Comics can teach

Comics in text books (click for interview w/creators)

More and more, teachers and librarians are realizing the educational power of comics (whether as comic books or graphic novels).

The Graphic Novel Reporter has an excellent interview with Dr. James Bucky Carter, assistant professor of English Education at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Erik A. Evensen, an award-winning artist, lecturer and teacher. The two have collaborated as writer and artist, respectively, to create Super-Powered Word Study, a text book for grades 5-12 that uses mini-comics to enhance language lessons.

The two talk about the power of sequential art in the classroom. Evensen: “[S]tudents need multiple, high-quality interactions with a word before they can really learn it. I’ve seen numbers range from around a dozen interactions to around fifty. What few vocabulary books or articles do, however, is actually offer really engaging texts to help bolster the enrichment. The mini-comics are what we hope qualify as examples of those high-quality interactions, the quality coming partly from the fact that kids are interested in comics and actually will spend some time reading them.”

And there’s also the power of creating comics to help strengthen a child’s education. Carter: “While I also believe that quizzes and traditional tests have their place, the best way to see if someone knows something is to see them utilizing its concepts or producing something new related to them. For vocabulary, this means asking students to use words they’ve learned, not just define them out of context or match them to definitions on the other side of the paper. The book teaches teachers a variety of ways they and students can use “clue language” or context clues to suggest they know a word’s meaning, and it asks them to do so in creative writing-based scenarios.”

While I wish the text book completely embraced comics, instead of only for 15 mini-comics 3-5 pages long, it’s still significant that this kind of book can be published by an educational publisher like Maupin House, where it will actually go out to schools. In the interview, Carter also talked about his efforts to overcome the still prevailing prejudice that comics are intrinsically ‘lesser than’ in comparison to other art forms and communication methods, so the battle is far from won. But it’s a great step forward.

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