Lessons learned: Graphic novels

I’ve got to tell you, I really enjoyed our recent conversation on the role that graphic novels can/should play in the lives of middle grades students.

If you haven’t had time to poke through the comments, I really think you should.  While it will take you some time, there’s some really bright thinking going on there.

#nice

Here are some lessons that I think I learned:

ANY genre that engages middle grades readers is a good genre.  Kevin Hodgson—a mind that I respect times about 50 and a fellow sixth grade teacher wrote:

I know that the age I teach (sixth grade) is the age we often lose readers, and the more engaged I can keep them, the better.

That resonated with me simply because it’s true.  If kids haven’t embraced reading by the time that they leave middle school, they’re facing an uphill battle in life.

And no matter what I think about the level of graphic novels, many struggling readers embrace them.

That’s a point I made in my original post, too—but hearing it from others serves as a valuable reminder that if graphic novels hook even one struggling reader, they have a place on my bookshelf.

Just like iPads, graphic novels AREN’T magical tools.  One of the things that blows my mind is the blind faith that many people seem to put in the ability of graphic novels to save struggling readers.

My favorite comment of this entire conversation came in my email inbox from a teacher who described graphic novels as a “fanciful dance” that:

  1. Encouraged visual literacy skills.
  2. Taught students to interpret and analyze at a deep and meaningful level.
  3. Introduced students to video production skills.
  4. Engaged readers in critical self-analysis.

Listen to those words, y’all:  encouraged, taught, introduced and engaged.  Books don’t do those things.

Teachers do.

We’ve got to stop believing that ANY tool—whether they are books or the digital gadgets that we like to slather our teacher-love all over—can singlehandedly save our students.

In the hands of a well-trained classroom teacher, I wouldn’t doubt that graphic novels are a “fanciful dance.”

But how many teachers are REALLY teaching students critically with graphic novels?

 

I need some SERIOUS professional development in the area of visual literacy.  Over and over again in graphic novel conversations, educators throw the “teaching visual literacy” trump card on the table.

But as we mentally wrestled our way through this conversation, I realized that I don’t even know what “teaching visual literacy” means—and I haven’t systematically taught my students anything about visual literacy ever.

Stew in that for a minute, would you?

I’m a pretty savvy guy.  I’m constantly reading about middle grades instructional practices.  I’m good with language arts skills.  I’m good with technology skills.

And if you asked me to tell you exactly what “teaching visual literacy” looks like in action, I couldn’t really do it.

One thing that I DO know is that “teaching visual literacy” DOESN’T mean giving kids a pile of graphic novels and then winding them up and letting them go.

Yet that’s an assumption that many educators seem to make—and it’s as naïve as saying that giving a kid a computer means “teaching 21st century skills.”

I’ll completely agree that visual literacy is an increasingly important skill in today’s world.  Better yet, I regularly teach students the skills of visual persuasion.

I’ll even go as far as to agree that graphic novels might be a terrific tool for teaching visual literacy.

But until we do a better job making sure that teachers know exactly what “teaching visual literacy” means, nothing—not even graphic novels—are worth our time and energy.

Any of this make sense?  What lessons did you learn during the course of our conversation on graphic novels?

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PS: For those interested, I just ordered the complete set of Maus and Persepolis books.  While they don’t look appropriate for middle graders, I’ll give ‘em a whirl based on your recommendations.

Maybe they’ll reduce my canon-snobbery!

(Love the term, Clix!!)

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