I am a reading intervention teacher teaching in the Oakland Unified School District. Needless to say there is a great need for help for struggling readers in my district. I have students ranging anywhere from below preschool level to about third to fourth grade; the thing is I work with sixth through eighth graders. I use an online based program that tests each student’s reading level then gives them news or subject matter articles at their level. Each student is reading the same article just at their appropriate level. I often find myself struggling to find things that interest my students, and many of my students do not spend enough time reading outside of class to increase their reading level.
When I first started at my school in the Fall, my co-worker mentioned how she liked to have graphic novels and comics in the classroom for her students. She keeps a small library for students to choose from ranging from preschool age picture books to high school level novels. At first I thought that is cool but how does that help their reading? She explained that the struggling readers feel discouraged because they cannot read grade-appropriate text. Many graphic novels and comics are written at a lower level so students can read and understand the text without feeling embarrassed that they are basically reading a picture book.
I’ve thought about this more have realized that my co-worker is right. Comic books have a broad reading range and are more accessible for older children who are struggling. The pictures in each panel help the student to visualize what they are reading and give them a better understanding of what is going on in the story. Vocabulary is also fostered through the help of visual cues in the panels. Once the child understands the story then they can work to better develop more comprehensive skills such such as text analysis. Analyzing plot, characters, main ideas and so on can be done just as easily with a comic book as it would be to do with a short story. If a student wants to delve deeper into a story or character they can follow a longer story arch that spans across multiple issues.
Comic books are not just limited to benefiting struggling readers. Younger readers can also learn from reading comics. Reading comics still teaches concepts of print such as how to hold the book, where to start and where to stop. This might be a bit more challenging with the variations in panels but with some guidance young readers can grasp this pretty easily. Many series such as the My Little Pony comics address issues such as morality and friendship in ways that are easily understood by younger audiences.
One of the biggest benefits to reading I have found from comic books is that my students love reading them. There is a comic book for just about every cartoon character that my students enjoy, not to mention all of the super hero comics that their favorite movies are based on. I have found that students often struggle finding something they like to read which discourages them from reading outside of what they are assigned, which does not help their reading level. Comic books give my students more of the characters they love and gets them reading.
Obviously comic books will not solve all the problems for struggling readers, but they are a step in the right direction. Comic books provide engaging text that can help build their reading skills with out the shame of reading from a book meant for a much younger age.