The Application Approach as I have named it centers upon:
- Directly teaching and using Graphic Narratives such as Graphic Novels in the Composition Classroom
As of Monday, July 12, I am currently teaching at Composition II class centered upon the rationale of having students approach a graphic novel, of their choosing (from a provided list), and argue an answer to one of three proposed questions:
- Should _________________ (insert graphic novel selection) be considered appropriate for use in the college classroom (pick a type of classroom)?
- Should _______________ _ (insert graphic novel selection) be considered worthy of someone wanting to read it? For what purpose might someone want to read it? Does it have merit?
- Should _________________ (insert graphic novel selection) be considered or adopted as a worthy piece of literature based on its literary merit (you argue for it), universal themes, and/or longevity potential?
The inspiration for this approach stems directly from a story about a young woman referring to the graphic novels used in her classroom at Crafton Hills College this past spring (2015) as “garbage” and “pornography.” In response to this event I wanted to address her “weak” arguments and attempt to pass the buck for her assumption that because the class was asked to read graphic novels that somehow it was a “blow off class.” I addressed this story in a previous blog post: “Looking to Re-Think How I Teach Composition, Part 2 – Specific Course Design.” What I decided to take away from this incident was to, as a Comp II instructor, have my students examine the merits and value of graphic novels and in the process engage in more nuanced, informed, and in-depth arguments on the matter. Basically, I took a story and ran with it with the aim of using it to generate better researched and thought out debate on the topic.
Over the first week of the course I have put in my students hands a copy of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to help formulate a theoretical background for the material in the course, along with links to how to read and why read graphic novels, and a list of potential graphic novels (running through different genres) that they will do preliminary research on and then select one to investigate for the course.
Over the course itself students will be asked to engage in primary, secondary, and tertiary research surrounding their graphic novel, as well as other elements of the question they strive to answer in their thesis statement.
Primarily students will be asked to do a Literary Analysis Paper on their graphic novel, submit an outline for their research paper, do an annotated bibliography of obtained research materials on their thesis, write an 8-10 page research paper on their selected graphic novel and thesis, and finally give a presentation of their research findings to the class.
As of the end of week 1, students have been exposed to and discussed the following:
Week 1, Day 1:
What is literature? Are graphic novels literature? What does one expect to encounter in a high education classroom? Are graphic novels appropriate for the college classroom?
The answers to these above questions produced a general consensus that literature was a primarily written form (not limited to novels but also found in screen plays and theatre play scripts) that express universal themes worthy of merit about the human condition. Graphic novels, in some cases might be considered to be literature depending on the merit of their stories. Higher education classroom is about encountering advanced learning that challenges one’s beliefs and knowledge. Finally, graphic novels can be applied to almost any kind of college classroom setting – they are adaptable.
Week 1, Day 2:
After having students select their graphic novel and begin obtaining it for the class, I walked students through a PowerPoint discussing key elements from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics Chapters 1-3. After the discussion and checking to make sure the students had all chosen a graphic novel, I posed he following request to them to post in a discussion forum:
In a few sentences, I would like you to jot down your initial thoughts and feelings about what you expect to encounter in reading and researching your graphic novel here at the outset.
My hope is to gage the student’s conceptions and perceptions of their chosen graphic novel at the outset where they have only done the bare minimum research on the work (only enough to decide which one to pick). The further hope is that this approach can be used to measure how exposure to the graphic narrative form changes or evolves the student’s perceptions over the course of their construction of the research paper.
Additionally, I asked students, after seeing the above questions from Day 1 again on their Research Paper Assignment sheet, to begin formulating a thesis statement for their paper. This was presented to them as a tentative research thesis statement because they could opt to change it after finishing the reading of their graphic novel in Week 2.
I gave them the following example, pulling from and using selection 1:
Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is [chose to argue the affirmative] an appropriate text for use in the first-year composition II classroom because the richness of the storytelling makes it an excellent work for students to analyze, discuss, and conduct research over.
I specifically divided this up, this thesis, into TWO parts. In BLUE is represented the first part of the thesis, the opinion or “what” the paper is about. This is the initial answering the question, but alone it does not offer up anything more than the opinion of the author. So, I point out that my students, and its marked in RED, need part 2 of the thesis or the “reasons.” The reasons help provide the elements that the students will elaborate on in their paper to back up and assert their claim found in part 1.
Before they left on Day 2, they were charged with coming up with Part 1 of their thesis. Part 2 would be completed at the beginning of class on Day 3 in order to move forward into working on their introduction portion of their research paper.
Week 1, Day 3
Along with students we critiqued and tweeked their thesis statements. Many of them took, and I was impressed, the tougher road of arguing for their graphic novels to be considered works of literature than I expected.
Students were introduced to their Literary Analysis assignment for their graphic novel. This is being done in only a single draft form but as I set it up, it is designed to serve the students as a kind of foundational draft that they can build their large research paper off of. It is even more particularly easier for students who decided to argue for their graphic novels as works of literature.
Students, the small group of them, have also settled on the graphic novels they wanted to read and engage:
Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan and Noah Stollman
Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachelo
Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon
Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson
Mother, Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier
Marvel: Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven
I am very impressed by their selections and variety. Looking forward to seeing how this proceeds from here in Week 2.
To transition us into the Literary Analysis assignment, students were sent away from the class for the weekend charged with practicing this approach in short form by conducting a literary analysis of Chapter 2 of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. More to be seen where and how this turns out going forward.