Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Fostering Visual Literacy with Graphic Novels

My reading group has just finished our first graphic novel together. After our first lesson about analyzing the visual aspects of a graphic novel, I was optimistic that this group would do very well with the book, Smile by Raina Telgemeier.  

Our typical schedule for reading a novel includes students completing reading and response activities without my support. During this time, students also create discussion questions for the group. Once a week, we meet together to discuss our questions. I’m able to gauge student comprehension progress during those discussions and provide redirection or mini-lessons to ensure the group remains on track.

I provide a few guiding questions for each chapter to draw attention to abstract themes and help students make inferences that they might otherwise miss. For this graphic novel, I asked students to choose one panel to discuss in depth with the group during our meeting. I was hoping my students would have more amazing conversations like our discussion of an illustration in our previous book.

Unfortunately, my students really struggled to notice critical panels worth analyzing together. Instead, they would often choose panels that did not allow the group to have deep discussions. In the future, I will provide my groups with more scaffolding for this part of our work together. I plan to select specific panels for students to analyze and discuss. Gradually, I will release the the students to choose important panels once they have more experience.

Overall, I found that using this graphic novel was a great way to practice reading skills that my students usually struggle to master. Students were able to make inferences based on visual clues. During our discussions, students were able to analyze visual information and understand symbolism. As we continue to develop these abstract skills, we will begin transferring our reading skills to print-based texts. My hope is to have students make connections back to our visual texts in order to continually make inferences and recognize symbolism.

Student Comics

As a culminating project, my students used Pixton to create their own comics. They were challenged to use a graphic novel technique that we discovered a few weeks back (shading, color, perspective, body language, and font or text use) and were given the choice of content:
  1. Tell a story from your own life when you faced a problem
  2. Put yourself into Raina’s story and show what you would have done differently

Look at some of their work! I am really impressed with their ability to apply their understanding of visual communication to create comics.
What an interesting way to show perspective in panel 3!
This student changed the shape of her speech bubbles to show
that the character is in pain. 

Student Learning

When I asked these students for some feedback about what they had learned while reading graphic novels, they were able to express some great insights. One student explained that even though there are fewer words, he had to think more while reading. Rather than breezing through the story, he had to add his own knowledge to the pictures to really understand the full story. Another student said she was glad to read this story because she thought graphic novels were boring before.

We also had an interesting discussion about if graphic novels should be considered “real reading.” I was surprised that many of the students in this group said that it wasn’t really reading because there weren’t many words. Instead, they agreed that our learning was more about thinking than reading words, which I would agree with. We didn’t focus on reading words, but instead on thinking deeply, making inferences, and noticing symbolism. Whether my students believe they were really reading or not, they did develop key reading skills that we will apply in our next book study. I’m pleased with the progress this group made in their reading skills, and I’m looking forward to using graphic novels with my other reading groups as well. Thanks to generous donors, my latest Donor’s Choose grant for graphic novels was fulfilled. My students are so excited to read these new titles!

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