Comics, graphic novels valuable teaching tools for educators – Monitor

Three years ago, ReBecca Jennings’ students were struggling to comprehend “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I was reading it with the class, and some of them just weren’t grasping it,” said the English teacher at Cano Freshmen Academy in Harlingen.

Jennings noticed that many of her students read Manga, or Japanese comics, and decided to take a different approach. She taught the Shakespeare classic using a graphic novel version.

“They completely understood it and made a lot more sense to them,” Jennings said, adding that the graphic novel helped pique the students’ interest in “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Some of (the students) found out that other (literary classics) were done in the graphic novel format and so the kids then wanted to search those out,” the teacher said.

Jennings has not had to use a graphic novel since, but said she would not hesitate to use one again. The teacher does use comics books once a year. She says it helps with teaching students plot, adding that comics follow a plot diagram, an organizational tool that helps map the events of a story.

According to a 2016 Publishers Weekly article, the use of graphic novels in the classroom is on the rise to engage reluctant and struggling readers. That same article pointed out that 60 percent of the population are visual learners.

In 2015, Comic Con in San Diego began offering panels on how to use comics in the classroom.

This year, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) is dedicating an entire day to comics. Beginning at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the festival will host a series of panels and information sessions on comics as literature and art. “A Spoonful of Sugar: Luring Students to Literature through Superhero Movies” is the title of one of the sessions.

Last year, FESTIBA had only one panel on comics hosted by UTRGV associate professor of English Jean Braithwaite. The one panel in 2016 was so well attended, Braithwaite was tasked with putting together an entire day.

“It is not a new art form, but it has sort of taken off in the last few decades,” the professor said.

Braithwaite points to 1986 as a turning point. That year, three critically-acclaimed comics were released — The Dark Knight Returns, Maus and Watchmen. In 1992, Maus became the first comic to win the Pulitzer Prize.

“It was this triple whammy of sophisticated comics,” she said. “I think ever since then, larger and larger numbers of people have been realizing that there is something quite serious going on here. It is not all just men in tights.”

The McAllen Public Library has also seen a growing interest in comics and graphic novels among children, teens and adults. Because of the popularity of the genre, the library has upped its funding for the section, according to the library’s Children’s Service Supervisor Kristina Corral.

Corral said the library has helped parents with children who have no interest in reading through graphic novels, adding that many of the classic fiction writings come in graphic format.

“We’ve noticed that the graphic novels have helped with the reluctant readers, which are the little ones who don’t like to read for pleasure or even for testing (at school),” Corral said. “The reluctant readers prefer to use the comic books because it doesn’t feel like reading a full book. It is more enjoyable for them. It is just a different way to get them into the reading.”


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