Archive for CEO

Comics and Reluctant Learners: Dispelling the Myths

 

By Michael Gianfrancesco

 

I have been doing this whole “teaching with comics” thing for nearly 15 years and I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with teachers all over the country. During panels and workshops, I find that I often hear (or overhear) a specific remark: “I love these books. They’re great for my reluctant readers.”

When I hear teachers say things like this, or that comics are only for the “kids who don’t like to read,” I feel they’re buying into a common myth: that reluctant readers are the only ones who can benefit from comics. While it’s true that comics and graphic novels do work well with reluctant readers, that’s precisely because they work well with nearly all readers. Rather than relegated to only the most struggling students, comics can be useful – even invaluable – for elementary all the way up to College Preparatory or even Advanced Placement classes, offering up countless opportunities for teachers and administrators to better engage their students.

For my part, I use comics with all my students who vary in gender, age, and academic performance – from reluctant to engaged and everything in between. Of course, curation is key here. Should you decided to take on the challenge and joy of teaching with comics in your classroom, it is important to understand what titles you have to choose from and the complexity level of these texts – particularly if you are not familiar with them – as some of them are every bit as complex as their chapter-based counterparts. For example, while I’d avoid handing a difficult book like Maus or Persepolis to a student who struggles with reading, I would also be hesitant to hand an elementary-level Smile to an 11th or 12th grade honors or college prep group.

See, that’s the rub! With the diverse range of comics available today, it’s hard to know exactly what works best for your students – especially if you’re new to comics. To help, I have taken the liberty of listing some great examples below, along with a few of the themes that the texts take on to help you decide how to work them into your curriculum:

 

Elementary/Middle School Level:

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

 
An emotional coming of age story about trust, betrayal and acceptance of fate.

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

 
A fantasy epic which explores the concepts of responsibility, reaching one’s potential, and understanding what family is really all about.

The Eternal Smile or American Born Chinese by Gene Yang

 
Three short stories which shatter the concepts of identity, reality, and the ability to be satisfied with our lives.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook  by Eleanor Davis

 
Illustrates the importance of critical thinking, teamwork and understanding of natural laws to solve practical problems.

Astronaut Academy (Series) by Dave Roman


Lots of short attention span stories that tie together into a larger narrative that explores emotion, science and self-awareness.

The Human Body Theatre by Maris Wicks


All of the systems of the human body join readers on stage in a comical and scientifically accurate exploration of anatomy.

Smile or Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

 
True stories of the author’s life which explore family, friendship, growth and the challenges of passing from one stage of life to another.

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova


Trying to connect to others and maintain some sort of identity amongst peers is the biggest challenge the characters face here.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

 
The story of a long-standing rivalry between a hero and a villain that blurs the line of what is bad and what is good.

 

High School Level:

Maus by Art Speigelman

 
The true story of a couple who survived Auschwitz told through the eyes of the son of the survivors. Pain, loss, survival and redemption are just a few of the themes explored.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

 
Satrapi’s real life experiences growing up in Iran and Europe during and after the Islamic revolution in the 80’s.

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis


Superman is an iconic character, and there are many stories that have been told about him, but none like the ones in this book. Each tale conjuring a different emotion than the last, this book offers amazing new perspectives of the Man of Steel.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller


Batman’s initial successes and failures as a costumed hero are fraught with pain, persistence and an unquenched desire for justice.

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly

 
The role of an outsider is never an easy one. This story takes the concept of the other and multiplies it exponentially.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes


Identity and the path to the future are not always evident.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan


War harms everyone, even the animals in a zoo hit during a bombing run.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

 
Dystopia, anarchy, revolution and the danger of unchecked authority.

The texts above are just a start. If you decide to start with your struggling readers by passing some comics into their hands, just keep in mind that this is where you should be beginning, not ending, your intervention. When you are comfortable with their effectiveness and your ability to implement them successfully, you can take the next step and bring these texts to your other, higher achieving students!

It may take some time but, in my experience, it usually does not take long to discover those books that will make your reading-loving students eager to explore and be challenged by new types of texts, topics, and content.

Littles Need Comics, Too: Comics and Graphic Novels for Early Readers

By Ronell Whitaker

“Are there any comics or graphic novels out there for the primary grades?”

This is a question I get all the time from fellow teachers. It seems simple, but for years I found myself struggling to find a good answer. While I’ve always had great suggestions of comic and graphic novel titles for high schoolers and the middle grades, I had never gotten around to finding out what options there actually were for the K to 2nd grade crowd.

When I did a preliminary search, I was frustrated to see that even those comics aimed at younger readers – like Marvel’s Little Golden Books, or licensed properties like My Little Pony and Adventure Time – are often rebranded picture books or written above primary reading levels. Frustrated, I began to think that the answer to their question might be a deflating, “No.”

Until now.

Below, I’ve put together a list of great books and resources for the little readers out there. Covering an array of content, styles, and age levels, these books showcase the diversity and potential of comics to reach students of all ages, and make great additions to any ECE or elementary classroom:

The Ordinary People Change The World Series
By Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos

The Ordinary People Change the World Series

These books blend traditional comic style with the readability of picture books. The series is a collection of biographies centered on heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein, and Rosa Parks, but the book presents these historical giants in a kid-friendly, pint-sized way that is endearing and relatable for early readers.

Tiny Titans
by Art Balthazar

Tiny Titans

Art Balthazar’s world of crayon and sidewalk chalk heroes is especially appealing to young readers. Although it’s at the upper end of the K-2 age range, the stories in each book are normally no more than five pages, and the vocabulary isn’t overly challenging. The writing is joke a minute, and kids love seeing characters they recognize in the big kids comics.

Owly
by Andy Runton 

Owly

Andy Runton’s Owly is an adorable character, who goes on kid friendly adventures with his forest friends. What makes Owly especially attractive to emerging readers is there are no words. Readers use images to follow along as Owly learns concepts like cooperation, sharing and compassion.

Toon Books

Toon Books

Toon Books was the “A-ha!” find of this entire search. What’s great about them is they organize their titles by age level, and they hire top notch, award winning talent like Jeff Smith (Bone), Eleanor Davis (How To Be Happy), and Toon Books co-founder Art Spiegelman (Maus). Toon Books focus on publishing books specifically for early readers is what makes them the best option for readers ages 3 and up.

Comics are a great way to captivate emerging readers, and these books will go a long way toward creating a life long love of books.


Finding Inspiration: Comics as a Pathway to Reading

By Michael Gianfrancesco, Comics Education Outreach

“Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.”
—Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus, A Survivor’s Tale

When I first began teaching comics in the classroom over a dozen years ago, one of the most dependable brick walls that I could rely on encountering was the dreaded question, “How can you justify the use of comic books in a serious academic setting?” Although I hear it less today, there are still some skeptical educators and administrators that love to question the viability of comics and graphic novels in the classroom.

There are plenty of case studies, scholarly articles, and texts that are helpful in addressing these concerns, and I have found myself hiding behind one or more in the past. While these resources are always effective in opening a dialogue with administrators, when it comes to getting buy-in from other classroom teachers, the simple fact that comics make kids want to read is often a far more powerful explanation. And when my peers ask, “But how?”, I – like so many comic fans – often return to one of my earliest childhood memories as an example.

I was 12 years old. I was watching my best friend Anthony and his family packing up their antique-filled house in preparation for a move to a new state. As Anthony’s father cleaned out an old piano bench, he called me over.

“Put your hands out,” he said.

He slid a very old, very colorful comic out of a plastic sleeve and gently placed it into my outstretched hands. The cover depicted Superman holding up a car, smashing the front end into a rock as horrified witnesses ran for cover. It was Action Comics #1, 1938. The gravity of what I was holding hadn’t yet hit me. In that moment, I was just mesmerized by this book. I didn’t even hear Anthony’s mother creeping up behind me and putting her hands on my shoulders.

“You are going to remember this moment the rest of your life,” she said quietly.

And she was right. In fact, that moment lit a fire in me that burns to this day – a love of reading. From then on I started seeking out as many comics as I could find, visiting the public library to dig through the small gold mine of collected editions of classic hero comics form Marvel and DC. I cut my teeth on Silver Age Fantastic Four, X-men, Green Lantern and Batman anthologies. When I had exhausted all of those titles, I asked the librarian for suggestions of other stories with similar elements to comics. This began my journey from comics to more traditional chapter texts. I went from Stan Lee to J.R.R. Tolkien, from Alan Moore to Terry Pratchett. From Neil Gaiman to…well…Neil Gaiman. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.

Comics did that for me. It didn’t take a huge leap of logic to realize that it could do it for my students too. When I first started lending out graphic novels to kids in my classroom, the results were hard to argue. Kids devoured the books, sometimes returning the next day having already finished and begging for more. They spread the word that
“Mr. G” had comics to loan out in his classroom, and kids I had never seen before were timidly approaching me asking for my trade paperback of Aquaman, Pride of Baghdad, or Swamp Thing. I recalled then what the librarian had done for me: connecting chapter books to comics and showing me that a good story is a good story, comic or not. I started telling my students that if they liked Maus they should read Night; if they liked A Soldier’s Story they should read Band of Brothers; if they liked Smile, they should check out The Scarlet Letter or even Catcher in the Rye; and on and on…

We are always looking for in-roads to inspire our students to become readers, and it seems to get harder and harder with each passing year. But we all have stories in our lives about the moment we connect, truly connect, with a text, and are suddenly hungry for more. As a teacher, I have seen first-hand that comics and graphic novels have the power to open the door (or at least crack a window) to a love of reading for students, regardless of their backgrounds.

So if you, as a teacher, find yourself challenged to explain how “classics” like Shakespeare or Machiavelli could possibly measure up to Satrapi or Yang, I urge you to search your own history for the moment your love for reading was ignited. For students today, graphic novels and comics can offer a unique (and often untrodden) pathway to literacy, creativity, and a lifelong passion for reading.

Announcing the Comics Education Outreach (CEO) Program!

Contributed by: Jason Nisavic – 2/1/2017

Pop Culture Classroom is excited and proud to announce its newest program, Comics Education Outreach! Organized and managed by veteran teachers from across the United States, Comics Education Outreach (CEO) is dedicated to providing innovative and practical resources that help educators successfully incorporate comics and graphic novels into their classrooms. We offer professional development, lesson guides, comic/graphic novel reviews, and the CEO Lending Library. We believe that comics are more than just a gateway to literacy; they can be the vehicle for deeper engagement.

Who Are We?

The Comics Education Outreach (CEO) is made up of a group of veteran teachers who are passionate about the educational value of graphic novels and comics. In addition, the CEO works with a growing network of educators from all subjects areas and varied backgrounds.

What Do We Do?

Every day, teachers from all grade levels and subject areas are discovering new ways to make their classrooms more engaging with comics. With a rapidly growing market for graphic works, time-stressed educators can have trouble sifting out the useful material from the rest. To help out with this effort, CEO promotes this new approach to literacy in multiple ways:

  • We develop graphic novel & comics reviews across the spectrum of subjects and grade levels to bring attention to educational potential of these unique texts.
  • We share stories of our successes and failures using graphic works in the classroom, helping you to start strong and avoid common mistakes.
  • We host panels and workshops at comic and educational conventions across the United States, joining together with other educators, artists, publishers and authors to spread the word about the teaching and learning potential graphic texts offer.
  • Most excitingly, we’re running a graphic novel/comics lending library of several popular graphic novels — complete with lesson plans! Starting in April 2017, classrooms anywhere in the country can apply to borrow both classroom sets (30 copies) and smaller “Lit Circle” collections (7 copies).

The available titles in April 2017 include:

  • The Lumberjanes
  • March
  • Ghost/Sisters/Smile
  • Persepolis
  • The US Constitution: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
  • American Born Chinese

How Can I Learn More?

Come visit us at our website here, and connect with us on Twitter, to learn about how you can use and discuss comics in the classroom!

Michael Gianfrancesco – @tryingteacher
Eric Kallenborn – @comics_teacher
Ronell Whitaker – @MisterWhitaker
Jason Nisavic – @Teaching_Humans

In addition, CEO is continually searching for exciting artistic works that have educational value and educators from all subjects and backgrounds. For any questions or suggestions, please email info@popcultureclassroom.org.