Evaluating Graphic Novels for Use in Elementary Classrooms: Quality in the Content Areas of Math and Science

As the popularity of graphic novels has grown among elementary students over the last few years, the use of this format in classrooms has also spread rapidly. Cartoons, graphics, comics, whatever term you use to describe a graphic novel, the basic idea is the same: visual graphics to tell a story and/or convey information sequentially. But this broad definition does nothing to provide a framework for quality and as more teachers search for ways to incorporate graphic novels into the curriculum, content as well as visual engagement is emerging as an important undefined measure.

In their article from the American Library Association AASL journal School Library Research “Exploring Graphic Novels for Elementary Science and Mathematics,” Sandi Cooper, Suzanne Nesmith and Gretchen Schwarz explore the measures and perceptions of quality by elementary educators and professionals as it pertains to the content of graphic novels used in science and math instruction. The popularity of graphic novels makes them attractive for use in the classroom, along with trade books, but content quality varies. The authors research shows that elementary teachers recognize the vast potential of graphic novels to provide content, but there are also many concerns and questions as to the quality of that content.

 The authors’ research involved assembling a specifically chosen group of educators and administrators who were then asked to review six graphic novels (three with math content and three with science content) and then complete a survey for each book to reflect their perspectives on 1) the use of graphic novels generally in the elementary classroom and 2) the use of content-focused graphic novels in math and science in the elementary classroom. Because no qualitative measure or rubric exists for this sort of evaluation of graphic novels, the authors composed a set of measures for one for use by the participants who consisted of seven elementary classroom teachers and three faculty members of the university’s department of curriculum and instruction. For both types of graphic novels, content accuracy, visibility, and appropriateness were considered. The reader’s involvement in, understanding or and use of content contained in both types of graphic novels was also weighed into the evaluations. Other relevant factors were the discernibility of theories and facts from fiction and fantasy, whether the graphic novel presented positive ethical and cultural values, and whether or not the text promoted a positive attitude toward the content presented.

The results of the research presented in this article show that educators are broadly interested in the medium of graphic novels in spite of personal preferences which may lack enthusiasm. In general, teachers expressed an appreciation of the possible benefits of using graphic novels containing math and science content in elementary classrooms, but also raised concerns and questions.

Check it out!

This is a very good article to consider when looking at the use of graphic novels within the content areas of science and math.

Cooper, S., Nesmith, S. and Schwarz, G. (2011) Exploring Graphic Novels for Elementary Science and Mathematics. School Library Research. American Library Association. 14, 1-17.


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