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Comics Literacy in the Classroom

by Lars Wallner

Comics as Narrative Tools[i]

Comics are a narrative form combining text and image in surveyable sequences (McCloud 9). In Sweden, comics are common reading for children, young readers and adults, even though comics reading among young people seems to have lessened, as have all types of reading—see, for example, Statens Offentliga Utredningar (231). Despite what these reading trends seem to indicate, publication of comics for children has grown in the past few years (The Swedish Institute for Children’s Books 25). Throughout my dissertation study (Wallner, Framing Education), I came in contact with many teachers from different levels of schooling who were interested in using comics in their classrooms. These contacts indicated not only an interest on the part of teachers, but also an interest on the part of students wanting to read, and to benefit from reading, comics in school.

Comics are also a prime material for studying how students engage in conversations on reading and writing—that is to say, literacy—especially because of how comics combine text and images. Because of this, a study of the use of comics in a school context can contribute greatly both to our knowledge of literacy construction with comics and to a better picture of what literacy entails.

In order to study this ongoing practice in the classroom, I made video recordings of three classes in Grade 3 (age 8-10) and one class in Grade 8 (age 13-15). In total, 77 students and 6 teachers, in two different Swedish cities, contributed to this study. 15 lessons were recorded with work in whole class, pairs and groups. As a researcher, I had no influence over the settings or materials: the teachers had already chosen the amount of time to be spent on comics, the material that they wanted to work with for each lesson and how they wanted to use said material. My role in the classroom was merely to film the activities that they planned and carried out.

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