A Teacher’s Response to NYCC 2010
Leigh Brodsky is a teacher at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, New Jersey.
Any comic book convention is an exercise in endurance. Spending up to three days in a crowded convention center with overpriced food and lines in every direction is an arduous task for even the most dedicated comic book fan—however, the experience is like no other. As a teacher who also happens to be a fan of comics and graphic novels, the New York Comic Con is a highlight in my year. For me, this gathering is one of the few times a year I can meet with other teachers who see the value of graphic novels in the classroom and reaffirm that we are not alone in our way of thinking.
This year I had the ability to attend four distinct panels on teaching graphic novels in the classroom. Each panel offered a unique perspective based on the grade level, ability, and socioeconomic needs of the teachers presenting. The first panel, Rationalizing Comics and Sequential Art in the classroom, offered perspectives from the middle school, high school, and collegiate levels on ways to approach graphic novels for each age group. Having panelists who represented both the public school and private school realities allowed me to look at various scaffolding ideas for teaching sequential art as a way for students to make meaning by examining how order and image work together. At the elementary and middle school level, students can take traditional texts and translate the story and characters into a sequential reality, while at the high school level, students can use this translation as a way into close reading. At the collegiate level, students are asked to examine the form and progression of panel size and images as an additional level to understanding. In traditional texts the words not only tell the story but also paint the pictures and in graphic novels the images and text both tell the story and paint the pictures. The job of the student then must be to determine how each component should be read. The ability for students to reflect on how images tell a story and the importance for students to learn how to read images in our visual society was a major theme of the education panels this year.
Another major topic of discussion was how we as teachers select texts that are appropriate and engaging for students as well as text that can satisfy state standards. The second panel I attended, Extending Conversations About Graphic Novels, allowed several New Jersey teachers to talk about the activities they do in their classroom as well as discuss some of the struggles that they face bringing graphic novels into the classroom. Jessica Abel (Drawing Words and Writing Pictures) shared her website (http://dw-wp.com/), which is a great resource for teachers to acquire and share ideas on how to teach comics in the classroom. Another concept that was introduced was to have students create a book trailer for a traditional text. I loved this idea so much that my students are currently working on this with Edgar Allan Poe stories. To me there is nothing better than leaving a conference or convention with ideas that I can use in my classroom the next day.
This panel also offered us the opportunity to discuss how to bring graphic novels into the classroom with members of the publishing community. The consensus in the room was that teachers and publishing companies should work together to not only align texts with state standards, but to have teachers create usable instruction guides on how to teach graphic novels. The teachers in the room agreed that while we know where to look for resources, there are still a number of teachers who are intimidated by graphic novels and having some tested material can make them feel more comfortable, along with texts that are already connected to state standards.
This conversation moved very nicely into my final panel for Friday, Graphic Novels as Young Adult Literature. The panel began with first defining young adult literature and then moved to a book talk on 17 different titles that are appropriate for various age groups. Brian Kelley did a fantastic job of selecting a variety of titles that would appeal to all different types of readers, from the reluctant to the advanced. He also pointed out different themes in the texts so that teachers could think about linking a graphic novel to a more canonical piece of literature. There were also a few titles that I was able to put on my “to read” list just for myself.
My final education panel of the weekend was Comics and Graphic Novels in the Secondary English/Language Arts Classroom, and I really saved the best for last. Katie Monnin was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic presenters I have ever seen at any convention. Her presentation started with a brief review of Scott McCloud’s work and the basics that we should focus on in our classrooms. She also illustrated for us why image education is so important in the secondary classroom. Our students are living in a visual world and they need to be able to read and interpret those images just as well as they can read and interpret words. As an English teacher, of course I love to see how my students improve their writing, but what excites me more is when the process of reading and writing merge and they can improve their critical thinking, which is a skill they are going to need for the rest of their lives. These ideas are what Katie’s presentation spoke to, and they are ones that I carry with me when I enter my own classroom.
After Katie’s panel, the rest of my weekend was spent indulging in my own interests (and getting a head start on my holiday shopping), as the excitement of new ideas and new texts kept me fueled for the rest of the weekend. The New York Comic Con may seem intimidating for those who are not fans of comic books, but to those teachers who are thinking about adding graphic novels to their classrooms, there is no better venue to learn about the new trends in graphic novel education. So wear comfortable shoes and pack some granola bars. I hope to meet you at New York Comic Con 2011.