When I was young the best thing you could say about comics is that “Classic Comics” might introduce a child to the name of some of the world’s great literature. Comics were usually considered mind-numbing tripe. You certainly would never have seen one used in a school. Times have changed. Comics and graphic novels have become more accepted as a legitimate form of art and literature. They are making their way into classrooms and courses at universities. For many, however, the stigma of comics has remained.
The question remains “Should children read comics?”
Josh Elder, founder and president of Reading with Pictures argues that comics and graphic novels are motivating, support struggling readers, enrich the skills of accomplished readers and are highly effective at teaching sometimes dull or dry material in subject areas such as science and social studies. He goes on to point out that comics
- Engage the reader by imparting meaning through the reader’s active engagement with written language and juxtaposed sequential images. Readers must actively make meaning from the interplay of text and images, as well as by filling in the gaps between panels.
- Are an Efficient format that can conveys large amounts of information in a short time. This is especially effective for teaching content in the subject areas (math, science, social studies, etc.).
- Are Effective in processing text and images together leads to better recall and transfer of learning. Neurological experiments have shown that we process text and images in different areas of the brain: known as the Dual-Coding Theory of Cognition. These experiments also indicate that pairing an image with text leads to increased memory retention for both. With comics, students not only learn the material faster, they learn it better.
These characteristic can be important to the Emergent, Beginning and Struggling Reader. For the accomplished Reader graphic novels can require the reader to actively decode and comprehend both text and images and the interplay between them. The student must use higher-level thinking skills such as inference and synthesis. We should, therefore, rethink our objections to the “comic” form and become more open to its use as a teaching tool.