Rereading without the words.

After listening to the class discussion and considering my own impression of Nat Turner, it struck me that the most important thing to focus on when teaching graphic novels would be rereading. This has proven true for a variety of literature so far and I can see a clear necessity for using this skill with graphic novels as well— as many in class expressed, it can be too easy to flip through a graphic novel without lingering on the images.

What seems the most obvious technique would be to have students add text to silent panels, then have students compare what they “heard” in the silent panels. Students could also compare them to the original and reflect in writing which they prefer, a student version or the original. This would generate rereading opportunities as well as open a window for discussing what the advantages and limitations are of illustrations as text.

Another way of generating rereading would be to have students select a series of 10 panels from throughout a novel that they feel best summarizes the story. This activity would also give me as the instructor a gauge for how well my students are understanding the content. Students could also be asked to rearrange the panels or select based on a chosen theme, character, or plot line, then reflect on the new impression this gave them either aloud or in writing.

Class discussions on some of the “grammar” of graphic novels would also be useful. My sense is that most students would intuitively understand how to read them, but I think it would be interesting to discuss what impression the longer vs. shorter panels or certain lines/backgrounds gave to certain scenes. Having the students engage in this grammar by drawing a panel with changes could also be a way to engage students in rereading and examining how pictures can function as a text.

After I finished writing the above I realized I was considering how the average student would learn to read and comprehend a graphic novel— I wasn’t considering what my English language learners or students with disabilities would need. For English language learners I think that graphic novels could be an advantage because of the illustrations, but they could also be more difficult if students are from a culture that does not share the same visual grammar. For students who have difficulty reading body language or focusing/tracking, the visual aspect of a graphic novel may also present challenges. I think both groups of students would be best assisted if they had a reading partner or the instructor described the illustrations to them and work with the student to interpret them.

I think graphic novels could be a real advantage in the English classroom—they make for quick and enticing reads, leaving more time to invest in writing about and discussing the literature.

One thought on “Rereading without the words.

  1. susanwhalen

    I read Alicia’s post first, and commented similarly that I think picking frames from each section could help to summarize what happens in the whole story. I agree with your points on rereading, and having a discussion on the “grammar” of graphic novels.

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