• Meryl Jaffe
  • My Jaunt at C2E2 2011...Departing the Text: Teaching Inference with Graphic Novels
My Jaunt at C2E2 2011...Departing the Text: Teaching Inference with Graphic Novels
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
March 2011
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
March 2011
I just got back from  C2E2 2011.  Not only did the panel go well,  I love conventions...walking around...getting free books...and pitching mine.  

At the request of some of my readers, let me tell you about the presentation Talia Hurwich and I made, "Departing the Text:  Teaching Inference With Graphic Novels." (Katie Monnin who also contributed could not make it).  The turnout was good and the audience was as passionate about teaching kids,  reaching kids, reaching teachers and introducing the right graphic novels into classrooms as we were. 

Presentation highlights:
Getting to know the page: While I'm not sure there is a 'typical' graphic novel page since page design is actually part of the art, each page contains the following elements:
  • Panels - boxes of various shape, size and borders that contain varying amounts of text and art.
  • Text varies in size, shape and in presentations. Typically, the text is presented in narrative or dialogue form (and dialogue is often in a 'text bubble').
  • When there is more than one panel to a page (which is usually the case), the panels are separated by lines or space called "gutters." Gutters are actually important.
Gutters are where a lot of critical thinking takes place.  For one, they provide opportunities to pause,  reflect and digest the previous panel and "fill in" the gaps of time, action and emotion.  Gutters also allow readers to pause and fill chunks of 'data' that the author/illustrator did not provide which are also necessary for comprehension.

In order to read and comprehend graphic novels, readers must:
  • Attend to the text's content;
  • Attend to details in art - the foreground and the background, facial expressions, spacing and placing of objects;
  • Attend to the shape, size and presentation of  text (in and out of) the panels; and
  • Attend to the panel borders and the choice of color in the backgrounds.
Learning is most effective when it is personal, meaningful and interactive. Here's how graphic novels can play a huge role:
  • Graphic novels are particularly suited for learning because they involve the reader as s/he constantly engages with the medium - switching from verbal to visual stimuli and constructing his/her level of understanding.
  • Aside from the art often being literally stunning, it pops out at you and invites the reader to participate in the action.  TRIBES:  The Dog Years (by Michael Geszel, Peter Spinetta; art by Inaki Miranda - IDW Publishers) is one example. 
  • Readers are constantly making inferences when they read graphic novels.  
  •  Critical to reading and learning from graphic novels is that information is given everywhere, and "art" can include the use of illustrations, the design of the page, the font, size, shape, and presentation of the text.
Readers Must make INFERENCES in order to comprehend:

  • We make them when we leap - figuring out what happened within and between panels.
  • We must infer character emotions from faces,  from the color of the panel background, from body stances, from text (content, shape, size), and from panel borders and shapes.
  • We must infer motives from faces, body posture, text (content, shape, size) and from panel borders and shapes.
  • We make inferences in the use of figure/ground and foreground/background.
  • We make inferences about author/illustrator 'choices'.
  • Time is often 'weird' in graphic novels.  The art and design allows the author/illustrator to jump from one period of time to another, often with no formal 'direction'.  As a result, readers must infer 'where' they are 'when' integrating the art, the shading, the panel borders, the color and the text provided.
A special note about teaching social cognition - how to read faces, understand boundaries and personal space, validate emotions... graphic novels are a power house:  In social interactions, reading verbal and nonverbal cues is essential.  Graphic novels clearly can help. The facial expressions, how people are standing or interacting together, the color of the background, the tension in the bodies, smooth or jagged panel borders, text size-shape-and font, ALL show and teach us how one expression, word, stance can lead to a particular emotion or reaction in others.  SEEING is often so much more power than just reading or being told, and graphic novels do both.

Talia outlined a sample lesson plan for introducing Greek mythology using Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess by George O'Connor, published by First Second. For anyone interested, please let me know, we can email a copy to you.

Questions/concerns from the audience [Note each bullet is a topic for an upcoming post so stay tuned]:
  • How do parents, teachers, librarians know what to buy?  As with prose novels, there are junk and gems all around.  How do we know what to buy/read/recommend?
  • How can parent/teachers learn more about using and reading graphic novels to build inference skills?
  • Can I provide further examples of how to read graphic novel panels, pointing out opportunities for inference?
  • Do you have questions?  Please let me know in the comments.
Graphic novels are rife with teaching opportunities for kids with all kinds of strengths and weaknesses and they should be integrated in classrooms and read at home.  The key is finding the right ones to use.  I have made some recommendations in previous posts, and will continue to do so.

What do you think?  Any questions?  Do you want any particular information?  Please let me know.

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