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District 218 believes comic books have a place in the classrooms

  • Written by Kelly White

comic book photos 9-29

Photo by Kelly White

District 218 teachers believe that reading comic books in a classroom-setting has value due to its visual impact.

Comic books may appear to have no use in the classroom, but some School District 218 teachers tend to disagree.

Members of the Comics Education Offensive, consisting of some District 218 officials, presented Teaching with Comics Symposium recently at the Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave. The symposium featured panels and workshops focused on integrating comics and graphic novels into science, math and English curriculum for grades 6-12.

The symposium was an all-day conference opened to all teachers from grades 6-12 that focused on the use of comics and graphic novels in the classroom. However, the day also included panels such as creating safe spaces and utilizing gaming in the classroom.

“We hope that teachers were inspired to integrate comics into their curriculum, while also engaging in discussions about the inclusion of gamification and safe spaces in education,” said Izabel Gronski, the Oak Lawn Library’s Young Adult Librarian.

Gronski joined The Comics Education Offensive -- a group of teachers from the Midwest and east coast dedicated to spreading the word about the educational potential of comics – during presentations at the symposium. One of the group’s main organizers is Shepard High School English teacher Eric Kallenborn.

“I have been interested in comic books since I was a kid,” Kallenborn said. “I consider comics to be my passion and connecting with educators about comics and graphic novels in the classroom is what I do. When it comics to comics, I feel that the conversations with students are rich. It’s a different type of conversation than they are normally having in classrooms. And let’s face it, we are a visual society.”

“Using comics in the classroom gives people an appreciation for visual storytelling,” said Shepard student Natalie Escobedo, 17.

Kallenborn has been teaching at Shepard for nine years. He has taught every English level possible at the school located at 13049 S Ridgeland Ave. This school year, he is teaching Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition, film and literature and graphic novels.

A graphic novel is a book made up of comic book content that moves at the pace of the reader and connects wording with imagery. Kallenborn reports positive feedback from this course. He has been incorporating comics in the classroom for the past four years and plans to keep doing so.

“In the graphic novel course that I teach, I may use the occasional short story in that class, but all of my complete books will be graphic novels,” Kallenborn said. “We will read about six to eight as a class, and the students will read another two to five on their own. There are other teachers, however, that have begun using the graphic novels and comics, even in other disciplines. I can say that comic books will be used more than they ever have this year. There is no doubt that 21st century students have a deep connection to the visual.”

Students have reflected positive feedback from the incorporation of comics in the classroom.

“Comics are great to use in class because some students are intimidated by large amounts of words. However, pictures with great writing help more students learn,” said Shepard student Hassaan Harris, 17.

“The pictures add whole new dimensions to reading. No longer do I have to imagine,” said Shepard student, Matt Bird, 17. “Comics effortlessly immerse you in a new universe.”

The symposium also featured Shepard High School English teacher Jeff Vazzana and Jason Nisavic, along with Richards High School English teacher Ronell Witaker.

The event highlighted the integration of comics into middle school and secondary education curriculum through many presentations, including: Comics and STEM Workshop, Intro to Comics in the Classroom, Diversity through Comics, Working with your Local Comic Shop, Comics in Your Language Arts Classroom, Creating Safe Places, Power-Up Your Teaching, Comics in the STEM Classroom, Teaching Comics and Book Pairing with Comics and Non-Fiction Comic Workshops.

No longer an underground movement appealing to a small following of enthusiasts, graphic novels have emerged as a growing segment of book publishing, and have become accepted by librarians and educators as mainstream literature for children and young adults, according to Kallenborn.

“A comic is like a sub-titled film that moves at the pace of the reader,” Kallenborn said. “This is great because it mixes language with image, and studies have shown that learning happens quicker when these items are paired. They are also much quicker reads, and with classic adaptations, they are much quicker reads with similar assessment results when used in the classroom.”