So You Want To Teach With Comics

Engaging reluctant readers constantly confounds teachers, and many have turned to comics as the answer. Research proves that reading comics helps kids who do not enjoy traditional books. However, reading is only one half of the literacy puzzle. For children to be fully literate in our digital intensive world, they also need to know how to write. This means that for students uncomfortable with writing, mirroring the approach taken to engage them in reading can show the connections between reading and writing to make the process more manageable.

For teachers who have embraced using comics and graphic novels to engage their students in reading, finding a way to engage them in writing similarly may not be as intuitive. To help with this, below are five web-based applications that can be used in the classroom to help students work on their writing skills through comics. In July 2016, the Journal of Theoretical and Applied Information Technology published a paper called “Pedagogical Analysis of Comic Authoring Systems for Education Digital Storytelling.” The six digital authoring tools discussed are outlined below in terms of their applicability to the classroom. The six tools were evaluated for as follows:

Collaborative Learning – the extent of collaborative creation of digital story encouraged by the educational DST environments.

Creativity and Innovation – the ability to create digital stories from scratch.

Multiple Representations – the capability to incorporate text, pictures, video, voice, graphs, diagrams into the digital story.

Motivation – how far the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are provided by the educational DST environments.

Cultural Sensitivity – the level of learners’ cultural diversity adapted into the system.

Gender Equality – educational DST environments offer equal treatment to both genders.

Cognitive Effort – the amount of mental work attempted by learners while using the application’s features.

Feedback – negative and positive feedback for learners’ improvement and motivation.

Learner Control – the story flow and outcome could be influenced by users.

Flexibility – how far the application is able to adapt to learners individual preferences

and background.

Learner Activity – the dominance of learners’ active roles compared to instructor in affecting learning experience.

Value of Previous Knowledge – cumulative of previous material aid learners’ understanding.
Sharply-Focused Goal Orientation – definition of learning goals is present.

Experiential Value – reflection on direct experiences the alter results of learning.

Knowledge Organization – students’ conceptual development is promoted in the educational DST environment.

Metacognition – the extent of learners’ metacognitive skills enhanced by the system.
(Azman, et al, 462-463)

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Comic Life: Providing a free downloadable program for any operating system and device, the American Library Association also recommends Comic Life 3. Since Comic Life is a downloadable program for desktops, laptops, and mobile devices instead of being strictly web-based, it received medium values for Collaborative Learning and low value for Feedback. It generally earned Medium values for Cultural Sensitivity, Multiple Representations, and Motivation. However, since it is more customizable and allows students to draw their own pictures it earned higher values for Flexibility, Learner Control, Learner Activity, and Metacognition. It earned low values for Previous Knows and Sharply-Focused Goal Orientation since it is an offline downloadable as opposed to web based application.

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Pixton: Pixton allows login with a Microsoft Office 365 account and creates a full sense of community. Account creation is free; however, as with all things the premium account allows for greater instructor customization. Pixton earned high values across all categories. Collaborative Learning, Creativity and Innovation, Learner Control, Learner Activity, and Flexibility rated high because the program allowed for a lot of customization and insertion of user generated work. Again, this user customization allowed for Cultural Sensitivity and Gender Equality to have high values. Moreover, the multi-page construction of stories allowed high values for Metacognition.

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MakeBeliefsComix: Intended for beginners, this program has low values for Collaborative Learning, Learner Control, Learner Activity, and Flexibility because it does not allow for multiple users. No external media can be uploaded which meant that Creativity, Motivation, Cognitive Effort, Feedback, Value of Knowledge, and Sharply-Focused Goal Orientations all received medium values. Despite earning low value for Multiple Representations since no content can be uploaded, the variety of characters earned a high value for Cultural Sensitivity and Gender Equality.

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Cartoon Maker: Since Cartoon Maker is free, the program provides less versatility. Collaborative Learning, Learner Control, Learner Activity, Multiple Representations, and Flexibility all earned low values due to lack of customization. However, the variety of backgrounds, hair, and skin color choices allowed Motivation, Cognitive Effort, Feedback, Value of Knowledge, Sharply-Focused Goals, Cultural Sensitivity, and Gender Equality to earn medium values. In addition, since the program grants up to four panels of creation, Experiential Value, Conceptual Organization and Metacognition earned medium values.

Graphix Comic Builder: Graphix Comic Builder presents many of the same value challenges as the other applications. With mostly predefined characters who have a finite set of poses and facial expressions, Collaborative Learning, Learner Control, Learner Activity, Multiple Representations, and Flexibility all received low values. Motivation, Cognitive Effort, Feedback, Value of Knowledge, and Sharply-Focused Goal Orientation earned medium values. Moreover, the Gender Equality earned a medium value despite being low on the Cultural Sensitivity dimension. Metacognition earned a Medium value.

As you can see, there are many options here for you to choose from. Pick something that meets your teaching style and your students learning styles and imagine the possibilities.