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Are Graphic Novels Appropriate for the Classroom?

By The Editorial Team

One of the ongoing challenges for any educator is to cultivate the ability to engage his or her students and encourage them to not only strive to learn in their classroom, but on their own as well. It’s because of this that many teachers attempt to use creative non-traditional methods when it comes to preparing their classroom lessons. One of those methods is the use of graphic novels in class.

Graphic novels, on the simplest level are long versions of comic books. Superheroes are presented with a crisis of identity. Good struggles to triumph over evil. While there are certainly lessons that can be built based on these themes, it is important to note that these are not the only examples of graphic novels. There are many literary classics that have been retold within the pages of graphic novels.

Messing with the classics

Critics complain that using graphic novels in the classroom is “messing with the classics.” Since much of the story in a graphic novel is expressed in pictures, rather than words, some worry that replacing too many standard books with graphic novels will result in a decline in overall literacy.

Still, graphic novels are very popular among teens and young adults, and many teachers and college professors choose to use them in order to better engage students. While using these books in literature classes is obvious, one professor decided to trade in the traditional business textbook assigned for his class with a graphic novel he co-wrote with a colleague. After using the non-traditional text, the business professor reported that his students were more engaged with the subject manner, and even performed better on some tests.

Positive benefits

The findings of this college professor is not an isolated incident, other experts in education have also outlined positive examples of graphic novels use in the classroom. Andrew Miller of points out several possible benefits of using graphic novels as teaching tools.

The first benefit is to differentiate instruction, much like the business professor did. The use of graphic novels can also build critical reading skills. There may be fewer words in a graphic novel, but how those words are arranged in comparison with the artwork carries a significance that is a valuable thing for students to learn. Some teachers have students create their own graphic novels in order to illustrate their understanding of subject matter.

Students can also benefit from getting in on the debate themselves by looking more closely at the genre of the graphic novel. Lastly, it is important to note that including pictures in a graphic novel does not negate its literary value. Many of the same literary elements that are present in traditional literature are also present in graphic novels, such as symbolism, characterization, and plot.

Testing the boundaries

Many graphic novels move outside the fantasy world that is most common and touch on events and issues in history in a way that might not otherwise be explored by traditional books or textbooks. Some examples of graphic novels that test these boundaries include; “Persepolis,” which explores the life of an Iranian girl during the Islamic revolution, “Maus,” a holocaust story featuring mice and cats, and “Uncanny X-Men Volume #3,” which places the X-Men characters in Dante’s Inferno.

Can graphic novels be appropriate for classroom use? Absolutely. Still, their use should not be a complete replacement for literary books and textbooks. Instead they should be used as a supplemental tool to widen the parameters of learning.

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