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Why Get Comics into Schools and Schools into Comics?

By Guest Blogger: Dr. Katie Monnin

The first time someone told me about the nonprofit organization Reading with Pictures (RWP), I said: “Brilliant!”

I would like to take this opportunity to explain why I said “Brilliant!”

Perhaps surprisingly to those of you who know me, I did not say “Brilliant!” because I am extremely passionate about using comics and graphic novels in the classroom.  I said “Brilliant!” because RWP grounds itself in the fundamental theories behind WHY we must shift our literacy pedagogy to value comic books and graphic novels in the classroom.

Currently, we are living and teaching during the greatest communication revolution of all time (Kress, 2003).  And even though our communication revolution is second in history (to the 15th century invention of the printing press), it is first in terms of its impact and significance on the ways in which we communicate.  Due to advancements in technology and a growing emphasis on reading from screen/screen-like environments, print-text literacies no longer dominate communication.  Print-text literacies now share the stage with image literacies.  Kress’ (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age explains this shift by stating: “The world told is a different world to the world shown” (1).

In a world that is both told and shown, a world where communication is equally dependent upon print-text literacies and image literacies (iPods, the Internet, film, comic books, television, text messaging, hyper-linking, cell phones, interactive gaming, graphic novels, and so on), RWP has stepped forward to suggest that one way teachers can promote and empower modern students to read is to value comic books and graphic novels in the classroom.  They write that their mission is to:

  1. Promote literacy and improve educational outcomes for all students,
  2. Work with academics to cultivate groundbreaking research into the proper role of comics in education,
  3. Collaborate with cartoonists to produce exceptional graphic novel content for scholastic use,” and
  4. Develop a system of best practices for integrating comics into the curriculum.”

Each of these four goals directly responds to what many literacy scholars see as perhaps the greatest crises to ever face the world of education, especially reading education.  Never before has the field of education faced a communication revolution like this, a challenge so enormous and so revolutionary that the ways in which we teach reading and writing must change.  If we ignore this change, literacy scholars warn, we may be committing the greatest disservice in the history of education.

Brilliantly, RWP seeks to help teachers make this shift by highlighting how comic books and graphic novels equally rely on both print-text literacies and image literacies.

Personally, I know of no other organization that so clearly and so specifically targets and aides teachers in making this shift in their literacy pedagogy.  The brilliance behind RWP, moreover, is not only that they clearly see the need for this shift in pedagogy during the greatest communication revolution of all time, but also offer teachers research and resources for doing so.  RWP stands up in a world that seems to over-emphasize standardized tests, and points to another need, a need for all students to be able to be competent readers and writers of both print-text literacies and image literacies, the literacies that they will encounter both in-and-out-of school for the rest of their lives.

Dr. Katie Monnin is Assistant Professor of Literacy at the University of North Florida and Author of: Teaching Graphic Novels (2010), Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), Really Reading with Graphic Novels (2012), and Teaching Content Area Graphic Novels (2012).