Comics and Graphic Novels: Honoring All Literacies

I was only partially surprised when a librarian mentioned to me that in her school, graphic novels were not seen as quality literature by some of the teachers. This discussion was prompted by a note a former student had written to her recently.

Thank you for letting me read graphic novels. They really hooked me as a reader, and now I am a great reader. I wish more people would have believed that these are the books that I could have.

“The books that I could have.” That statement alone speaks to the empowerment that graphic novels can foster within a reader. We need to move past the misconception that graphic novels and comics are not valuable as literature for students.

My own son is a shining example. He’s read a truckload of comics and graphic novels; he also happens to test very well in literacy (if that type of thing is important to you). This genre is not the only type of text that he reads. I’ll even admit that at times we have had to gently guide him toward other genres when he is in a rut as a reader. But we all get into ruts, such as my predilection for nonfiction at the expense of fiction. Lifelong readers are able to examine their own reading habits and make adjustments.

Understanding our students as readers can help to honor all literacies in school. My son was fortunate to participate in a statewide literacy project that advocates for this type of thinking, called “Wisconsin Writes“. Marci Glaus, an educational consultant with our department of public instruction, spearheads this initiative. The goal is to “provide a glimpse into example writing processes of Wisconsin writers from a variety of contexts”. Below is an interview with my son for this initiative.

The question remains: how do graphic novels and comics lead to empowered readers and writers? There are many possibilities…Regie Routman recently shared out a project from Winnipeg Schools. After a community-wide clean-up of plastic waste, older students created comic book superhero stories for younger students. Their hero’s superpower helped address environmental problems. (Go to 4:30 mark for the comic book project.)

The purpose of reading is to understand. Our understanding is dependent not just on the reader but also on the writer’s ability to communicate. If visuals help in this process, I see little reason why educators should disregard any medium. What are your thoughts about comics and graphic novels in the classroom? Please share in the comments.

 

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

6 thoughts on “Comics and Graphic Novels: Honoring All Literacies”

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! Today I’m an instructional coach and literacy specialist in large measure due to my wise mother who totally let me indulge my taste in the comic worlds of Dennis the Menace, Caspar, Little Lotta and Archie. Comic books are pretty much all I would read in 4th and 5th grade, but (surprise!) I eventually outgrew the comics, but the love of literacy stayed. Thanks, Mom!!!!

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  2. I’m not an educator, but my daughter has taught me to be a huge fan of graphic novels for developing kids’ enjoyment of reading. Graphic and notebook novels are the books that hooked her on reading, without question. I am grateful to her first through third grade teachers for gently suggesting other books, too, but basically leaving her be. As I did. Now she’s 8, reading ALL the time, and testing well above grade level. I don’t care so much about the testing, but I am so, so thrilled that she loves books. She’s just now branching out a bit more to other sorts of books, but still returns to her favorites pretty much every day. And me, I defend graphic and notebook novels to anyone who will listen.

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    1. Hi Jen, I appreciate the comment and the sharing of this post on Twitter. I hope more parents and literacy advocates can adopt your perspective on graphic novels, comics, and “notebook novels”. -Matt

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