Getting Graphic: Introducing Graphic Novels to the Classroom – Resources and Inspiration

2014-06-06_1037It is undeniable that we live in a new media age. In this age, literacy requires students to be able to make meaning from information in a wide variety of formats, one of the most prevalent being visual. The Australian Curriculum identifies the important role that visual literacy plays in contributing to a student’s overall literacy level, so much so that it forms one of the four major building blocks within the Literacy Capability.

Within this context, the graphic novel is perfectly poised to provide a powerful teaching tool, which enables students to develop literacy skills. As Di Laycock identifies, graphic novels can be considered the ‘holy grail’ of literature, as they are truly multimodal texts, encompassing all five semiotic systems.

All five semiotic systems combine to convey meaning in a series of panels. Thanks to Di Laycock for generously sharing her slide.

All five semiotic systems combine to convey meaning in a series of panels. Thanks to Di Laycock for generously sharing her slide. Image: McCloud, S 1994, Understanding comics: The invisible art, HarperPerennial, New York, p. 68.

 What is a graphic novel?

Graphic novels are often seen as ‘not real literature’ or as an easy way out for readers who don’t want to engage with ‘proper’ texts; however as Will Eisner points out, reading graphic novels challenges readers in ways perhaps educators haven’t considered:

“The format of the comic book presents a montage of both word and image, and the reader is thus required to exercise both visual and verbal interpretive skills. The regimens of art (e.g. perspective, symmetry, brush stroke) and the regimens of literature (e.g. grammar, plot, syntax) become superimposed upon each other. The reading of the comic book is an act of both aesthetic perception and intellectual pursuit.” Comics and Sequential Art, p.8)

You will note that in this quote, Eisner speaks about comic books as opposed to graphic novels. The difference is defined as one of serialisation; comics and graphic novels share the same format, however a comic is generally one part of a larger sequence, with a continuity plot that extends over multiple issues, whereas a graphic novel is a complete and extended narrative (Laycock, 2014).  While we are in definition mode, let’s turn to the work of Scott McCloud whose amazing work Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art gives a terrific explanation of what distinguishes this format from others such as picture books or movies.McCloud-Comic-Definition2

This definition focuses on the fact that it is the juxtaposition of images, which have been deliberately sequenced in order to make meaning, which differentiates graphic novels or comics from other multimodal formats such as picture books or movies. Watch this fascinating Ted talk where Scott McCloud explains this in more detail:

Using graphic novels in the classroom

Di Laycock’s research has led her to work with many teachers using graphic novels in the classroom. One of the things that she has noted which may make graphic novels less appealing is a possible  lack of familiarity with this type of text. Many teachers and students simply don’t have the metalanguage required to ‘talk about’ graphic novels, and indeed, many may need explicit instruction as to how to read a panelled page.

Fortunately quite a few terrific resources exist to take both teachers and students into the world of the graphic novel. Aside from the books which give an indepth foundational understandings of this form, such as Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, there are also books that focus more specifically on how to include graphic novels as part of the curriculum:

Click on this image & access this collection on Amazon to learn more.

Click on this image & access this collection I have compiled on Amazon to learn more. Teachers of Brisbane Catholic Education may borrow any of these titles from ResourceLink.

For those who like to use digital resources, generously shared graphics such as the one below also provide a fantastic introduction to the format:

Choosing graphic novels: for the library and the classroom

Another challenge for teachers and teacher librarians who want to introduce graphic novels to the curriculum is identifying which are quality texts. There is a growing number of graphic novels for sale, but evaluating these for use in teaching can be time-consuming and overwhelming for someone not familiar with the format.

Just as there are novels that you might choose for a trashy ‘summer’ read, and others which you might choose for their literary merit, so too are graphic novels published for many different reading purposes. Thankfully there are a number of resources online which assist in this area of selection. Selecting graphic novels for inclusion in a general borrowing collection for a school library is also different to selecting texts for inclusion in the curriculum. For teacher librarians looking for advice on how to develop a quality collection of graphic novels for students to borrow, I would direct you to Di Laycock’s excellent article from Synergy (PDF download).

Unfortunately at the present time there are few evaluation sites for graphic novels run by Australians for an Australian audience (if they do exist, please let me know in the comments section!). Nevertheless, there are some fantastic sites for teachers and TLs getting started – one of the best is Getting Graphic, by Canadian teacher Kym Francis. This website has an excellent introduction to using graphic novels in the classroom, as well as an extensive vocabulary page which is good for building up ‘metalanguage’ skills, as well as a page devoted to evaluation processes for choosing great graphic novels. Another fantastic source of up to date information is Comics in Education, which has a very comprehensive site, and which tweets a lot of good information for educators wanting to keep up to date in this area. Follow them at @teachingcomics on Twitter.

There are other good information sites also; some of the best are pinned on my Pinterest board about graphic novels.

Of course, no post on graphic novels would be complete without a few suggestions for fabulous titles to consider. Here at ResourceLink, we have been fortunate enough to be able to build up a small graphic novel collection, so I have had the pleasure of reading quite a few titles recently. The graphic novels below are now available to borrow by BCE staff!

Great graphic novels to investigate:

9780141014081

Click the image to access teachers’ notes on this title.

Maus is an incredibly powerful tale of two generations, and the impact of the Holocaust on both. Cutting between the father’s story of his survival as a Jew in Poland during World War II, and the son’s story of his difficult relationship with his father, as he tries to learn about his family history, Maus has themes of racism, guilt, masks, imprisonment and family. From the Puffin teaching notes:

The comic book is able to depict the events of the Holocaust in a less confrontational way than photographs or films, especially with the distancing element of the characters being depicted as animals. However, Spiegelman did meticulous research and based his drawings of Auschwitz on photographs and plans.

An array of teaching resources to support Maus in the classroom is available on the Melbourne High School website.
This graphic novel would be best suited to students in Year 11 and 12.

Click the image for a terrific review by The Book Chook.

Click the image for a terrific review by The Book Chook.

Another graphic novel which uses anthropomorphism is the recently published An Anzac Tale by Ruth Starke and Greg Holfeld. This title retells the Anzac Story from the perspective of Wally and Roy, two young larrikins who sign up for adventure and to earn some extra money for the family. An author’s note inside the front cover notes that the animal representations were chosen either for their indigenous associations with the country (kangaroos, wombats and koalas) or for their symbolic association with the country (e.g the British Lion, or the Bengal tiger of India). Terrific teaching notes are available from Working Title Press. This retelling would be suitable for middle primary students and above.

Click the image to access a great review from Meanjin

Click the image to access a great review from Meanjin

Blue tells the story of Christian, as he looks back on his youth  growing up in the fictional industrial town of Bolton. While some of the language is ‘colourful’, it is necessary to the authenticity of the story, which the author describes as a combination of Stand by Me and District 9. This graphic novel has themes of racism and immigration, which lends itself to classroom discussion, and the entire book can be accessed online at Pat Grant’s website, for further discussion on how the book translates into the digital medium. Best suited for students in Year 9 and above.

Click the image to go to Classical Comics website.

Click the image to go to Classical Comics website.

          For something completely different, Classical Comics provides graphic novel versions of many popular high school novels – and interestingly, they offer them in ‘original’, ‘plain’ and ‘quick’ text, so that readers of all abilities (and those who are time poor) can access the story more effectively. These are of beautiful quality, and well worth investigating. In addition, the titles have extensive teaching notes available. Staff of BCE can borrow packs of several of these titles which include all three text levels and teachers’ notes – Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and Frankenstein. These are available in Australia through Book and Volume .

           So where do I start?

Like anything in teaching, it is the pedagogy that is the most vital part of the puzzle. Don’t include graphic novels in the curriculum simply because you can; include them because they are the best tool to use. A great deal of the Australian English Curriculum focuses on multimodal texts – either working with them or creating them – and so familiarity with this format is an awesome way to develop student’s skills in multiliteracies.

An example of how graphic novels might be used in a series of lessons for Year 8 is available here. These simple lesson plans have been developed by myself and our Education Officer – English, Kim Summers, as a way of introducing teachers to the possibilities in using this format in the classroom.

Start just by sharing a graphic novel with your students. Consider a graphic novel version of a text you might usually teach, or better still, deepen your teaching by using both traditional and graphic novel format. Investigate having students create a graphic novel (or part of one) as a writing task. Almost all literature strategies equally apply to graphic novels, but check out this list of easy to implement strategies for graphic novels for more ideas.

Teachers in Brisbane Catholic Education are welcome to borrow from our range of resources to support their investigation into graphic novels. For all other readers, check out our Pinterest Board of resources.

If you have used graphic novels in your library or classroom, share your experiences or advice in the comments below; we’d love to hear from you!

References:

Eisner, W. (2008). Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Hill, R. (Ed.). (2004). The Secret Origin of Good Readers: A Resource Book. Retrieved from http://www.night-flight.com/secretorigin/SOGR2004.pdf
Laycock, Di (2014) The Power of the Panel. Workshop presentation for English Teachers Association Queensland, 31 May 2014.
McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (Reprint edition.). New York: William Morrow Paperbacks.
Oddone, K. (2014). Graphic Novels – bring your teaching to life. Pinterest. Curated list. Retrieved June 10, 2014,
from http://www.pinterest.com/kayo287/graphic-novels-bring-your-teaching-to-life/
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Making Multiliteracy Manageable: Movies, iPads and Kids Connect

Tech on the Edge image(84)Recently ResourceLink staff have been involved in two Kids Connect conferences: Key to the Sea run by Unity College and Tech on the Edge, run by St Thomas School at Camp Hill.

Unity College hosted Key to the Sea at Underwater World, the well known marine aquarium at Mooloolaba, while Tech on the Edge was held at The Edge, which is  an initiative of State Library of Queensland which provides space and equipment for users to  explore creativity across the arts, technology, science and enterprise.

This year, we decided to implement some recent work we had done with Michelle Anstey and Geoff Bull on multiliteracies, focusing particularly on supporting students to develop a multimodal text, in this case a trailer for a movie, using the iMovie app, as well as supporting apps such as Word Foto and Storyboarder.

This was the blurb which described the two day workshop to the students:

Edge of Your Seats: The Movie Mystery Box!

Be taken to the edge of your creativity by diving into the Movie Mystery Box. Armed with a mobile device and the contents of the Mystery Box, you will be challenged to create a short film inspired by a famous movie.

Become a professional movie maker as you script, shoot and star in your own film, created entirely on an iPad. Learn tips and tricks from movie making professionals to start you on your way to Hollywood.

The key to assisting the students to develop really quality end products lay in the learning that took place prior to the students beginning to film.

We began by showing the students a short and amusing advertisement.

After the viewing started deconstructing it using the five semiotic systems defined by Anstey and Bull:

  • Linguistic – the screenplay, the script, any text on screen
  • Visual – lighting, editing, pace and transitions
  • Gestural – acting, setting, props and costumes
  • Audio – sound effects, soundtrack, dialogue
  • Spatial – camera movement, shot type, camera angle

Once we had discussed each of these semiotic systems, and identified them in the advertisement, we asked the students to create freeze-frames where they used their bodies to depict them. We then edited these images in WordFoto, using the words that describe their representation in film:

Students model the audio semiotic.

Students model the audio semiotic, and edited in Wordfoto.

Once the students had explored each of the systems, we focused on the visual and spatial semiotics, particularly on camera angles and types of shots, as these would be the things the students would have most control over when creating their trailers.

To introduce the idea of different camera angles and shot types, we used a series of flashcards which depicted each of the main types of shots used. Students then watched the Tyre Commercial again, identifying the different shots, and then created their own, using Lego figures.

These are the flashcards used to teach students about different shot types.

These are the flashcards used to teach students about different shot types.

The images the students created using the Lego figures were then shared with the group, and we evaluated them using the 2 stars and a wish strategy, where students shared two things they liked and one thing they would improve about their shots.

Next the students revised the concept of a story arc. Using the well known short film ‘For the Birds‘, the students were encouraged to identify each of the phases of the story, as seen below:

The story arc sheet, completed with images from 'For the Birds'.

The story arc sheet, completed with images from ‘For the Birds’.

Now the students were ready to receive their mystery box!

Opening the mystery box

Opening the mystery box

Inside the mystery box were a range of props and a well known quote from a movie. The students were challenged to use at least one of the props as well as the quote in the construction of their movie trailer.

Creating a movie trailer meant that the students had to plan the entire movie using Storyboarder, and then draw from this plan the key ideas which they would include to tempt viewers to see the film.

After taking time to plan their story and scout for locations, the students dove into film making, applying their new knowledge to create trailers that displayed a wide range of film techniques.

Here is an example of what they achieved: