Saturday, October 2, 2010


By Chris Wilson

The debate on whether or not comics should be used in classrooms at any level (elementary, middle school, high school or college) is a defunct one. While the comics-in-education movement is still scary to some teachers and administrators, it is an established movement with serious scholarly research and anecdotal evidence strongly supporting it. The research is there, my friends. The results are amazing.

Perhaps, it could be stated that comics supporting curricula and state standards is still in its infancy, but it is definitely not novel and it is not new. More importantly, comics are being utilized at all levels of education and not simply as supplemental material once the “real work” is finished. Comics are used as standalone, legitimate works worth of academic study.

The real debate and discussion now centers around how to properly and academically utilize comics in the classroom to increase student knowledge, teach basic literacy foundations, increase student motivation in all forms of reading, teach state and national standards, and assess student engagement and learning.

It is all very exciting.

Just a couple of weeks ago a high-ranking administrator in my school district approached me about presenting a comics-technology-literacy session at a regional educational technology conference. It was stated that the conference is always looking for presentations that have a wow factor. Comics, my friends, definitely have the wow factor for teachers –– and this is important –– for students.

I have numerous teachers in my building alone who send students to my room to check out comics. Often this is used as an incentive for students struggling academically, behaviorally or socially; however, this approach is not used exclusively for that population.

Last week a special education teacher and her students developed a vocabulary approach using comics. The kids bring in their spelling lists for the week. She has them create a comic using all five of the spelling words. The words must be spelled and used correctly in the narrative. Just like real comics publishers, the kids emphasize their important words by using a different color, ink, and/or changing the way the word is written. Some make new comics every week while others choose to create an on-going narrative. Either way, the kids are now motivated to study, write and understand their spelling words.

In that same week, a student of the Hall of Heroes comic book club stated that he read three comics the night prior. Big deal, right? Fourth grade kids are supposed to read every night. Well, the fact is, many of the students in my school do not read any night. The same is true with this student. This time he checked out six individual comic book issues and took them home. For the first time … ever read that very night. Never before has this child been excited about or even done his reading let alone filled out his reading log. This time, he actually reported to a teacher that he read. I sent him directly to his classroom teacher to tell her. He did and they have since filled out a reading log.

It may seem an insignificant thing to those who read regularly, but for this child, and many more like him, we have crossed a precipice and made an impact. For the first time in this child’s life he read because he wanted to and he was so excited that he just had to tell someone.

My focus now, as an editor and purveyor of comics education, is to read, review and promote the outstanding resources available to help teachers utilize comics in their classroom and their grade level.

The biggest complaint I hear from high school teachers when attending professional development sessions is that the information is geared for elementary or middle school students and is not applicable to the high school classroom. I sympathize with such plights and have resources for all levels of education.

The wealth of information and the vast number of comics is overwhelming and overpowering. It can be frightening to know where and how to get started. I suggest choosing one of the comics in our collection of best comics for your classroom and try it. Observe what works for you and your students and what does not and then try again. Slowly introduce new titles. Consider paired readings using traditional works and comics. Build toward themed and topical units using novels, comics, newspapers, videos, photo collections, and essays. Build culminating events and activities whereby students create their own comics to demonstrate their learning of a particular subject or topic. Bring one comic into your class to build students’ basic literacy skills, confidence and reading motivation.

Just remember: move slow and methodically. I teach my students that comics are not meant to be read fast. I believe the same is true with educational change. Add comics education as you can, one step at a time. Grow and build as your comfort level allows and do not be afraid to contact us. We will do our best to help you or forward you to others. Use our links in the sidebar to find others in the comics movement.

Comics are making a significant impact on education but change is slow and difficult. It is working!

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