As we work through distance learning, it can be easy to not focus on the students out there still killing it. At my old school, I worked with a French teacher whose daughter, Annie, became a fan of my blog. She read it for graphic novel suggestions and to read my musings.
Annie recently reached out to me for an interview on comics in the classroom; she was writing an essay in her AP Lang class on the topic and wanted my input. Of course I said yes!
She sent me a copy when finished, and after reading it, I asked if I could share it here, with you. She agreed, and here we are.
The Time For Comics is Now
It’s only one of the first clichés we learn as children: A picture is worth a thousand words. Well, it’s true isn’t it? So, why are we constantly forgetting this? As a sixteen-year old student in the modern day education system, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with disapproving teachers and peers, for reading ah yes, wait for it, comics. It’s always been a classic debate of “comics aren’t real books” to “they are too.” But hey, it’s 2020, the roaring 20s part two, and there is a resurgence of popularity among comic books again. It’s time to remind ourselves of the importance of literature diversity in the classroom which is why the AP Language & Composition teachers need to incorporate comics into the course’s curriculum.
Let’s get one thing straight, AP Lang isn’t AP Lang without rhetoric. It’s basically the fundamental of the whole entire class. Just like a news article or a passage from a book, comics (or graphic novels, whichever term you fancy) can be used to analyze rhetorical strategies. The book, The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric, explains how, “it’s not uncommon for one passage or image to use more than one appeal” (Shea et al, 11). This means that students can identify multiple different devices in a piece of visual text. Not only are students working on identifying these rhetorical moves, but they also are visually understanding what they look like.
In my AP Lang class, we read the first chapter of this book, which included the section about visual rhetoric. It’s hard for me to comprehend how visual rhetoric was one of the first topics we discussed, but was never touched upon further. If a comic book was brought into the curriculum, we as students would be able to conduct rhetorical analysis through a visual standpoint, rather than just a verbal.
It is without a doubt, difficult for teachers to engage every student, but if graphic novels were introduced into the class, comprehension and motivation would increase. I had the liberty to interview Eric Kallenborn, the Department Chair of Fine Arts at Oak Lawn Community High School, who is nationally recognized for using comics in the classroom. He has taught with graphic novels with all levels of high school and recalls that he’s “seen students speak about images with more intelligence and insight than with most ‘real books.’”
When I tell you this man has done it all, he really has. Kallenborn has had students read everything from the Ultimate Spiderman to the graphic novel adaptation of Beowulf. He’s done comparisons of having students read original text to classics such as Hamlet, while having other students read the graphic novel version. He puts it simply, “Shakespeare was meant to be watched, not read.” I wasn’t shocked to see that the results of students who read the graphic novel versions spent notably less time than the ones who didn’t. Not only that, but enjoyment and engagement were certainly prevalent. As a student who has difficulty being engaged, I understand the significance of needing to have a wide variety of books and genres to keep the class interesting. I’m not opting to get rid of the classics or traditional texts, but instead proposing to integrate more styles into the course.
Some teachers may disdain the idea of bringing comics into the course’s curriculum because they are “too childish” or “not real literature,” however they tend to overlook the academic aspects of these books. I’d like to remind you of the crucial and key part of comics: pictures. It is unjust to say that visual literature is less valuable than verbal literature. The images and drawings compounded in a graphic novel communicate ideas and themes that mandate critical thinking and analysis, similar to reading a traditional book (Hanson 59). The messages conveyed in comics are just as complex and thoughtful as any other type of literature.
High school students have been stuck reading the same books for decades, but we aren’t living in the 1800s anymore. Like I said, it’s 2020 and the world is changing fast. You’ve seen the science: kids all learn in their different ways, so why continue conforming them into this small box? Now more than ever, AP Lang teachers need to diversify the classroom by bringing comics into the course.
Hansen, Kathryn Strong. “In Defense of Graphic Novels.” English Journal, Nov. 2012, pp. 57-63 Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.
Kallenborn, Eric. Interview. 25 Mar. 2020.
Shea, Renée, et al. The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. Bedford St. Martin’s, 2007 Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.
Annie, thank you so much for your thoughtful insight on comics in the classroom! I hope teachers out there read this and take something away from it.
Side note: this is not the first time I’ve seen my name in a high school student’s work cited. A friend of mine reached out to tell me that one of his students was writing an essay about comics in the classroom. His research he found this teacher (me) that had written papers on it. Once my friend told the student that he knew me, the kid freaked out! Especially since I went to that high school. It was neat.
I want to leave you with a big announcement!
My cohort and I are working on a digital edu-comic-con for late summer. The dates and times are yet to be worked out, but we want to celebrate teachers across this country with a cool, free day or two of panels, workshops, special guests, and give-aways! We even want to put together a student panel (maybe get Annie to moderate??) to share their experiences with comics in the classroom.
If you’d like to be a part of this event in any way, please email me or reach out on social media.