Monday, September 19, 2011

What Is the Use of a Book Without Pictures?

“Alice was beginning to get very tired sitting beside her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do: once or twice she peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversation in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’ – Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland


A Literacy Memory

My parents used to read picture books to me nearly every night when I was a child. Before I could read the words, I followed along with the pictures. Sometimes I would “read” to them by narrating what I saw in the pictures. I remember my older brother asking my parents, “Why are you letting her think she can read? She’s not really reading the words.” And I remember thinking, “What is he talking about? Of course I’m reading.”

Engaging Adolescent Readers with Visualization

I recalled these memories while reading Chapter 5: Seeing is Reading in You Gotta Be the Book. Wilhelm discusses different methods of visualization activities to help students “see” the characters, actions, setting, etc., and discusses how graphic novels can aid in this process. He writes, “My hypothesis began to develop: the pictures, paired with words, helped less engaged readers to visualize the action of the story and to understand how words suggest various characters, settings, and activities” (160).

This hypothesis makes a lot of sense  because this method was presented to me when I was learning to read at age three. Some disengaged adolescent readers may not have been taught to read in this way when they were younger, so why not go back to the basics with them and try again?

The "Books with Pictures" Stigma

“Books with pictures” had a certain stigma after I reached a certain age. It was a momentous occasion when I read my first full book without pictures. It meant I was growing up, getting smarter. My classmates and I knew that the kids who still read books with pictures in them were not good readers, weren’t as smart as us.

Does this stigma still exist in today's classrooms?

Based on Wilhelm’s experience, and the experiences of Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher, authors of “Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and he Internet in an Urban High School," students love the opportunity to read books with pictures. Prior to reading Dr. Mortimore-Smith’s article “The Conventions of Comics,” I never considered the different types of conventions (speech, page, graphics) that readers need to use and analyze to successfully read a graphic novel. It's actually a very complex reading/thinking process. I can now easily see how reading graphic novels or other novels with pictures can be a challenging but engaging and rewarding process, especially for adolescent readers.

American Born Chinese in the Classroom

American Born Chinese is probably the third graphic novel I've read in my life, and it was different than the others I read.  The jumping back and forth in time and reality was interesting and even slightly confusing. A lot of meaning and learning opportunities can be unpacked from it, and I think it would be a great text to use to show a non-linear timeline in literature.

I am still not entirely sure what teaching graphic novels would look like in a classroom.  I'd worry that if it wasn't done correctly, it would just create busy work for the students and they'd just be creating a lot of pictures without much meaning or without a connection to literature and reading.


Nicole Lysle said...

Your point about the “books with stigmas” really stood out to me and from our class discussion. In our society it does seem to be that you build up to that point when you can go from reading picture books to actual chapter books. It’s almost like a defining moment of growing up! I think this may be one reason as to why so many of us stereotype these graphic novels as being “easy” or for “low-level readers”. So I do believe that this stereotype is still seen in today’s classrooms. During observations that I’ve done with younger grade levels, students seem proud when they can successfully read a chapter book without any pictures. Anyone who still reads those is thought to be immature. I wonder why we seem to take the importance away from pictures which help with visualization when it is one of the key aspects to truly understanding a story.

I also would be afraid to teach a graphic novel in the classroom because I never have before and would not be sure if I would be effective in my presentation of it. I think if I experienced being taught a graphic novel in school or if it was specifically modeled to me about how to teach it, I may be more willing to try it. I worry that the students may tend to think that it’s a joke when they see that the story is written in comic form and that many would not take it seriously at their age. I know that I looked at these novels in that perspective at first so I wonder what it would take to get the readers to really look for the meaning in the text and how to explain to parents that there really is a deep meaning behind these texts. I think that might take more convincing, especially since our society is so focused on drawing away from picture books.

Heather said...

I think another question could be, "How could a graphic novel be taught incorrectly?" As long as students are taking something from the novel you have accomplished something right there.

My high school psychology teacher told me a great story once. He was an undergrad at the time when the story takes place. Well, he said that had studied for an exam for a couple of days and many of hours. Then he went into take his exam. Do you want to know what was on the exam? Just one question:

Question: Why?


That was it. He wrote down about a page worth of information and facts then turned it in, but wasn't the answer simple?

Answer: why not?

I guess in our situation teachers are nervous that they cannot teach the information in a matter to which the students will take something from it, but is there any harm in trying? I don't think so. I hope that as new teachers we could focus our attention on challenging the texts that we are assigned to teach and ask instead "Why not?"

Travis H said...

The idea of using graphic novels in a classroom still makes me hesitant too. I do think that they are worth something and I also feel that they are great supplements in a classroom; however, I think it needs to be done in a precise way. What if students expect reading to always be like a graphic novel and loathe regular novels even more.
I think we are on the same wave length when it came to the graphic novel we read for class this past week. I thought the book was really good and had some valuable lessons. However, the relationship each character had to each other by the end of the book got kind of too abstract and left me bewildered. It may just take me a while to get use to graphic novels and how to read them. Until last weeks class, I did not even realize how important the pictures were. It seemed like the pictures were more important then the words.
Wilhelm seems to really know what he is talking about when it comes to learning. Pictures may be exactly the tool some students need in order to get in to a book. I think it is funny thast you brought up how you made up words to go with pictures as a young child. I remember how exciting it was to be able to read a book by using the words on the page. It is kind of sad that picture books have such a bad reputation when you grow up. I guess when you are younger you see your parents and other adults reading big books with just words. Naturally, children want to be more grown up and want to follow suit. Do you think if adults read picture books then children would find it okay even when they grew up?
Did you find yourself going back in the book we read for class because things started to get muddled? Ot was so hard trying to adjust to the pictures.

Bethany said...

In the last portion of your blog you mentioned how you are worried about teaching a graphic novel in class, I feel the same way. I think (atleast for me) there will be a lot of worries going into teaching but I think the fact that we worry is a good thing; it means we care.

I also liked what Heather said about "why not." We will continue not knowing how to teach a graphic novel in the classroom if we do not try it. I always find myself thinking of things I'd like to do in my classroom but then thinking that I do not know how to go about it. I guess I'll learn through experience. I have a feeling there will be many trial and errors.

Emilyreader said...

All through high school I knew this boy. He would come to school with about three graphic novels. By the end of the day he would have finished at least two. He was an honors student, took AP classes, and knew a large variety of facts. I know that he reads all the time, but I think that graphic novels were like a guilty pleasure. He once told me that it had something to do with following both the images and the words, it was almost a "hightened" form of literature.

I heard him, but to be honest I thought it was a joke. Now I know that maybe you can get more out of a graphic novel than a written one. If that is the case, we should take the effort to understand them better in order to put them into practice in the classroom. If someone said "Here is a canvas, create!" and put a variety of different materials to use such as charcoal, pastels, acrylics, crayons, paint, and a pencil. Would you only pick one? Or would you use what you could to create a masterpiece?

Gabrielle said...

I think it is hard to grasp that there are new technology and modern books and other things becoming more and more frequent in our lives. The stuff we grew up with and that was popular, was definitely not anime and graphic novels. At least, not where I grew up and other people I know. They are an "easy read" so why even try? I mean if I sit down to read a book, I want to be there for awhile and really induldge myself in the book. But, for some people they can't visualize what I can and need to the pictures to do that. And now that I read about the conventions of comics, I realized that a lot more comes from comics than pictures and a little bit of words. I realized that if you took your time through a graphic novel then you can realize the emotions of the story better and why the pictures are a certain way. I want to try and attempt to do that one day.