A classroom filled with young kids, math books at the ready, while a teacher faces the blackboard and scrawls equations with chalk upon its surface. The camera pans to a child near the back with his book standing straight up, a comic book hidden deftly inside. The boy’s face lights up as he reads an exciting sci-fi adventure while completely ignoring whatever boring lesson the teacher is droning on about.
We’ve seen this scenario played out on TV and in movies before. Unfortunately this image is what some people envision when you mention using comic books as a tool in a classroom setting. However, as many parents and educators can attest, comic books can be a powerful tool in teaching.
My wife teaches second grade and I write comics. For us, bringing comics into the classroom as an educational resource was a no-brainer. As parents we had already seen the positive effects of comic reading with our own daughter.
Recently I was fortunate enough to interview Josh Elder, the executive director of Reading With Pictures, a non-profit organization that promotes the use of comics in the classroom to stimulate literacy and increase overall education for students.
Q: What inspired you to found Reading With Pictures?
A: Comics were instrumental in teaching me how to read at a very young age. I could follow the story through the images, which gave me the basics of the plot. From there, I was able to use the visual context the images provided to reverse-engineer a lot of the words I didn’t already know. Comics not only taught me how to read, but to love reading. It made reading—and learning—easy and fun. Reading With Pictures is an attempt to make my experience a common one in classrooms across the nation.
Q: Since its inception how has Reading With Pictures implemented getting comics into classrooms?
A: Our board members—including myself and Prof. David Rapp of the Learning Sciences Department at Northwestern University—have presented presentations at the International Reading Association’s annual conference and hosted a daylong educator workshop at Northwestern’s campus. I’ve also worked directly with a number of Chicago-area schools to help them begin integrating comics into their core curriculum. Finally, the Reading With Pictures anthology—a collection of educational comics—was released this past August and contains dozens of classroom-ready stories on topics ranging from biology to the language arts.
Q: What are the greatest benefits gained from introducing comics to into a teaching environment?
A: The Three E’s: Engagement, Efficiency and Effectiveness. For more, you can see my lecture at the 2010 Cusp Design Conference:
Q: Has Reading With Pictures been well received by teachers?
A: Absolutely! I’ve had hundreds of educators “come out of the closet” as comic fans to me since RWP launched. Though, to be honest, I kind of expected that. What I found surprising (and heartening) were all the teachers who never cared for comics themselves, but had seen their educational value firsthand. They recognized what a powerful tool comics could be and wanted to learn how to use them properly. Reading With Pictures exists to serve both of these types of teachers and to provide ammunition to and support in the battle to win over all those still on the other side of the fence.
Q: What are your future plans for Reading With Pictures?
A: We’re hoping that 2011 will be an even bigger and busier year than 2010. We’re currently in the process of applying for 501(c)3 non-profit status, which will allow us to take tax-deductible donations and apply for grants and then hopefully hire a staff to oversee our various projects and programs. At the same time, we’re actively seeking to partner with a publisher to help develop new educational comics content that we can distribute into schools everywhere. We’re also looking to expand our Board of Directors by bringing on a new Secretary, Treasurer and Webmaster. Finally, we’ll be partnering with Teaching Comics (www.teachingcomics.org) to expand their already impressive list of educational resources and then start creating additional resources of our own. You can find out more at www.readingwithpictures.org.