Graphic Novels in the Classroom

By Lee, Allison | Practical Literacy, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Graphic Novels in the Classroom


Lee, Allison, Practical Literacy


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After giving a conference paper at the Australian Library & Information Association (ALIA) 2004 Conference, "Challenging Ideas" titled "Graphic Attraction: Graphic Novels In Libraries", I received some very positive feedback and found that there was a great deal of curiosity about the format. It seemed that people had heard of graphic novels, but had not been made aware of the variety and quality available. Since then, the popularity of graphic novels has increased markedly. In 2001, sales figures from the US were listed as $75 million. They increased more than four fold to $330 million in 2007 (Reid, 2007). This huge leap in popularity has been helped along due to Hollywood film tie-ins, but also because they are being embraced more and more by public and school libraries and their usage in the school curriculum is becoming more widespread. There is evidence for this in the plethora of material available on the internet related to graphic novels and their place in the literary realm. You can find lesson plans and teacher guides for graphic novels. There are online versions to read. You can also read news and reviews from fans, librarians and publishers. However, there are still competing voices that hold the view that graphic novels are a means to an end, not a legitimate end in themselves.

Clearly, comics and graphic novels do not constitute what most of us consider to be good literature. However, before we can make kids read what we want them to, we must first make them want to read. If hooking kids on books requires us to do it their way, via comics and graphic novels, so be it. (McTaggart, 2005, p. 46)

Thankfully, this attitude is becoming less adhered to as more and more librarians and educators see the value in housing graphic novels in libraries and their potential (and actual) role in the school curriculum. This discussion will look at the way in which they can be used in a practical way in the classroom.

Multiple literacies and the Graphic Novel

It is argued that the traditional literacy (reading and writing in print) is not sufficient in our media-dominated society (Schwartz, 2006). Information is more widely available and more immediately accessible. More material is being accessed electronically through computers, mobile phones and other devices. The type of information is also changing and developing. We have witnessed the growing influence of blogs and video broadcasters such as youtube.com in broadcasting opinion for example. However, in order to comprehend this information and make observations about the current culture we need to be able to sift and interpret effectively. It is this process of selection, analysis and reflection that requires us to be able to 'read' multiple texts such as film, television, and the Internet (Schwartz, 2006). We can add to this list photographs, paintings and other visual media such as billboards. This analysis and personal interpretation can be extended so that students are equipped to become more aware of their own social and cultural biases. 'Students can examine factors such as gender, race and social class in order to explore the way reading is constructed'(Sawyer & Gold, 2004 p. 264).

Economic value of the Graphic Novel

In an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald, (February 10, 2007) Dale Spender says that students are changing in the way they are learning and are adapting to the information age. Spender argues that the education system needs to address this change in method and also to the shifting needs of the society. She first stresses that students now need to learn to manage, manipulate and modify content that is made accessible to them in order to create a new understanding. In a larger context, the new economy requires information creators who understand that delivering the right information requires not just creativity but, 'relies more on critical analysis and assessment, on experimentation and evaluation' (Spender, 2007, p. …

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