Program teaches educators to use comics in the classroom

Tuesday January 15, 2013


Educators are being drawn into using graphic novels and comic books for teaching as academics are expanding the animated storytelling form beyond English class.

On Saturday, the Norman Rockwell Museum hosted an educators’ symposium, "Comics in the Classroom," as part of its exhibition, "Heroes & Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross," which runs through Feb. 24.

Bobby Genereau, an instructional aide for Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, drove all the way from Bourne to attend the symposium, because he said he’s seen the comic genre and medium work effectively in classrooms.

He said a science class he works with recently had an assignment of breaking down the scientific method, from hypothesis to solution, into an illustrated comic strip-panel form.

"[The students] did really well with it. Working at a technical school, there’s not a lot of opportunities to be creative with assignments," Genereau said.

He said the style of assignment also helps students, like those with autism or other learning disabilities.

"It’s a different way of reading and comprehension," he said.

The symposium featured several speakers, who also use comics in a range of study settings, from history to English, and from preschool to collegiate levels.

Doctorate degree-holding professors James Kimble and William H. Foster III use comics and graphic novels in their courses, taught at Seton Hall University and Naugatuck Valley Community College, respectively. Kimble often presents on the prevalence of comics as domestic propaganda during World War II. Foster studies the changing image of African Americans in comics.

Foster called the use of comics and graphic novels a "myriad subject" and said using them for teaching "legitimizes it for students."

"I was the geek kid. I was told, ‘comic books are going to rot your mind,’ " said Foster, who has traveled the world discussing his work, and teaches a course, "Graphic Novels as Literature."

"A well-told story is a well-told story," said Foster, who noted in his talk how the story of Moses and Superman start in a similar vein -- with caring parents who, in the face of terror, send their respective sons into foreign lands in hopes they will be found and cared for and have a chance to survive.

"[Comics] have some great depth and tell us something about ourselves," he said.

Stephanie Plunkett, Norman Rockwell Museum chief curator, and Tom Daly, curator of education, presented a workshop on teachable aspects of the "Heroes & Villains" exhibit. New Hampshire-based cartoonist and educator Marek Bennett concluded the symposium with a session on comics as a vehicle for lesson planning and curriculum development.

Bennett regularly shares his signature project, "Live Free and Draw!" with classroom teachers and students. It shows how to interpret local history into comic form, and partners schools with historical societies. Many of the projects end up being shared in public exhibits and in photocopied mini-comic books.

"It gives kids authorship and gives them responsibility," he said.


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