Super-powered literacy: The benefits of comics in the classroom

OTTAWA, July 21 /CNW Telbec/ - Dismissed by generations of parents and educators for being "sub-literate" comic books and graphic novels may hold the key to promoting prose literacy in young boys - who have traditionally lagged behind girls in reading - says the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL).

According to the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD) comic books are the second most-popular reading material for boys, following newspapers or magazines. Additional research shows that three-quarters (75%) of elementary school-aged boys reported reading comics; compared to only half (50%) of elementary school-aged girls.

Yet surveys show that many educators still consider comics unsuitable reading material, judging them to be cheap, disposable and of poor quality.

These external findings are summarized in CCL's latest Lessons in Learning article "More than just funny books: Comics and prose literacy for boys," which provides an overview of current research about the reading habits of young boys and the literacy-boosting potential of comics.

"For decades, tests have shown that young boys underperform in reading achievement and do not derive the same level of enjoyment from reading as girls," says Dr. Paul Cappon, President and CEO of CCL. "As this new article makes clear, comics and graphic novels hold untapped potential to address this disparity by promoting improved literacy among young males."

According to the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 15-year-old Canadian girls outscored boys in reading achievement by 32 points (the average Canadian girl scored in the 67th percentile and the average Canadian boy scored in the 54th percentile).

Research into the reading habits of young boys suggest that they may be less interested in reading because their literary interests - which include science fiction, fantasy, adventure stories, "how-to" manuals and comics - are under-represented in their schools and classrooms.

Research also suggests that comic books serve as an effective gateway to reading prose-based works and that they contribute to the development of visual literacy (the ability to understand and respond to a visual image).

As well, reading comic books can help develop many of the same literacy skills as reading prose-based books such as:

    -  the ability to follow a sequence of events,
    -  the ability to connect narratives to the reader's own experiences,
    -  the ability to predict what will happen next, and
    -  the ability to interpret symbols.

Even before children are ready to read text, comic books can give them practice in understanding material printed on a page, tracking left to right and top to bottom, and inferring what happens between individual panels in a story.

Comics, thanks to their strong visual element, have also shown promise as a teaching aid for second-language learners and students with learning difficulties.

"It is clear that comics have become an undeniable and potentially powerful part of our society and culture," says Cappon. "Considering the evidence it is time that educators and parents put aside any misgivings that they may have and embrace comics as a positive teaching and learning tool."

About CCL

The Canadian Council on Learning is an independent, not-for-profit corporation. Its mandate is to provide evidence-based information to Canadians so they can make the best decisions about learning throughout all stages of life, from early childhood through to the senior years.


For further information: For further information: Sheena Powell, Canadian Council on Learning, 613.782.2959 ext: 6252,,

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