New picture emerges of comics' biggest fans

22nd April 2011 at 01:00
Graphic novels hold most appeal for stronger readers

Comics and graphic novels are usually used by teachers as a hook to engage less able pupils in reading.

But new research has shown this particular literary genre has the greatest appeal to the most able readers in a class.

The study, to be published later this year, was carried out by Shari Sabeti, a lecturer at Stirling University's Institute of Education. She concludes that the complex reading processes required by comics and graphic novels make them less attractive to children struggling to develop an interest in reading.

"Conducting this study has shown me that it is not weak boys with low literacy skills who tend to read comics; it is, rather, highly able, often extremely articulate and literate pupils," said Dr Sabeti. The assumption that comics are largely read by boys was also not generally true, she said.

Comics are increasingly viewed as aids to literacy and easy-to-read alternatives for learners struggling with other text; as such, they are used to engage pupils in the content of the curriculum, or as a form of social cohesion, particularly where children are involved in creating comics, says Dr Sabeti.

For her study, she observed and interviewed members of an extra-curricular graphic novel reading group of S5 pupils at an Edinburgh independent school, where she was employed as a teacher at the time.

The pupils highlighted to her the skills necessary to read comics like V for Vendetta or Watchmen, such as "making meaning and seeing connections". The pupils had been attracted to reading them by their form, particularly the combination of pictures and text, and the speed at which they could be read.

Most of them did not usually participate in class discussions, despite their articulacy. They read "ordinary novels", with some having a particular interest in science fiction and fantasy. Two members of the group, which called itself the "cool club", had, according to Dr Sabeti, sophisticated reading histories, including texts such as James Joyce's Ulysses and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.

For the students, the social aspect of reading was also important. Their common interest made them part of a group and while they described it to her as a "geeky" thing to do, it gave them something to develop references and in-jokes about and an opportunity to share culture with like-minded people.

The pupils viewed themselves as part of a group who "valued what others devalued", and in doing so "they themselves felt valued because they were given an opportunity to express themselves intellectually and socially".

While the study was small-scale, Dr Sabeti has since built on this initial phase and plans to publish more extensive work on the issue.

julia.belgutay@tes.co.uk.

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