and Clark, by Nick Bertozzi, which tells of Meriwether Lewis's struggle with depression throughout his exploration in America. Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb, by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, explains the science behind the atomic bomb with pictures that help students visualize what they are learning. And Trickster: Native American Graphic Tales, by Matt Dembicki, is an anthology of Native American tales all either written or illustrated by Native Americans.
Rollins also recommended Panels.net (now Book Riot Comics), a resource that often puts out stories of current events in graphic novel form.
Graphic novels can be utilized in many different ways. One idea Rollins gave was to employ visual thinking strategies with the students—graphic novels can be a platform for students to envision themselves in the story, write their own dialogue, or extend the story beyond what is directly in the text. Teachers can even use them as a new tool for assessment by having students create their own graphic novels.
Rollins noted that there are many ways to ease graphic novels into the classroom, one being to take excerpts to supplement other materials or use in text sets. "Sometimes you don't have a whole week to devote to a single book, but you can definitely … take a scene from a graphic novel and use it to illustrate a point," he said.
There are certainly pitfalls to avoid when using this tool, though. Rollins cautioned that teachers should watch out for bad adaptations in the form of graphic novels, like the numerous graphic retellings of Shakespeare. He also warned against using textbooks in disguise—that is, graphic novels that essentially package all the information in regular textbooks along with some poor illustrations.
Still, well-chosen graphic novels add layers of understanding to traditional lessons and can be welcome, valuable additions to a teacher's toolbox.
To see Rollins's other graphic novel recommendations, visit www.quinnrollins.com. To explore more of his ideas for using graphic novels in the classroom, check out his book Play Like a Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics.
Kristen Hardy is a fourth-year communication studies student at UCLA. She works as a copy editor for the Daily Bruin and a writer for the UCLA Magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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