Some people look down on comics and comic books. They probably remember some nerdy kid sitting in the back of the classroom hiding an Iron Man comic behind his geography textbook. Although I may or may not have been that nerdy kid, I must say that comics have come a long way since my childhood. Take a look at literature. Graphic novels are now part of mainstream literature with books like The Complete Persepolis and The Watchmen receiving widespread acclaim. These stories are complex works of literature that masterfully balance the visual and textual to deliver a unique experience for readers. These “comics” are much more mature works of fiction than those stories of Superman saving Lois Lane from a burning building.
If teachers can take a step away from their preconceived notions of those superhero comics or the Garfield dailys and examine a graphic novel (or any comic) from literacy and educational perspectives, it’s pretty clear that comics can be ideal ways to engage students. Incorporating comics as forms of literature may help some students visualize the story better. In comics, characters and setting are visually established and much of the story is offered through written dialogue. Besides reading comics, however, students could also be involved in writing their own comics. When creating a comic as a classroom assignment, students would need to convey their understanding of a topic through their writing and then use the content as a vehicle to tell a story. Include the creative aspects of laying out the panels artistically and comics become a tremendous interdisciplinary assessment tool that draws on the multitude of talents that our students possess.
While there are many comic creating tools available to educators (ComicLife, for instance), one of my favorites is Pixton. Pixton is a web-based application that allows users to create multi-panel comics. Pixton offers free accounts to users and the site is really easy to use. Check out this comic I created thanking all of the 8 Blog readers:
Pixton also offers an educational site so teachers can create classroom projects. The educational site allows teachers to set up student usernames and passwords (with email addresses) and helps with assigning and collecting Pixton assignments. With these added features, students can use the site safely and not have to worry about sharing their creations with the whole world. While the educational site is not free, Pixton offers free 14 day trials for teachers to test the site out. The licensing fees are not tremendously cost prohibitive and teachers may find the site affordable enough that they use Pixton with their students regularly.