The iconic image of the little boy seated in the back of a classroom engrossed in a Superman comic that he has slyly tucked into his textbook is an image that might inform us as teachers. What is it that makes a comic book preferable to a textbook? If the answer seems obvious to us as teachers, perhaps the next question might be – why do we as teachers prefer to use textbooks? Is there nothing to be learned from illustrated texts? Or are we victims of an unwarranted prejudice against this particular mode of storytelling? What might we gain by embracing this vibrant, exciting form of narrative and using it to engage our classes?
A visual learning tool
While the 2003 Nestle Family Monitor survey on reading was not dire – four in five of the 11- to 18-year-old students claimed that they read books in their spare time and 40 per cent stated that books are important to them – it did reveal the place that reading holds in the grand hierarchy of students’ priorities. A third of the students admitted they had better things to do than read books and a quarter confessed they would be disappointed if they received a book as a gift.
What are these better things? A survey isn’t required to list them. Television. Films. Video games. Online videos. Memes.
Though it’s easy and often common to bemoan the supposed detrimental effects of these ‘lesser pursuits’, there is no avoiding the fact that they are not going away. Additionally, there’s no reason to believe that the modern entertainment industry has only impacted our youth’s intellect negatively. Research indicates that visual intelligence has been rising globally for fifty years, and given the omnipresence of the visual message, it’s no wonder (Greenfield 2009). Observation is one of the first and most natural methods of learning employed by infants, and from infancy, modern children are inundated with images. They become experts in visual analysis at an early age.
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Monitor, Nestlé Family (2003) Young people’s attitudes towards reading. Croydon: Nestlé
Greenfield, P (2009) Technology and informal education: What is taught, what is learned. Science 323.5910: 69-71.