New Books: Teaching in Multiple Media

By Amy Wickner — February 07, 2014 3 min read
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Multiple intelligences, multiple literacies, transliteracy... myriad terms attempt to capture the many ways students connect with topics and texts. In recognition of young people’s increasing comfort and fluency in digital media, a crop of new titles for teachers embraces teaching with multiple media, across the curriculum.

Teaching Graphic Novels In the Classroom: Building Literacy and Comprehension by Ryan J. Novak (Prufrock Press, 2013).

This title identifies seven major kinds of graphic novels as literature for the English/language arts classroom. Readers may gripe that the categories overlap while failing to indicate the broad range of which graphic novels and novelists are capable. However, Novak appears to have built his book around specific titles, identifying categories to best fit the two graphic novels profiled in each chapter. This could explain why the chapter on Maus, for example, is called “Biography and Memoir” rather than “History.” Likewise, a chapter called “The Teenage Experience” identifies common ground between well-known titles Ghost World and American Born Chinese.

Novak focuses on big titles — Watchmen, Maus, Sandman — and big names — Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Daniel Clowes, Superman, Batman. His book includes a brief history of comic books that ends with a section called “Modern Age: 1986 — Today,” lots to cover in just a few pages.

As with any literature, identifying a canon means excluding countless valuable works as well as new developments in the art and craft of graphic novels. Still, Novak’s focus on the classics may capture quite a few young readers and expose them to the gravitas of graphic novels as a form.

Teaching Graphic Novels includes suggestions for research topics directly or thematically related to each title. Other projects invite students to interview working artists or re-imagine classic graphic novels for their own time.

WHAM! Teaching with Graphic Novels Across the Curriculum by William G. Brozo, Gary Moorman, and Carla K. Meyer (Teachers College Press, 2013).

Brozo et al. start with four basic curriculum areas or “content classrooms” — English/language arts, history, science, and math — and tackle how graphic novels may serve the teaching and learning demands of each. However, WHAM! is not meant to be an in-class resource, instead emphasizing the “Why?” behind teaching with graphic novels.

The book’s argument for the value of graphic novels in the content classroom rests on two planks: One, that the combination of text and images in different styles is a natural fit for the multimedia to which young people are regularly exposed; and two, that graphic novels can combine complex images, sophisticated language, and temporal effects that both challenge and develop students’ thinking about curriculum content.

The authors cite scholarship suggesting that graphic novels can prompt students to critically reflect on manipulation of time, form, and information in the novels. WHAM! also anticipates common biases and misconceptions that might influence what teachers think about graphic novels.

The book offers case studies in teaching with graphic novels, from read-alouds to book clubs to using a graphic novel as a primary textbook. (A previous paper by Brozo and Melissa Mayville examined one teacher’s classroom experience using graphic novels as supplementary science texts.) Each chapter concludes with a short summary and study group questions. Book lists for classroom use and professional development also round out the end-of-book resources.

The Power of Scriptwriting! Teaching Essential Writing Skills Through Podcasts, Graphic Novels, Movies, and More by Peter Gutiérrez (Teachers College Press, 2013).

Gutiérrez suggests using scriptwriting in class as a bridge between writing and digital media production. He cites Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, claiming that scriptwriting, alone among the many kinds of writing, engages all of the multiple intelligences and literacies: logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and interpersonal.

Of course, an activity need not be universally appealing or engaging to be of educational value. Gutiérrez has more success in chapters covering the range of scripts students might like to write, offering key questions — part guidelines, part story-starters — for aspiring writers to ask themselves. This book’s basic argument — kids love movies, video games, and television, and scriptwriting shows them how they too can start to make those media — suggests that there is value to imitative or “re-creative” work. Interestingly, Howard Gardner writes dismissively about such work in his most recent book, The App Generation.

Follow @awickner for more K-12 books, libraries, and literacy news.

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.