Are Graphic Novels Always "Cool"? Pa Rent and Student Perspectives on Elementary Mathematics and Science Graphic Novels: The Need for Action Research by School Leaders

By Nesmith, Suzanne; Cooper, Sandi et al. | Planning and Changing, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

Are Graphic Novels Always "Cool"? Pa Rent and Student Perspectives on Elementary Mathematics and Science Graphic Novels: The Need for Action Research by School Leaders


Nesmith, Suzanne, Cooper, Sandi, Schwarz, Gretchen, Walker, Amanda, Planning and Changing


One of the ongoing problems in American education remains the rush to grab the latest panacea, from "teaching machines" to Outcomes Based Education to the Internet. All too often, those most engaged in the classroom-ordinary teachers, parents, and students-are least or last informed of or involved in curriculum decisions. Curriculum texts, however, make it clear that "key stakeholders," like teachers, parents, and students, "have the strongest interests in planning" (Marsh & Willis, 2007, p. 179). In a democratic nation, since Dewey's work especially, stakeholder participation seems not only natural but essential. This paper offers an example of a small-scale study conducted by university researchers producing thoughtful insights by students and parents into the use of new curriculum materials, graphic novels, in mathematics and science curriculum. Although the university research did not perhaps reflect fully realized qualitative research, similar research, done by administrators and teachers (action research) in their own contexts can be well done and makes sense for school leaders considering curriculum reform in their own particular schools. Moreover, democratic participation has value itself and can result in insights into new curriculum. Following are both a description of the faculty research study and an argument for action research in schools on the same kinds of topics.

The University Study

Several university faculty members and a doctoral student became interested in the potential for graphic novels in the curriculum. Books, articles, and websites multiply as do graphic novels aimed at schools. One scholarly example is Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom (Syma & Weiner, 2013). The English Journal has been running articles on graphic novels for a number of years, including "In Defense of Graphic Novels" (Hansen, 2010). Scholastic not only sells graphic novels but offers hundreds of classroom suggestions under "resources for teachers" (http:// www.Scholastic.com/teachers/). While most graphic novels are written for adults or older students, Samet (2010) declares that graphic novels for elementary readers are becoming a force, too. Graphic novels across the curriculum are a growing topic, as well. Kimmel (2013) notes that in particular, "School librarians can introduce graphic novels with STEM-related content...into classroom lessons and units" (p. 40).

As to stakeholders' attitudes, Mathews (2011) has conducted a study on graphic novels and preservice teachers, while Lapp, Wolsey, Fisher, and Frey (2011/2012) have done a study on graphic novels and elementary teachers. Despite a number of articles urging parents to appreciate graphic novels, objections remain; Alverson (2014) discussed both censorship and the advocacy of graphic novels by school librarians. Studies of what parents and their children think of graphic novels, using specific examples, remain absent.

Selecting a Focus (Forming the Question)

First, the researchers looked at information about graphic novels in the literature as above. Graphic novels are clearly "cool" with many young readers as can be seen from the graphic novels sections in book stores. While some scholars argue about the term, most readers agree that the graphic novel is longer than a comic book and tells one story or centers on one theme or subject while being fiction, nonfiction, or even poetry. Graphic novels are a relatively new medium and have become a "hot topic" in education. Students no longer "read" or learn solely from printonly materials. Furthermore, advocates of graphic novels in the classroom argue that graphic novels are engaging to students of all grades and ability levels and engage students in visual literacy (Carter, 2009) and even boost memory (Alverson, 2014). Because of teaching interests, the researchers wanted to learn about graphic novels aimed at elementary mathematics and science. The study involved gathering parents and their children, students in local schools, to review a few graphic novels and discuss them in focus groups. …

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