For today's blog post I was planning on writing some kind of manifesto on what I want to achieve with this class. The good news is, I got an opportunity to write that manifesto.
The bad news is, I got an email this morning telling me I needed to fill out a form so that we could get the Creative Reading class approved. The bad thing about this is, I thought the class already was approved. If I'd known there was still a question as to whether it was going to happen, I wouldn't have put as much time into planning it, and I certainly wouldn't have created a blog about it. But here were are.
For the record, I'm not criticizing any of the people I work with--when that colleague of mine originally told me this class was happening, she genuinely thought everything had been approved and we were good to go. And it looked like we were, until we rammed into another layer of bureaucracy. I have no idea if this is just a tiny formality, or the End of the Dream, but hopefully I'll find out soon. In the meantime, here's what I spent this morning working on: a justification for why this class should exist.
Creative Reading is a one-semester course that focuses on reading, analyzing, and researching graphic novels.
According to Reading Process benchmark 2, English students need to “Answer literal, inferential, evaluative and synthesizing questions to demonstrate comprehension of grade-appropriate print texts and electronic and visual media.” It is important for students to “read” a variety of media. In a traditional Language Arts class we study print texts, and sometimes movies, but there is seldom time for students to read and analyze other visual media, such as comics and graphic novels.
Comics—which Scott McCloud defines as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer”— is just as valid a medium of expression as print, film, painting, or drama. But because of the accidents of history, comics have not been given the same respect as other art forms in this country. Since Art Spiegelman’s Maus won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, however, comics—or “graphic novels,” as longer form comics are known—have won considerable literary and social credibility. For example, in 2005, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen was chosen as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best English Language Novels, alongside such classics as The Great Gatsby and The Sound and the Fury.
Reading comprehension and analysis skills can be practiced with any text. It is up to the teacher to choose quality texts that can simultaneously engage the students’ attention and challenge them. Graphic novels work well for both. In recent years there has been a string of blockbuster movies based on comic books. I have found that discussing comic book-related topics is a way to engage the students. Many students who dismiss reading as “boring” nonetheless find comics interesting. Graphic novels often interest reluctant readers. A rich and intelligent graphic novel, then, is a powerful tool for engaging students and then pushing them to develop deeper analytical abilities.
Last year I loaned a fellow teacher my copy of Gene Yang’s award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese. A few days later she told me that she found herself reading the words and skipping over the pictures. Even though she was a highly-trained, experienced, intelligent teacher, she did not know how to read comics. Creative Reading class will train students in comics literacy, teaching them to read not just the words but the pictures. Reading comics requires a different way of reading, a different way of thinking, that forces students to expand their minds as they interpret visual stimuli. Armed with these skills, students will be able to view and interpret the world around them in new ways.
Our students are constantly barraged with information. Advertisers, politicians, and TV networks try to manipulate them with words and pictures. We need to prepare our students to make sense of the texts, both written and visual, that surround them. Learning to interpret visual texts is a valuable step in developing critical thinking skills and becoming an informed, engaged citizen of the 21st century.
This course, then, offers students an engaging curriculum; exposure to literary works they probably would not have read otherwise; an appreciation of a culturally-relevant American art form; a new set of reading skills; a deepening of students’ existing reading comprehension, analysis, and research skills; and increased critical thinking abilities, which can be applied to any other discipline. Creative Reading is a one-semester course that focuses on reading, analyzing, and researching graphic novels.