Sunday, November 13, 2011


By Chris Wilson

Our building is always full of student teachers from the Missouri State University. The Academy program is a rigorous, non-traditional student teaching program where students spend 12 weeks in their home classroom and four weeks completing four individual week-long rotations with different grades or specialities: upper grade, kindergarten, special education, technology, etc. 

My classroom is one of the standard rotations for Academy student teachers (S-T) in the district. The S-Ts get exposure to grades K-4 every day, along with technology, eMINTS, inquiry-based learning, singing, and comics. I teach on Monday and they teach the rest of the week. Yes, my S-Ts sing to grades K-1 and even during other times. My job is to make the learning environment fun, push the S-Ts, allow them to experiment without fear of endangering standardize testing learning, and expand their levels of comfort.

This week, my S-T asked a lot of questions about reading and comics. She observed many of the fourth grade students in her home classroom didn't want to read anything but comics. Her concern was that they would never read anything beyond comics. 

It's a fair question.

The research on reading demonstrates that students who have choice in reading will read more. When given the choice to read comics students will develop a love of reading and move on to other modes (Norton (2003). My personal observations of comics fanboys reinforces the research. When they find out the role I play in comics and education, many of the fanboys expound on how comics taught them to read. More often than not, these fanboys are also avid readers of novels. 

Veto (2006) concluded that choice in reading creatives an environment where students are motivated and empowered to take responsibility for their own education. Many researchers (Cavazos-Kottke, 2005; Edmunds & Bauserman, 2006; Guthrie, Hoa, Wigfield, Tonks & Perencevich, 2006; McPherson 2007; Pachtman & Wilson, 2006; Veto, 2006) have demonstrated that choice in reading significantly determines reading motivation.

The research that impacts me is by Edmunds and Bauserman (2006). They discovered that 84% of the children researched discussed books they had selected themselves. Only 16% discussed books that were assigned by the teachers. 

When forced to read what teachers want rather than what the students choose, reading motivation –– love of reading –– is significantly decreased. When do students discuss books they are reading? When they choose them. Will your students move on to other modes? The research states they will. We teachers must be patient and allow our students to develop a natural and progression toward reading. 

I have said often and I will continue to say: Teachers armed with high intentions and a desire to help kids often educate the love of reading out of students. It is driven by a need to see them read novels. We push them away from picture books before they are ready. This is especially true, in my opinion, with our boys. Teachers see images as crutches or barriers to reading when, in fact, the scholarly research on comics demonstrates the opposite. Not only do comics help students learn to read, but comics help them  comprehend the skills we want to teach them. Most importantly, comics motive students to read. 

Not reading –– my friends –– never, ever leads to reading. Reading leads to read.

For more information on how you can use comics in your classroom to teach inference, visualization, foreshadowing, sequence, descriptive language, universal themes and other literary skills, see our list of recommended textbooks for teaching comics. Come to one of my lectures. I am speaking at the Miami Book Fair International this week. I will be at the Wildcat Comicon in Pennsylvania in the Spring. 

Cavazos-Kottke, S. (2005). Tuned out but turned on: Boys' (dis)engaged reading in and out of school [Electronic version]. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(3), 180-184.

Edmunds, K. M., & Bauserman, K. L. (2006). What teachers can learn about reading motivation through conversations with children [Electronic version]. The Reading Teacher, 59(5), 414-424.

Guthrie, J. T., Hoa, L. W., Wigfield, A., Tonks, S. M., & Perencevich, K. (2006). From spark to fire: Can situational reading interest lead to long-term reading motivation? [Electronic version]. Reading Research and Instruction, 45(2), 91-117.

Little, D. (2005). In a single bound: A short primer on comics for educators. Retrieved January 19, 2008, from, K. (2007, April).

Millard, E., & Marsh, J. (2001). Sending Minnie the Minx home: comics and reading choices. Cambridge Journal of Education, 31(1), 25-38.

Norton, B. (2003). The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers. The Reading Teacher, 57(2), 140-147.

Pachtman, A. B., & Wilson, K. A. (2006). What do the kids think? [Electronic version]. The Reading Teacher, 59(7), 680-684.

Schwarz, G. (2006). Expanding literacies through graphic novels. English Journal, 95(6), 58-64.

Versaci, R. (2001). How comic books can change the way our students see literature: One teacher's perspective. The English Journal, 91(2), 61-67.

Veto, D. (2006, April). Motivating reluctant adolescent readers. School Administrator, 4. Retrieved June 17, 2008, from WilsonWeb.

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