Saturday, April 7, 2012


Sam's first place ribbon at the Alaska State Science Fair
 for comics-in-education science fair project. 

By Chris Wilson

WARNING:  If you tell Alaskan third grader, Sam, that he cannot do something educational you may find yourself the subject of a science fair project. Such was the case with his teacher this year.

Sam wanted to read. He wanted to read comics, but his third grade teacher banned comics in class and refused to count them on his daily reading log. It is a common practice in elementary school across the nation to assign reading homework. Students must then log the books, pages, or minutes read on a form and then have it signed by a parent. The form is typically turned in on a weekly basis and assigned points for completion. Sam was okay with that, but he wanted to read comics: BONE, for instance. That was a no-go in his classroom. 

Sam in front of his comics-in-education science
fair project at the Alaska State Science Fair.
Sam knew what he loved to read and refused to accept the ban lying down. With the support of his science-loving parents, Sam choose comics-in-education as his science fair project. One late night for me –– not so late for them thanks to time zones –- Sam, his father, and I Skyped for about an hour. Sam had a list of excellent questions written out. He wanted to know how comics work. He wanted to know why comics help kids read and why kids love them. He wanted to know my favorites. Sam also wanted some research –– data –– on comics-in-education. 

Sam's science fair project.

I gave him my opinions, cited Scott McCloud, sent him the power point I presented to my district's board of education on the effect of comics on student achievement, and gave him some citations. Sam went to work and created a project that later won a first place at the Alaska State Science Fair. 

Close-up of Sam's project.

Not only did Sam demonstrate enthusiasm and tenacity worthy of any scientist, but he changed lives. Upon seeing Sam's science fair project, his teacher changed her policy, and not just for Sam. Now, all students in her room can read comics and record them for credit on the reading logs. 

Close-up of Sam's project.

Comics have an uncanny ability to bring kids to reading. The duality of image and text engage the human brain. The most amazing aspect is comics ability to work on struggling readers (those who can't seem to make sense of reading and decoding), average readers, and reluctant readers including those reluctant readers who have an proficient and advanced ability to read but despise the act of reading. 

Every year I have students who score 2-4 grade levels higher than their grade level in reading yet cannot bare to read. They fight with their parents to complete the minimum reading log minutes. When I give these kids –– typically boys, by the way –– comics, they come alive and read me out of house and classroom. Right now I have a group of 4 boys that have read nearly everything I offer and are begging for more, more, more. 

Thanks to Sam, he and his classmates now have the opportunity to read what they choose and enjoy every second of it. After all, reading is about choice and love. 


-Justin said...

This is inspiring! Keep up the great work.

Alec Longstreth said...

Great story! Good for Sam. I went through a similar thing in 5th grade (circa 1991) and had to prove that comics were reading to my teacher. You can read the story (in comics form!) on my site:

The Reluctant Pedant said...

Great post - well done Sam! We need to get rid of the notion that comics and graphic novels are somehow second-rate literature.

One small typo: kids who can bear to read. I hope you don't encourage bare reading in the classroom. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story. As someone promoting reading though, you need to check your grammer in the one sentence "can not bare to read". It should be "bear to read".

Jennifer Glidden, Capstone said...

Go Sam! What a great story!

Fooflam said...

Thank you for sharing this! It's always inspiring when someone so young is brave enough to stand up for themselves, especially in such an intelligent way.

schmakt said...

That is so awesome.
Congrats Sam!

Achilles said...

Cannot "bear" to read.

Jack Baur said...

This is a wonderful story! Sam is a hero, an example for kids everywhere, and offers additional fuel for all of us who are fighting for the place of comics in education. I have a question: is Sam's full presentation available anywhere? I'm always interested in collecting facts and figures around comics, readership, and literacy, and I'm drooling over those charts that I can't quite make out...