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Graphic Novels in the Classroom? Why Not!

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I found myself at the Baltimore Convention Center last weekend, attending the annual two-day Maryland comic book extravaganza known as the Baltimore Comic-Con, where I had the opportunity to attend a panel on using comics in the classroom.

John C. Weaver, a Ph.D. and English teacher at Williamsport Area High School in Pennsylvania, was one of the panelists. He said in his experience, using graphic novels in the classroom provides significant advantages: They appeal both to strong and reluctant readers; they encourage students to better understand "visual grammar" (understanding how sequenced images relate to one another); and they can help students develop strategies for analyzing text and images, which he noted supports the English/language arts common-core requirement of understanding text complexity.

Robert Berry, the author of the online graphic novel Ulysses "SEEN," was supposed to be at the panel, but couldn't make it, unfortunately. But if you teach James Joyce's Ulysses, you might find Berry's digital comic worth a close look. Berry created the comic with a group of like-minded people as the first foray (among many planned) to foster "understanding of public domain literary masterworks by joining the visual aid of the graphic novel with the explicatory aid of the Internet," according to an explanation on the comic's website. The aim is to help preserve the vitality, and proliferation, of masterworks for the future.

Weaver has had success using elements of Ulysses in conjunction with Ulysses "SEEN"—the strategy Berry and his colleagues intended the comic to be used for—and has converted some of his students to Joyce fans in the process, which is no small feat for such a difficult text as Ulysses.

As a side note, during the panel, Weaver also summarized methods that he's used in his 12th grade English class to teach Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen, a graphic novel set in an alternate 1985 where the world is on the brink of nuclear war and superheroes are either outlawed or government agents. Watchmen is not your run-of-the-mill graphic novel. In 2005, it made TIME magazine's list of Top 100 English-language novels written since 1923. According to Weaver, Watchmen's complexity and literary merit make it a rich text to study and explore inside the classroom.

How about you? Have you had experience with either Ulysses "SEEN" or Watchmen? What graphic novels, if any, have you found that work well in the classroom?


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