Voices from the Classroom: Mike Stultz
Mike Stultz has been using graphic novels in his classroom for the past three of his sixteen years teaching. He attributes his decision to teach graphic novels to the graphic novel's ability to synthesize word and image and its appeal to all senses, along with the general acceptance of the graphic novel as mainstream, legitimate literature. Citing Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis as one example, Mike emphasizes the graphic novel’s universality and the fact that a graphic can transcend language and culture and bring people together in more powerful ways than print-only texts might.
Using graphic novels promotes student learning in Mike’s classroom because, he says, it is another medium and language that not only appeals to visual learners, but it helps students create a lasting memory of a text. Comics imprint through the verbal, visual, and spatial—what Mike calls a veritable triple whammy of rhetoric. When asked about the differences between teaching comics and traditional, print-only texts, Mike responded by explaining that print-only texts are from a pre-visual era. They use language that is twice abstracted (using an alphabet). Print texts are logos-based and very linear. Comics, like web-based texts, are more spatial, nonlinear, associative, and visual. They are good crossover texts to use when transitioning between print-only and digital writing.
The resources that Mike uses to inform his graphic novel instruction include Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, McCloud’s website, and The Bedford Anthology, which Mike cites for its wonderful unit on graphic storytelling. Many AP language tests are moving toward DBQ types of questions that include a photo analysis or paneled comic as a visual source, therefore Mike believes this is one more reason to expose students to hybrid texts. Mike also recommends Comic Life, a comics creation tool installed on all the Mac machines at his school, which, he asserts, makes teaching and creating comics ridiculously easy.
When asked why teachers should teach comics and graphic novels to promote visual literacy instruction in school, Mike says that digital literacy and 21st-century skills are moving toward a more graphic, nonlinear style of writing that allows easy manipulation of word, image, and space into a multimodal, multimedia platform. He believes the pen and paper or word processing days of composing are numbered. Also, comics are collaborative and so is the new style of writing for Web 2.0. Finally, comics are handy for interdisciplinary units since they involve art, literature, film, history, and technical design. In many ways, though, Mike says, comics are a return to our pre-print past of cave drawings, Stonehenge, and verbal storytelling, so comics bookend both the distant past and the future of literacy.
Mike shared his “Frenemies” graphic novel project with me, which is based on “Enemies” and “Friends” from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, wherein students focus on learning the concept of situational, verbal, and dramatic irony by adapting the vignettes into comics form.
As evident in the student example above, creating comics engages students more deeply with stories and is useful in reinforcing an understanding of literary concepts.
Bravo, Mike! Your students are lucky to have a teacher who is using the comics medium in creative ways to promote literacy, and GraphicNovelReporter thanks you for sharing your experience with other teachers.