Quick Tip Tuesday: Graphica troubleshooting

Maybe you are already comfortable with using comics and graphic novels in your classroom. Maybe you are just thinking about introducing graphica to your students. Whatever the case, you may run into problems and questions from parents, colleagues, and administration. In this week’s Quick Tip, we take a snippet from Terry Thompson’s book Adventures in Graphica: Using Comics and Graphic Novels to Teach Comprehension, 2-6. In the last chapter of the book he addresses many common concerns, but we will focus just on four.

My kids are “sneaking” comics while I’m trying to teach other subjects.
Don’t we wish we had more problems like this? If you don’t discuss this with your students ahead of time, you’ll likely encounter this problem. I suggest you handle this the way you might handle any other situation you find unacceptable: put a stop to it! Celebrate your students’ motivation to read, but explain the rules. Consider allowing recess time, reward time, or extra time to read comics if students desire more time to read. To carve out additional blocks of time, you might also consider holding an after-school or before-school “Comics Camp,” which would allow additional time for motivated students to explore the medium.

My kids are asking to share their comics during independent reading blocks.
First of all, when students spend time reading with a peer in a paired-reading format, positive effects on motivation, engagement, and fluency abound. Certainly, I prefer that my students read independently during our independent reading block, but I think we can all benefit from a bit of flexibility, especially when our students request specific changes in our way of doing things that would motivate them to be more engaged in their reading.

In my own experience, I’ve noticed that, when students use comics for paired reading, the results can be quite different from what you might see when two students are involved in a more traditional paired-reading format. Traditionally, when students try to share a single text during independent reading, I’ve noticed that—even though I set forth my expectations that both partners focus on the text during this activity—more often than not, one partner reads while the other partner fiddles with shoelaces, stares at the ceiling, or in some way or another zones out. However, because the pictures in comics are so important to the meaning of the story, and because they are so engaging, I’ve noticed that, while one partner reads the text, the other partner is generally quite engaged in taking in the picture support.

I think paired reading with graphica works better than paired reading with traditional texts—it is simply more manageable. The listening partner can focus on the illustrations without crowding the reading partner, because the graphics can be seen effectively from a further distance. This isn’t always the case with traditional texts, especially when the pair is trying to read a chapter book with smaller font.

Others (parents, administration, teachers, etc.) think I’m wasting valuable time using
this medium.

Although it is generally less of a problem than most teachers anticipate, this issue may still come up. Obviously, these naysayers are a bit skeptical about the value and acceptability of this form of literature. Perhaps they still hold preconceived notions about the medium. If this becomes an issue for you, one thing you will not want to do is ignore it. I encourage you to address this matter immediately and up front, and I suggest you do so with information. Ignorance cannot exist where information abounds. Share this book with them. Show them how the medium supports best practices. Show them the research. Invite them into your classroom, and show them what your kids are doing. Be an agent of change.

Periodical comic books are often thin, and I worry that they will be destroyed within days.

Although Superman may be stronger than steel, his comic books, quite simply, are not. Allow for some wear and tear—especially if comics are proving to be popular within your group. I admit that durability could be a real problem among some groups of students. Each group is different, and I’ve worked with some that seem to have no respect for our class materials, while the students across the hallway treat materials with a reverence normally reserved for the Gutenberg Bible. With particular classes, we may need to teach respect of materials. In fact, it may be a good idea to initially take the time to teach all of your groups how you expect them to handle the copies of graphica in your classroom and building.

Beyond that, there are many ways to handle this issue. You might consider using the same system you’d use with in-class magazines, which have a similar level of durability. You might allow only a certain number to circulate within your room and monitor them until you are ready to add more to the mix, once you are satisfied that your students know how to handle them appropriately.

You might also want to take a reality check. Use what I call the “eagle approach”: Who’s really doing this? Who’s at fault? Are all of your students mishandling the materials, or is it just a select few? If you take a few minutes to scan the room and note student behaviors, you’ll likely find that only a few students need to spend time with you to review your expectations. If this continues to be an issue, respectfully and fairly restrict students who aren’t showing the appropriate reverence for the resource. Then, over time, reiterate your expectations and give appropriate second chances as needed.

To store comics, you might consider using Ziploc bags or clear presentation folders, which are available (inexpensively) at most office supply stores. Housing comics in inexpensive manila folders is also an option, but that makes them harder to browse. Additionally, many comic book stores sell sleeves with cardboard reinforcers in which to house comics for protection. These aren’t that expensive—I paid about $16.00 for one hundred of them at my local comic book store—but the fit is exact. This tight fit tends to make the sleeves trickier for younger students to use effectively; if left to their own devices, some students may rip the edition to shreds while attempting to shove it into the sleeve. However, most elementary and intermediate students can be taught the correct way to use these protective sleeves if you are willing to take the time to show them.

An easy instruction that makes sense to most students is “Roll the comic up like a burrito, put it in the sleeve, and then let the burrito pop open and lay flat.” Don’t laugh. It works. You might also consider procedures that would make graphica use easier to monitor, such as a separate checkout system or only allowing students to read them at the “comics table”.

You have to decide on the appropriate level of intervention for an issue such as this; whatever you choose, you’ll soon realize that most kids are willing to take extra care if they’re afraid the medium will be removed from the classroom. If you still have concerns about flimsiness, don’t buy graphica with that level of resilience. There was a time when thinner, more fragile comics were pretty much the only type available to younger students. These days, however, there are so many sturdier options available that you could easily build a classroom comics collection without ever purchasing the thinner editions. As mentioned before, many trusted educational publishers currently print graphica for the elementary-age student and recognize that their products need to be more durable.

Add comment January 11th, 2011

Video podcast: Terry Thompson talks about some of the conventions of graphic novels

In Part II of our webcast, Terry Thompson, author of Adventures in Graphica, uses an example from Spiderman to demonstrate how the gutter complements several reading comprehension strategies. He also reassures elementary teachers that there are many graphic texts available that are appropriate for all students.

Watch Part I of our webcast with Terry here

Add comment September 2nd, 2008

Blog Watch: Graphic Novel Week

Would you like to know where the word “graphica” comes from?

Frank Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn, Stenhouse authors and popular bloggers at A Year of Reading, recently interviewed Terry Thompson, author of Adventures in Graphica. Find out about the origins of “graphica,” whether Terry himself reads graphic novels, and get suggestions for becoming familiar and comfortable with this genre.

Add comment June 18th, 2008

Video podcast: Terry Thompson on using graphica in the classroom

Curious about using graphic novels in your classroom? In this video podcast, Terry Thompson, author of Adventures in Graphica, talks about the conventions of graphica, and dispels misconceptions about this genre.

1 comment June 6th, 2008


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