Should teenagers read and write comic books?

    The research is in and yes, you do want your teen to read and write comic books. Graphic novels are powerful learning tools that improve memory. This raises two key questions. How do graphic novels impact learning outcomes?  And how can our children add techniques from graphic novels to their own learning toolkit?

    The history of graphic novels disappearing as a learning tool in schools is almost as interesting as the research that shows the importance and power of their use.

    Using comic books in the classroom

    About 20 years ago, educators started to bring comic books back to the classroom, igniting engagement [1]. The sheer presence of comics in school libraries increased library usage by 82% and non-comic book circulation by 30%.

    What was not appreciated at the time, was how comic books were turning on powerful learning systems (neural pathways) that exist in all of us and yes, our teenagers!

    But why were comic books not part of the classroom and embraced by educators?

    In the 1950’s Fredric Wertham, a German-American psychiatrist and author asserted comic books were responsible for ‘delinquent boys’ [2]. In 1954 a series of USA Senate enquiries ensued, leaving headlines full of fear and misinformation [3]. A new comic book code (now removed) dumbed down comics. This resulted in graphic novels disappearing from the education system, tarnished as a political hot potato, removing one of the most formidable resources from the education system.

    Why writing in graphic novels style works for our teens

    Edutopia shares the power of drawing and writing in increasing memory.  This is based on research by experts in the science of memory, Myra Fernandes, Jeffrey Wammes, and Melissa Meade from the University of Waterloo, USA.

    Tests showed drawings, no matter how good, even a scribble, doubled memory. They shared that drawing is not just for people we describe as visual learners, it applies to all of us.  

    Drawing and writing taps all parts of the learning brain at once, visual, kinesthetics (the act of doing) and linguistic. This activates more neural pathways as all learning systems are in play.

    This approach lays down new information as well as creating strong muscle memory, critically making it easier to pull knowledge out when needed.

    Edutopia’s video breaks down the Powerful effects of drawing and learning. It specifically recommends the creation of books and graphic books as it combines images with words.

    Why reading Graphic Novels is an effective memory bank for our teens

    As you read, your hand turns the pages of a graphic novel and acts like a remote control.

    The act of your hand slowly turning the page of the comic book, forward then back, fast or slow, with the eye picking up a visual clue to stop and start, is a really clever sign new knowledge is being layered down.  It’s your way of saying I need to go back, create a link for this new message and create context, it is incredibly powerful.

    Compare graphic novels to a video, visual and written text delivered in a different medium.

    Do you or your teens watch videos with a remote control constantly in use, going back, forward and pausing in a subconscious way? No. Video, the fastest growing form of content consumption, delivers infinite information quickly and in one direction forward.

    How does information relayed via video invite the learner to manage the information and activate all the learning pathways for easily accessible recall – and translate information into knowledge? In short, not as well.

    Infographics are an everyday resource using the principles of graphic novels. A simple effective approach to activate all the senses – I call this type of approach, smart use of human tech.

    It’s not uncommon to hear, “use less tech because it’s a distraction”. A powerful reframe is “use more human tech like drawing and writing, turn information into knowledge and build memory. It’s a more effective learning strategy”. This is a conversation we can explore at home.

    Draw this concept as a comic strip, stick it on your teen’s door, it will send a “memorable” message. As we see our teens draw, doodle and write, be delighted that they are using powerful human tech.

    How do we know this?  Enter rule breaker, innovator and arguably one of the most genius communicators of our time. A teen with an obsession with comic books called George, created his own comic book, Star Wars. George Lucas, director of Star Wars formed an Educational Foundation to highlight proven strategies, tools and resources for creating lifelong learners. Thanks to George we have a video cleverly showing the data to back up what most of us had an inkling about.

    Innovation is often born when rules are disregarded and needs, fuelled with passion collide.

    Let this be our guiding light as we navigate parenting teens.

    Imagine a world without Star Wars.

    Imagine the teen in your house is George, or Georgia I think he would love that.

    Below are some simple “human tech” tips and tricks your teen can use at home.

    Stock up on post it notes, white boards and yes drawing on windows with non-permanent white board markers; and a great resource already on tap – your teen’s dream!

    Simple applications

    • Write study notes in a comic style layout, comprehension of the knowledge will be more readily accessible as well quickly sketching just the outline of the comic strip in exam conditions will boost recall under pressure. 
    • Use sticky notes, draw new concepts, use another colour to write key words or quotes, now order the post it notes to create a free flowing story – it’s a flexible graphic novel. 
    • I imagine every high school kid’s nightmare may sound like this; 15 minutes to go, an entire essay to write and you have not started. Practice The 15 min Power Up Experiment below.

    The 15 minute Power Up Experiment

    Pick a topic your child is super comfortable with, choose an essay they have successfully completed. Let them read their essay now turn it over.

    Step 1 – 5 minutes: Grab post it notes and write and draw as many critical unique points as come to mind.

    Step 2 – 5 Minutes: Write an introduction and conclusion.

    Step 3 – 5 minutes: Grab the post it notes, from step 1, put them in a logical story order, write one sentence on each point, between the intro and conclusion on the one page.

    Repeat the experiment a few times over a year. Each time vary the challenge e.g. remove the essay just jump in, using a newly studied topic.

    This technique is useful for study notes, creates a strong back up plan for exam conditions and increases your child’s confidence walking into unknown test conditions. A friend of mine pulled off 15/20 for the HSC with 12 minutes on the clock writing just an intro, ending and including six critical sentences on one page, using this approach.

    Don’t underestimate the power of a scribble.

    Author bio: Jenny Atkinson is the CEO and Founder of Littlescribe, an online Literacy Platform which encourages students (K-12) to create and author original handwritten and self-illustrated books through the Littlescribe App or website. The literacy platform helps children improve their writing skills by connecting purpose, curriculum and audience and provides teachers with a suite of optimal learning methods to drive student progress.  This year Jenny launched a world’s first Co-Author program where students can form relationships with beloved authors not only as readers, but as writers and more uniquely as co-authors. The platform is a resource to help find a love of writing and the Littlescribe in every student.