Injecting some fun into learning by reading comics

Comics is a fun way to engage children to read and be curious of things around them. At a recent family gathering, I noticed my little eight-year old nephew engrossed in a book at one corner which is not his usual self.

Curiosity drive me to move closer to him and I realised that he is reading a comic book. “It is the latest issues from Detective Comics,” he told me eagerly, his eyes beaming with excitement. “As much as I admire the pictures, I’m paying particular attention to the writing. I’m motivated to truly understand what’s happening in each panel,” he continued.

For me, it’s impossible to overstate the educational value of superhero comics — or comics of any sort, for that matter. At an early age, my passionate engagement with this literary art form greatly strengthened my reading and writing skills and, by extension, my success in the classroom when I was a kid.

Hence, inspired by my nephew, I started a short research on comics reading in education and found the following information on Mr Josh Elder who advocated the use of comics in education. I have pasted the information below for the benefit of all:

Creating Reading With Pictures

In 2009, Mr Josh Elder, an award-winning graphic novelist and nationally syndicated cartoonist had formed “Reading with Pictures”, a non-profit organization that advocates the use of comics to promote literacy and improve educational outcomes. He shared that he was one who succeeded in his learning through comics reading.

As the son of a single working mother, he recalled having to wait in line for government-issued cheese and faced a future where success seemed anything but certain. “I was one of those kids that shouldn’t have made it,” he says. Elder also had a difficult time in school — not so much with comprehension (his IQ tested off the charts), but with finding relevance in his studies. All of that began to change when his teachers encouraged his passion for reading comics. “When they saw that I was reading so much on my own, they didn’t try to stop me,” Elder says. “They let me go.”

He eventually found greater meaning in learning other disciplines, like psychology and history, to cultivate his blossoming interest in storytelling. “Comics made my educational process so fundamentally different, enhanced my prospects so significantly that I feel I had to share that with other people,” he says. “It isn’t fair that I benefitted from this and other people don’t.”

Comics That Make Kids Smarter

For the very reasons that comics have helped him, Elder is passionate about ”Reading With Pictures”. The first major volume, Comics That Make Kids Smarter, was released through Andrews McMeel Publishing with the help of some of the greatest creative talents in comics and visual literacy which addresses topics in social studies, math, language arts, and science.

Each chapter is aligned to comply with Common Core Standards, and the teacher’s guide is chock full of detailed lesson plans. I’m fond of Solution Squad: Primer, an adventure story about a team of teenage heroes whose powers are based on mathematical concepts. The lesson plan reads:

Caught in a deathtrap in which the only means of escape is solving a prime number puzzle, the team creates a list of prime numbers using a prime number sieve to crack the alphanumeric code and catch their archenemy, The Poser. Students will read and discuss part of the comic as a group and solve the encoded message alongside the heroes.

Reading With Pictures engages education experts like Tracy Edmunds — an author, editor, curriculum developer, and comics enthusiast — to contribute the interesting comic contents in the book.

Edmunds believes in the power of comics and graphic novels as educational tools, which require readers to not only receive information passively, but also interact with the text and images to construct meaning.

“That is the key to the magic,” Edmunds says. “The immediacy of comics can also take what students may think of as ‘boring’ subject matter and make it interesting and motivating. The lesson plans we developed help teachers take advantage of the power of comics to teach every subject.”

Up, Up, and Away

In addition to his contributions to “Reading With Pictures”, Elder also serves as an ambassador for the U.S. Department of State, using comics to help students in Belarus and Chile cultivate a greater interest in reading, writing, and storytelling.

In America, Elder hopes to start a similar program through Reading With Pictures. “The biggest challenge is getting students to pay attention in the first place, getting them to care,” he says. “Comics are a way to do that. We need to use every trick that we can to keep them involved and engaged.”

In the meantime, Elder continues to make appearances at education conferences and comic conventions around the country, promoting his organization and the power of learning through comics. Eventually, he hopes to release an entire series of standards-oriented comic products, each geared to specific subjects.

“We’re a toolkit, and I want people to do as much with that toolkit as they can, because that’s where you make a real change,” Elder says.


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