Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

"Graphic Novels Are Real Books": Comparing Graphic Novels to Traditional Text Novels

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

"Graphic Novels Are Real Books": Comparing Graphic Novels to Traditional Text Novels

Article excerpt

Many parents and teachers complain about how difficult it is to get children to read. When I taught reading at the elementary and high school levels, my classroom libraries had plenty of graphic novels, comic books, and laminated funny pages for students to read in all genres. During Drop Everything and Read time, several students would ask if reading a comic book still "counted," and my reaction was, "Of course, it counts; you're still reading, right?" Nevertheless, I have not found any studies that have compared the comprehension levels required for a graphic novel to those required for a traditional text. With Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teacher evaluations, and research-based instruction at the forefront of instruction, how does the graphic novel compare to a traditional text when discussing required comprehension and reading ability? First and foremost, students need to read to improve their reading. The dilemma of a struggling reader is finding books he or she enjoys reading, and, similarly, the dilemma of a teacher of a struggling reader is to get the young person to read so he or she improves. As a reading teacher, I know that graphic novels help motivate struggling readers to read.

Graphic Novels in the Classroom

Contemporary graphic novels are designed for a new generation of young, emerging readers who are growing up in a very automated and visual environment (Rapp, 2011). Graphic novels are more than just stories with pictures; they have engaging illustrations that help readers infer the emotions and motivations of characters as well as more fully understand the twists and turns within the plot. Comics and graphic novels help introduce the reader to important features of fiction, such as narrative structure, tone, and character development (Schwarz, 2002). Nonfiction graphic novels and comics provide the reader with robust vocabulary, and the graphics help provide context clues to help readers with the more difficult words (Clark, 2013).

Although many people still consider the graphic novel unfit for school reading (Schwarz, 2006), the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) in 2006 teamed up with Diamond Comic Distributors and implemented a program making graphic-novelbased lesson plans available to K-12 teachers throughout the state. The MSDE's goal was to develop instructional strategies that encouraged reluctant readers to read more and gifted and talented students to gain in knowledge and creativity by conceiving and writing manuscripts for their comic books (Bitz, 2004). In this vein, Stouse (2003) noted that the educational community has come to recognize that comic books and graphic novels are excellent instructional tools for the classroom. Similarly, Cullinan (2000) found that avid comic book readers read overall more than traditional book readers and had more positive attitudes toward reading.

In 2001, Columbia University professor Michael Bitz founded The Comic Book Project, the goal of which is to engage children in the process of creating comic books. Bitz believed that struggling readers are especially engaged while reading comic books and the experience helps them reconnect with learning and embrace the power of communication through words, art, storytelling, and publishing (Bitz, 2004).

Another creative educator, Gene Yang (2008), drew comic math lessons for his students to follow when he needed to be away and had a substitute teacher. The students overwhelmingly loved the lessons because they constituted visual notes that helped really explain the mathematical process Yang was teaching. In fact, Yang was one of the first to write an article in graphic-novel format that was published in Language Arts journal, solidifying his point by taking the reader visually through the process (Yang, 2008).

Choice is Motivation

Motivation to read is key in helping students overcome their resistance to reading and increase their reading skills (Gambrell, 2011). …

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