Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bilingual Students Learn To Read By Sharing Comic books

More on literacy and comics, this from a press release from the International Reading Association:
Spider-man, Hulk, and Wild Girl Help First Graders with Language and Reading

Primary school teachers routinely read to their students, but it took an innovative first-grade teacher to interest Portland State University professor Jason Ranker in studying how comic books helped young English-language learners with reading and writing.

Ranker, whose research interests include visual literacy and marginalized learners, joined sixteen bilingual students one to two mornings each week to observe how their teacher developed sophisticated literacy skills by reading comic books to her class.

“Several researchers have noted the use of simplistic or reductionistic pedagogy when teaching reading to English-language learners,” Ranker suggested. “This teacher didn’t settle for that approach. Instead, she demonstrated that comic books can help students understand story structure, distinguish between dialogue and narration, and explore broader media issues—in this case, gender stereotypes.”

To demonstrate, Ranker highlights three lessons. The teacher used a Spider-Man story to illustrate how problem-solution scenarios make a story interesting, a technique students put to use in generating their own stories, some about super-heroes, some not. It was the tale that featured both the Hulk and Catwoman that opened the issue of gender. A student’s question, “Who is stronger, Catwoman or Hulk?” led to an extensive discussion about how strength is portrayed and a search for a female superhero, Wild Girl, whose version of strength differed from the Hulk’s.

Ranker sees an important connection that students can make using their pop culture knowledge as a frame of reference for in-school literacy activities. “Movies, music, comic books, and video games tell stories in their own ways. They create familiar territory for students to learn about how stories are told. As the teacher guides them through the story, students also get insights into their own reading and writing practices.”

Ranker also addresses several other issues connected to the use of comics, but clearly sees a value beyond their use to motivate reluctant readers. “Because they have the capacity to increase interest and motivation, comic books are an effective way of increasing reading comprehension and comprehension strategies."As highly visual texts, they are especially effective for second language learners, who can use visual support even when they may not have the aspect of the relevant target language that they might need in the given instructional context."
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