If you were given the choice, would you rather your child read comics books or read nothing at all? Teachers have been desperately trying to increase literacy by finding books their students will want to read. The children are responding best to material that has traditionally been discouraged in the classroom: comic books.
The use of comic books in the classroom is a growing trend across Canada. With resources like http://comicsintheclassroom.net/ and http://comicsintheclassroom.ca/, teachers can find premade lessons and comicbooks for their students to learn from. Ontario teacher Peter Kmet (a.k.a. Mr. Comics) has been working on his own version of Comics in the Classroom.
In the beginning, Peter’s class did not enjoy reading at all. They were provided with books that failed to ignite their interest.
“Instead of forcing students to read books based on content they do not find interesting, I decided to ask the students what their interests were,” he explains.
“The majority of students (95% – with the exception of a few students who wanted the Twilight series) wanted superhero titles, and they were all very well versed in the Marvel and DC universes.”
“The Graphic novels were always checked out and the principal did not order enough to go around, so some of the kids were reading happily while others were staring at the covers from across the room, wondering about the story told inside the book,” Peter recalls. “I decided to try and incorporate superheroes into the curriculum, specifically during Language classes.”
Peter got to work adapting comics books into scripts, such as Robert Kirkman’s Army of Darkness V.S. Marvel Zombies. “After some editing and including a balanced ratio of male and female characters, I presented the story as an oral communication language lesson.”
“I introduced them to all the characters in the book, along with a brief synopsis of their origin, and I asked the students to imagine and demonstrate the speaking voice that character would use,” Peter details. “The students would read the story as people in a radio play would.”
Peter would ask questions during the reading, prompting the students to observe literary devices like foreshadowing. He would ask them if they thought the characters’ actions would be beneficial or detrimental to the situation. The lessons he wrote would stress values such as teamwork, responsibility, and friendship.
“I did not include the ending of Army of Darkness V.S. Marvel Zombies, because I wanted to see if the students could write a better one,” he reveals. “The students all wrote their endings, which were fabulous.”
Comics in the Classroom has been a huge hit among students. The children can’t get enough of reading time. Arthur, one of Peter’s students, enthuses, “Changing our voices for the characters we pick really makes reading the stories fun.”
“I was very glad that the students who had no interest in writing at the beginning of the semester, were busy writing away and editing their work without any encouragement – they were unstoppable.”
It’s not just the students who approve of this initiative. Professional comic book writer Marv Wolfman fully endorses Peter’s project. “I, of course, agree with [his] concept. I think this project is wonderful and needed within all schools,” he writes. “Comics are a fantastic way of getting kids to read.”
Peter’s goal is to solidify his Comics in the Classroom project and distribute his scripts to schools across the province for students and teachers to read and enjoy. He maintains that his method of teaching is effective. “I have found an untapped resource for literacy that would be and has been greatly appreciated by the students and staff.”