If you asked me a week ago what I thought about when I heard the word comics, I would have mentioned the colored “funnies” in the Sunday newspaper, or the brightly illustrated magazines featuring superheroes rescuing their damsels in distress. Not anymore! Today, the art medium that uniquely uses both text and imagery is being woven into education to promote literacy and hands-on interaction with reading and writing.

Stephen Cary, who is the author of Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom and a language learning specialist, says that comics have several forces in enhancing education, including motivating reluctant readers, engaging students in new literary formats and helping students identify not only various uses of language but also symbolism, satire and humor—things that text on its own cannot do.

The dual coding theory, first proposed by Allan Paivio in 1971, “. . . supports the importance of imagery and narration in cognitive operations.” According to the theory, imagery helps a person to recall verbal material when a word can be associated with a certain image. Comics, some are saying, is one of the ways this theory can be implemented into education for young students.

Thanks to today’s technology, it is now easier than ever to create comics in the classroom. One such outlet is through Comic Life, computer software that allows students to make their own comics in school computer labs. Although users need to provide their own images, adding these and word balloons is as easy as dragging and dropping into a template provided. The author of the program, Glen Bledsoe, notes the way these comics can help students not only learn the use of narrative devices, but also the power of framing and different perspectives. Students can better understand the impact a visual can have on dialogue context by using cropped images that focus on facial emotion or a slightly altered image across multiple frames to imply movement. Students can also see the evolution of a story depending on the rearrangement of speech bubbles or the way tension can be built or released based on frame layout.

Computer applications like Comic Life are changing the way students can interact with their own brand of publishing in the classroom. By incorporating comic creation into a lesson plan, teachers can show students how to enhance their skills as artists and writers, utilizing creativity in the classroom to expand and develop essential skills.

Further Reading:

“Dual Coding and Common Coding Theories in Memory,” Stanford University, accessed January 31, 2013.
“Comic Life in Education,” Comic Life in Education, accessed January 31, 2013.
“EduComics Project,” EduComics, accessed January 31, 2013.
“Comics and Education Meet at First Ever Wildcat Comic Con,” Publishers Weekly, accessed January 31, 2013.
“From Digitised Comic Books to Digital Hypermedia Comic Books: Their Use in Education,” Comic Strip Creator, accessed January 31, 2013.