By Chris Wilson
WARNING: If you tell Alaskan third grader, Sam, that he cannot do something educational you may find yourself the subject of a science fair project. Such was the case with his teacher this year.
Sam wanted to read. He wanted to read comics, but his third grade teacher banned comics in class and refused to count them on his daily reading log. It is a common practice in elementary school across the nation to assign reading homework. Students must then log the books, pages, or minutes read on a form and then have it signed by a parent. The form is typically turned in on a weekly basis and assigned points for completion. Sam was okay with that, but he wanted to read comics: BONE, for instance. That was a no-go in his classroom.
Sam in front of his comics-in-education science fair project at the Alaska State Science Fair.
Sam knew what he loved to read and refused to accept the ban lying down. With the support of his science-loving parents, Sam choose comics-in-education as his science fair project. One late night for me –– not so late for them thanks to time zones –- Sam, his father, and I Skyped for about an hour. Sam had a list of excellent questions written out. He wanted to know how comics work. He wanted to know why comics help kids read and why kids love them. He wanted to know my favorites. Sam also wanted some research –– data –– on comics-in-education.
Sam’s science fair project.
I gave him my opinions, cited Scott McCloud, sent him the power point I presented to my district’s board of education on the effect of comics on student achievement, and gave him some citations. Sam went to work and created a project that later won a first place at the Alaska State Science Fair.
Close-up of Sam’s project.
Not only did Sam demonstrate enthusiasm and tenacity worthy of any scientist, but he changed lives. Upon seeing Sam’s science fair project, his teacher changed her policy, and not just for Sam. Now, all students in her room can read comics and record them for credit on the reading logs.
Close-up of Sam’s project.
Comics have an uncanny ability to bring kids to reading. The duality of image and text engage the human brain. The most amazing aspect is comics ability to work on struggling readers (those who can’t seem to make sense of reading and decoding), average readers, and reluctant readers including those reluctant readers who have an proficient and advanced ability to read but despise the act of reading.
Every year I have students who score 2-4 grade levels higher than their grade level in reading yet cannot bare to read. They fight with their parents to complete the minimum reading log minutes. When I give these kids –– typically boys, by the way –– comics, they come alive and read me out of house and classroom. Right now I have a group of 4 boys that have read nearly everything I offer and are begging for more, more, more.
Thanks to Sam, he and his classmates now have the opportunity to read what they choose and enjoy every second of it. After all, reading is about choice and love.