Graphic Novels: New Sites of Possibility in the Secondary Curriculum

By Schwarz, Gretchen | Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, January-December 2010 | Go to article overview

Graphic Novels: New Sites of Possibility in the Secondary Curriculum


Schwarz, Gretchen, Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue


While secondary students explore new media technologies outside of school, the typical secondary curriculum remains slow to change, even resistant. Students need a new kind of curriculum in the Digital Age, new sites of possibility for learning and creating knowledge. One medium that offers such a site is the graphic novel. The graphic novel can drive current traditional curriculum goals, teach new literacies, offer new topics with which teachers and students can engage, and enable new ways of learning.

This story is breaking all around us, around the world, at unprecedented speed. The bad news is that there are no easy answers to the puzzles that Digital Natives encounter. ... The good news is that there is a lot that we can do as our children grow up, with them and for them.

--Palfrey and Gasser (2008, p. 15)

As young people develop their facility with new technologies, geographies, and communicative modes, so, too, must their spaces of education grow and expand to accommodate this evolution.

--Hill and Vasudevan (2008, p. 5)

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The world changes--that seems obvious. Students do research and socialize online. Many no longer wear watches; their cell phones tell the time. People seldom go to stores to buy the latest hit music, and many young people depend on the Comedy Channel for their knowledge of current events. However, the response of the schools to the new mediated age has been slow. Many would argue that the response has been entirely inadequate. Much new technology has entered the schools, from computers to smart boards, but today's curriculum, especially at the secondary level, remains much the same. Students in English classes still read the same "classics" and write traditional research papers. Social studies courses still depend on recall demonstrated on multiple choice tests, and math and science may seem as irrelevant as ever to many students. At the same time, adolescents outside of school are creating videos and putting them on YouTube, writing and editing fan fiction online, and playing complex video games with other players around the world. New media require not only new teaching technologies but new curriculum--new and multiple literacies and ways of teaching across disciplines. In short, the Digital Age requires a different kind of classroom. While the traditional focus on print texts remains significant, worthy traditional goals need to be coupled with new aims to direct the curriculum. The graphic novel offers new ways to achieve traditional goals and serve as new sites of possibility across the curriculum for educators willing to learn along with their students.

ACHIEVING ONGOING TRADITIONAL GOALS

Today graphic novels are omnipresent not only in bookstores and among "tween" girls consuming manga. While experts argue over the term "graphic novel" Fingeroth (2008), quotes creator of Maus, Art Spiegleman, as calling a graphic novel "a comic that you need a bookmark for" (p. 4). The graphic novel is longer, packaged as a book, and usually centered on serious material; graphic novels receive critical respect as well as popular notice. Educators, too, have been drawn to this new medium--the comic book grown up. Lopes (2009), for example, comments on the "unlikely emergence of a movement of librarians and teachers to make graphic novels a regular reading habit of all Americans" (p. 165). From early on, educators have advocated graphic novels for engaging reluctant and remedial readers (see Crawford, 2005). Carter (2007a) identifies other current examples of curriculum goals aided by graphic novels as follows:

   Michael W. Smith and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm have shown that graphic
   novels attract male readers who are reluctant to read much else.
   The Maryland Comic Book Initiative has banked on comics to increase
   gains in reading motivation, interest, and comprehension among
   students. ... Scholars such as Stephen Cary, Stephen D. … 

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