32 Replies Latest reply on 7-Apr-2017 11:27 AM by dianamali

    Are Comics Good for School Use?

    teachontario.team

      What criticisms of graphic novels have you heard in the past? How can you provide a response that best suits the target audience, while possibly incorporating the qualitative and quantitative data that exists? Share your suggestions below and be sure to check back to comment on others' contributions.

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        • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
          leah.kearney

          An interesting question for us to peruse. It seems that we have come a long way in regards to comics having credibility. They are the main topic in course such as this is, are on reading lists in high schools and university and have captured the public interest in art, film, theatre and other mediums. But, I wonder about about how they are perceived. Sure, lots of people love them and talk for hours about the merits of V for Vendetta but will graphic novels ever be regarded as equals to novels?

          It seems to me that when a title like Persepolis captures the attention of readers and critics, it is thought of as an exception to the norm. As in, each year or so there will be one particular title that will get everyone excited but as a genre itself are grpahic novels considered mainstream or is there still a belief that they are somewhat alternative?

          L

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            • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
              dianamali

              I think you use some very important words here Leah: mainstream vs alternative.

               

              I promised myself I'd reprint what I wrote in an earlier discussion here, because it's relevant:

               

              Andrew Woodrow-Butcher told me a story about the Canada Reads CBC competition and how a stellar graphic novel was eliminated right away because the other celebrity judges couldn't understand or appreciate the complexities of the medium. Here's an article describing what happened:

              Jeff Lemire’s Essex County first book voted off Canada Reads | National Post

               

              The judges for Canada Reads were not "ignorant" people. However, they were unfamiliar with graphic novels as literary texts. They certainly did not see them as equal to novels - yet they take just as long (if not longer, in some cases) to craft and create.

               

              Was there outrage when Lemire's book was voted off? What was the public's reaction? How can minds be changed?

               

              Another relevant point: in January 2017, Teach Ontario will offer a book club focused on a graphic novel - Jeff Lemire's "Secret Path" (with songs by Gord Downie). Will Gord Downie's involvement in this project make it "worthy" of study? Or are there other factors at play?

               

              Diana

                • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?

                  Hi Diana, thanks for the link to the article about Essex County. Do you think that younger audiences would have had an easier time choosing Jeff Lemire's work as they would have had more exposure to graphic novels? I am thinking of my 77 year old Mum, an avid reader (and retired librarian!) she will read a graphic novel that I recommend but to my knowledge doesn't choose to read them independently.

                  • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?

                    The other dynamic at play with the Downie collaborative The Secret Path, is, of course, Canada's need to look long and hard at the Residential School history, and ongoing intergenerational traumatic response amongst First Nations peoples.  The Canadian system is still institutionally racist, and we need to open up to this discourse in as many ways as possible. 

                      • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?

                        I have an extensive collection of graphic novels in my High School library, but I chose not to purchase The Secret Path for reasons related to practicality. Publishers make choices about the format of such texts, and I had to question the large size of the text--representing an old style record sleeve--as it doesn't fit on conventional shelving and was only available in paperback (aka "floppy").  I have no space where I can display/ store such a book.  It would fit in more easily in the Elementary setting as they have the shelving for pictures books, which I cannot have. However, it would also not fit on my shelves at home! I am hoping that they come out with a smaller format, so I can put it in my graphic non-fiction section, and then it will actually be read!

                        In this case it seems like the publishers maybe missed the boat in thinking about who they could really impact with their publication.

                          • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                            dianamali

                            Hi Lyndsay,

                             

                            Actually, Secret Path won't fit on my elementary picture book shelves either. I do have some of those book holders that prop up books for display, and sometimes it's there. Sometimes it's on the shelving car. I agree that the format makes it challenging for storage reasons and I'm sorry that it's preventing you from including it in your collection. Have you emailed this feedback to the publishers yet?

                             

                            Diana

                    • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                      helenld

                      I am trying to remember a criticism of a graphic novel. Perhaps it is because I work with 6 year olds, but I can't think of any. That said, I agree with Leah that graphic novels are not considered mainstream and that the successes of some stand out as exceptions. I was pleasantly surprised a while ago when I suggested that my book club read Persepolis. I had expected some push back, but what I got was "I am so glad you nominated it, I have always meant to read it." and "They made it into a great movie."  Persepolis made it to this year's book list - we will be discussing it in the spring. Is it just that this particular title is somehow "acceptable"? Or are graphic novels becoming less "alternative".

                       

                      Secondly, I read the article that Diana posted. The criticism given was of "lack of words". Thanks to an earlier comment of Leah's I am now reading Raymond Briggs, Ethyl and Ernest. It is a beautiful experience and one of the things that stood out the most for me was the "lack of words". There is so much that is left unsaid in words that is shown using the pictures, creating such depth to the story being told. The "lack of words" criticism is actually what makes the experience for me. (I am not usually a reader of graphic novels, but I might be getting hooked!) Maybe the way to counter the criticism is to turn it into a positive.

                       

                      Finally, I think some criticisms are needed, the same way they would be of other choices we make as teachers. The example I would give is of the original Tintin books. You would need to look very carefully which ones to use before presenting them to a class. I would not give my students Tintin in the Congo. I might consider discussing it with older students if we were looking at colonialism and racism.

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                        • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                          janettehughes

                          If you are teaching secondary English, coming-of-age graphic novels are a nice way in ... see Dual Pathways to Expression and Understanding: Canadian Coming-of-Age Graphic Novels | SpringerLink

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                              • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                dianamali

                                We'll have to earmark this link for Question 4, when participants will attempt to use graphic novels as part of a unit or lesson.

                                Thanks Janette!

                                • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                  derrick.schellenberg

                                  Hi Janette,

                                   

                                  Totally off-topic but your MA class at UOIT, including ideas around remixing, was an amazing (and utterly engaging) experience; we are still exploring some of the ideas explored there in my English department.

                                   

                                  Currently exploring Wenjack, The Secret Path, I Am Not A Number, and Sugar Falls, the latter three somewhere in the land of comic or picture book. I think I saw in a tweet of yours that you were excited about exploring Wenjack and The Secret Path with future educators.

                                   

                                  Interesting when I think about it that The Secret Path has no text, besides the lyrics that introduce each song section. In some ways the lack of text makes the images more powerful and puts more onus on the audience to play a bigger role in interpreting what is happening.

                                   

                                  For those of you who have looked at the text, The Secret Path, is it a comic, a picture book, a hybrid, or something else entirely (especially considering the accompanying music and video)?

                                    • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                      dianamali

                                      Perfect segue into the new Teach Ontario course, coming January 2017!

                                      Maybe one of our TVO digital leads can link to the page here?

                                      Secret Path (www.secretpath.ca) bills itself as a graphic novel. The course will definitely discuss the multiple literacies it employs to get the messages across.

                                      Hopefully we'll see many of the participants of this comics course join the book talk discussion in a month or so!

                                       

                                      What do you think Derrick? How would you classify Secret Path?

                                      Diana

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                                        • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                          leah.kearney

                                          Here is the link, Diana: http://bit.ly/2gTflQi

                                          I am looking forward to delving deeply into The Secret Path.

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                                          • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                            derrick.schellenberg

                                            Hey,

                                             

                                            Not my intent (to make a conscious link) but my kids are doing final touches on an inquiry stemming from The Secret Path, Wenjack, and I Am Not A Number (tomorrow we may start watching Rabbit-Proof Fence and compare/contrast the stories).

                                             

                                            I did see the image on the TeachOntario mosaic and it looks intriguing.

                                             

                                            As a comic lover myself I always thought the whole graphic novel term came out of an attempt at legitimizing a story arc of comics. Certainly Marvel and DC do this where they take comics that are all related, release them over the span of several months and then package them up later as a graphic novel, sometimes as a hard or soft cover. I think of Maus and Persepolis as critically-acclaimed works of literature worthy of the graphic novel term (and wonder whether they were intended to be a series of smaller stories or always one text).

                                             

                                            In terms of images and layout I could see how each "song" might be considered a single "comic" and that you might consider the ten songs as a graphic novel as a whole. It certainly straddles and defies definitions of different types of text (with the lyrics first and then the images, and with the accompanying videos set to music).

                                             

                                            I'd like to flip through my copy of The Secret Path and consider whether there is a chronological sequencing of the images that leads to narrative or whether the images are more related in terms of topic/theme/mood/feeling, etc.

                                             

                                            I wonder what janettehughes would say in terms of remixing content and types of texts. Another question might be whether Wenjack and The Secret Path are creative nonfiction, or something else?

                                             

                                            I'm sure the upcoming TeachOntario course will be well-received by all as you dig into may aspects!

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                                              • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                                hutchis

                                                Wow, this is really fascinating, this spin-off from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee's recommendations to put the Residential System atrocities front and centre into our education system.  Here you folks are on the cutting edge of the educational system's Professinal Learning side, and you're really taking it to heart.  I'd love to know more about the blend of academic discussion and political or social discussion, even of emotional or spiritual discussion, within these classroom settings.   So, you were focussing on the 'impact' of various delivery types of story....musical, graphic, poetic, story....but the topic is so emotional for all Canadians.  Do you have any First Nations people in the room during these discussions?  Is anyone talking about the level of their emotional response?  Me, I pretty much always cry when I delve deeply into the residential school topic.  I also teach First Nations students (my school is aobut 50/50 Native and non-native) who are experiencing Intergenerational effects and having to walk the 'two roads' daily. 

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                                                  • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                                    derrick.schellenberg

                                                    It sounds like teaching those texts at your school (racism, discrimination, prejudice and cultural genocide) would be a more challenging experience (and hopefully a rewarding one). I wonder how the unit would have been taught differently. Certainly from the student perspective there would be a lot more family and history experiences for students to draw upon. 

                                                     

                                                    I had a small class for this unit and there were no First Nations people in the room. What I would consider next time, especially because she seems so willing to share on Twitter, etc., is having the author of I Am Not A Number, Jenny Kay Dupuis (Home - Jenny Kay Dupuis) , "come" into our class either actually or digitally.

                                                     

                                                    What was also interesting about the unit was the inquiry that the students engaged in. They got to choose any topic they could make some sort of connection with our texts as something to explore, whether it was slavery, First Nations people, concentration camps, etc. With all of their resources they then constructed a multimedia page (with images, videos, articles, websites, etc.) which they shared with their peers in an informal presentation. Definitely one of the better units of the course.

                                              • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                                janettehughes

                                                Thanks for the kind words about the course, Derrick!  I worked with the instructor at UOIT, @Stephanie@ who is teaching the IS English course in the B.Ed. program to explore Wenjack and Secret Path with her students. We used 4 entry points to Chanie's story: Downie's album, the film, the GN and Wenjack. Each group of students began with a different medium as their entry point to the story. We gathered together at the end to discuss what modes they found most impactful, which media offered the most in terms of information or drawing them into the story, how each 'version' added layers of meaning onto the previous one, etc. I will eventually write an article based on this work but haven't found the time yet to look closely at the students' responses. 

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                                                  • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                                    derrick.schellenberg

                                                    A very cool idea, to offer different mediums as entry points into the same story. I would have loved to hear the discussions as students who came at the story through different types of text with different information were sharing their perspective. An interesting idea to try to take to the elementary or secondary classroom, giving students a choice of medium, and then having them "cross-pollinate" each other with discussion. Perhaps they could then choose from creating a number of different mediums to demonstrate their learning (as a resulting summative task). A lot easier to write the article when you are intrigued and engaged by the students' responses.

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                                              • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                                dianamali

                                                Welcome to the discussion Janette!

                                                For your article, how did you go about selecting the graphic novel examples that you did?

                                                Do some titles do it better? That is, do some graphic novels use the words and illustrations in conjunction together most effectively?

                                                I notice that memoirs are popular choices to portray in a graphic novel format. Why do you think that might be?

                                                Diana

                                                  • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                                    janettehughes

                                                    Good questions, Diana, and I'm not sure I have the 'answers'. Two of my all time favourite GNs are Blankets (Craig Thompson) and Stitches (David Small), both very compelling, raw stories about adolescence, family turmoil, love and belonging. We chose Skin and Paul Has a Summer Job for a number of reasons -- they were edgy but still appropriate for high school use. Skin had just been nominated for a GG award -- first time for a GN. We wanted both female and male protagonists and also authors. So many GN authors have been male until more recently. Both are poignant stories about coming of age -- something the students were also experiencing. The styles of the two books are quite different and we wanted to look at that as well. Paul is done in a more "traditional" comic book style with consistent use of panels, gutters, etc., whereas Skin is more experimental -- sometimes panels, sometimes two-page illustrations. I like that much of the story is told without words (like Secret Path). I'm very interested in how students read graphic novels -- what do they need to do differently? What skills do they need? We often think that GNs are "easier" and this is why they are used with ELLs and struggling readers; however, reading a GN requires some sophisticated/complex skills that need to be used simultaneously.  Love that you are all discussing this here!

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                                                    • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?

                                                      I was wondering that too, Diana. Perhaps the format allows for so many distinct ways to express the character's thinking: dialogue with other characters, inner thoughts, illustrations, sketches. I know I have mentioned them before, but when people have time it is well worth exploring Alison Bechdel's work. Her memoirs are haunting as she describes an upbringing that is filled with angst and confusion. One of those graphic novels that when you put it down you can't imagine it being presented in any other format.

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                                                  • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                                    dianamali

                                                    What a wonderful experience with your book club, Helen! I think somewhere on one of the lists we have is another graphic novel memoir about living in that area of the world in turbulent times - I wonder if they'd have the same reaction, as it has a different feel. (I can't remember the title off the top of my head, unfortunately!)

                                                     

                                                    I love the advice you offer, to "turn the criticism into a positive". The "lack of words" should then, hopefully suggest that much is communicated through the illustrations, which means a bigger reliance on inferring skills and deep, detailed reading. Will other people see it that way?

                                                     

                                                    I'll have to share my own "challenging comics" stories later in this thread.

                                                     

                                                    Diana

                                                  • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                                    janettehughes

                                                    My colleagues and I have written a few articles on graphic novel use in the classroom.  You can find the most recent one here:  The Evolution of Teaching with Graphic Novels | Hughes | Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures

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                                                    • Re: Are Comics Good for School Use?
                                                      hutchis

                                                      I haven't heard much criticsm of graphic novels, but personally I worry that they waste an awful lot of paper and ink. 

                                                      I'm not sure which 'target audience' this question is prompting us for...but if we want to incorporate graphic novels into the classroom we need look no further than the curriculum, which clearly prompts us to look at various forms of story delivery.  Also, we need to start with canvassing our students. How many of them prefer graphic novels and/or hybrids? Why?  Getting the students to be critical thinkers and self-assess regarding their own reading choices is the most important peice of the education puzzle here.  It's also the hardest to quantify.  If you canvassed any class from Grade 4 to Grade 12, asking 'what form of text do you read the most?' what percentage would answer 'the storyline when I play video games' as their main source of text reading during any given day?  If we can use graphic novels as a buy-in for otherwise non-reading students, hurray!  If it works, if you can actually get a 'book report' from a student who is otherwise totally unengaged in your literacy block, then the marks will start to show the difference.  The fact that these students are engaged in the 'book report writing process' BECAUSE they are creating graphic-novel type 'book reports' (thank-you google Slides!) is also vitally important.