Comics in the Classroom: “Hooked on Comics Worked for Me”

Comics in the ClassroomThroughout the month of August, and Reading With Pictures have brought you Comics in the Classroom, a blog series about using comics in education, including why graphic novels are complex texts as defined by the Common Core Standards, how to use graphic texts to teach in the content areas, how and where to find the best graphic texts, and more.

To round up this month-long series, here is our final guest post from Josh Elder, the Founder of Reading with Pictures.

My single-parent mother was a devoted bibliophile (who later went pro by becoming a school librarian), and she strived to instill in me a similar love for the written word. Only it never quite took. At least not until that fateful night in 1984 when a comic book changed everything…

Mom was reading to me just like she did every night before putting me to bed. I was only four years old at the time, so that usually meant a chapter book or something vaguely Seussian, but that night, I got to choose the reading material. To the surprise of no one (see the picture below), I chose a comic book. Issue number four of Marvel Comics' The Transformers, to be precise.

Hooked on Comics

Li’l Super Josh, age 4.

Mom was a natural at reading aloud. She would do different voices for all the characters, and she'd always take the time to explain any vocabulary that I didn't already know. Then tragedy struck. Halfway through the issue, mom finally succumbed to the sore throat she’d been fighting all week. This was completely unacceptable.

Optimus Prime was in a lot of danger, and I had to make sure he was going to be OK! With mom out of the picture, there was only one option left to me. I was going to have to teach myself how to read.

The comic itself proved to be my most valuable ally. The comic’s seamless blend of words and pictures functioned as a kind of visual scaffolding that supported me as I worked my way through the story. I was able to follow the narrative through the images alone, and they provided the visual context necessary to effectively reverse-engineer all the words that I didn’t already know. I was reading with pictures, and in less than two weeks, I finished that comic all on my own.

Mom was immediately retired as my bedtime reading assistant—with full pension and benefits, of course—while I went on to read everything I could get my hands on: comics (of course), but also magazines, books…everything. Comics not only taught me how to read, they taught me to love reading by making it both easy and fun. And when reading is easy and fun, learning practically any subject becomes easy and fun as well.

Throughout my academic career, comics allowed me to engage with material far beyond my chronological grade level. In elementary school, I was reading at the college level. In middle school, I became a college student after scoring high enough on the SAT to gain admission to my local community college. I went on to attend Northwestern University on a National Merit Scholarship, and upon graduation I embarked on a successful career as a writer and editor across various media, including magazines, newspapers, video games, novels and, of course, comics.

My entire life is a testament to the fact that when used properly, comics can be more engaging, more efficient, and just plain more effective than traditional educational materials.

Long story short: Hooked on comics worked for me. My entire life is a testament to the fact that when used properly, comics can be more engaging, more efficient, and just plain more effective than traditional educational materials. Comics were my scholastic secret weapons, and I founded Reading With Pictures in order to empower every student in the same manner.

Reading With Pictures facilitates academic research, trains educators in best practices, and creates educational comics and standards-correlated lesson plans of our own, including the just-released Comics That Make Kids Smarter from Andrews McMeel Publishing. I take our message directly into schools around the country and throughout the world via my role as "Comics Ambassador" for the U.S. State Department.

Hooked on comics worked for me, and at Reading With Pictures, we believe they can work for everyone.

Hooked on Comics

Posing with students at the Instituto Norteamericano in Valparaiso, Chile.

Just because the month is over, doesn't mean you still can't join the conversation. The new school year is a great time to connect on innovative and effective resources. How do you use comics in your classroom? Tell us all about it on Twitter with the hashtag #teachcomics