Sequentially SmART-Using Graphic Novels across the K-12 Curriculum

By Gavigan, Karen | Teacher Librarian, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Sequentially SmART-Using Graphic Novels across the K-12 Curriculum


Gavigan, Karen, Teacher Librarian


After years of controversy and debate regarding their educational merit, graphic novels have finally come of age.

In fact, today you would likely be hard pressed to find a school library collection without them. Graphic novels are now widely recognized by school librarians as a mainstream literary medium that meets the informational and recreational needs of 21st-century learners. As soaring graphic novel circulation rates indicate, the popularity of graphic novels has grown in leaps and bounds. In addition, the sequential art format helps to facilitate learning for students with a variety of learning styles and abilities. Consequently, the burning question for school librarians regarding graphic novels in schools is no longer "Should I include graphic novels in my collection?," but "How can I use graphic novels to increase student achievement?" In order to improve student learning through the use of graphic novels, school librarians need to know how to convince others of their value, how to decide which graphic novels to use, and how to effectively integrate them across the curriculum.

CONVINCING THE NAYSAYERS

Although many school librarians and teachers value the educational and recreational benefits of graphic novels, there are still the naysayers who view them as subliterature that undermines literacy rather than enhances it. If you have colleagues, administrators, or parents who question the validity of using graphic novels with students, taking the time to inform them about the growing field of graphic novel research might help them understand the potential for using graphic novels in libraries and classrooms. The following body of research and theory can help to dispel any fears about using graphic novels in schools:

* Boys and Male Adolescents: A number of studies have revealed that the high interest topics and visual support found in graphic novels increased the reading motivation of boys and male adolescents (Brozo, 2002; Gavigan, 2011; Ivey & Fisher, 2006; Krashen, 2004; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2004; Smith & Wilhelm, 2002; Ujiie & Krashen, 1996).

* English Language Learners (ELL): Recent studies have demonstrated the benefits of using graphic novels with English language learners (Cary, 2004; Chun, 2009; Liu, 2004). For example, Cary's 2004 study proved that the authentic dialogues in graphic novels can help English language learners comprehend everyday English.

* Multiple Literacies: Other studies have shown that graphic novels can be used effectively to teach multiple literacies (Carter, 2007; Frey & Fisher, 2008; Schwarz, 2002; Xu, Sawyer, Zunich, 2005).

* Reading Comprehension: Reading comics/graphic novels increases vocabulary and comprehension by helping readers decode words and events through the use of visual sequences. Krashen (2004) also found that free voluntary reading leads to higher literacy skills (Krashen, 2004; Simmons, 2003)

* Reading Motivation: Several studies demonstrated that the combination of text and visuals in graphic novels can motivate readers to achieve reading enjoyment and success (Botzakis, 2009; Carter, 2007; Hammond, 2009; Krashen, 2004; Monnin, 2008).

* Special Needs Students: Graphic novels have also been shown to have a positive impact on the reading motivation and achievement of special needs students, including deaf students, autistic students, and other students with learning differences (Gavigan, 2011, Smetana, Odelson, Burns, & Grisham, 2009; Young & Irwin, 2005).

CONNECTING TO THE STANDARDS

In addition to using research to justify the use of graphic novels in schools, librarians need to be well-versed on how national standards support the use of graphic novels across the curriculum. Sharing this information with administrators and classroom teachers can help them realize that graphic novels can be effective tools for teaching the standards. …

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