Sequential Art for Reticent Readers

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In this article, Cameron Brooks recounts his childhood disinterest in reading and hypothesizes that his early apathy may be one of his greatest teaching assets. Read to learn the ways his experiences as a child now inform his classroom work with reticent readers.

Sequential Art for Reticent Readers

by Cameron Brooks

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In a favorite photo, my dad is sitting on the sideline in jeans and a white, button-down shirt at one of my Saturday morning soccer matches. He's grinning, but it has nothing to do with me, or the game. He's not even looking in the direction of the field. Instead, he's reading James Clavell's epic samurai novel, Shogun.

Everyone in my family has always read constantly. Except for me. Growing up, I had better things to do, like building ramps and forts, or playing ninja in the woods. Who knew that my lack of interest in books would benefit my students many years later?

If I were a super hero, my power would be the ability to spot reading aversion among elementary age kids from a mile away. My experience in text avoidance allows me to identify, within the first few days of each school year, which students will do anything and everything to keep from sitting down and reading a book. With the help of Stephen Cary and Terry Thompson, I recently joined forces with sequential art, commonly known as comics and/or graphic novels, in the fight to help kids overcome literacy's nemesis, apathy.

Terry Thompson's comprehensive, yet user-friendly book, Adventures in Graphica: Using Comics and Graphic Novels to Teach Comprehension, 2-6, substantiates the utility and inherent fun of comics. Anchor charts, loads of student samples, and comics of varying length and aesthetic complement Thompson's strategies for addressing a variety of literacy skills, from sequencing and summarizing, to more complex strategies, such as synthesis, or "the way we allow the text to affect us -- not just as readers, but as individuals." My experience with comics is limited, but I find Thompson's methods easy to apply, and ever since I started using sequential art, reading lights are beginning to glow in the minds of almost all of my students.

Stephen Cary's book, Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom, provides instructional strategies specifically tailored to English-language learners. For teachers who prefer more explicit and structured educational texts (like myself), Cary's book is ideal. A third of the book is devoted to activities, each broken down into five parts: materials, description, topics and strategies, background, and process. According to Cary, "All the activities integrate the four macro skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, though some activities clearly foster more repetitive (listening and reading) or expressive (speaking and writing) skills." As a collaborative teacher of ELL students, I find that the majority of strategies and accommodations associated with the subgroup can be effective for all students, especially when it comes to a medium as universally compelling as comics.

Writing comics intuitively follows reading them, which affords young readers the opportunity to validate skills growth while composing their own. Taken a step further, students form creative alliances while sharing individual work, or collaborating on plot, character development and artistic craft. Moving forward in the fight for literacy, sequential art unmasks countless applications for rescuing reticent readers.