Using gaming and graphics to grab students

So many of the changes in our library, representing the new Ontario School Library Association’s document Together for Learning, are fundamentally shifting how we see popular culture’s role in education. The document recognizes the need for social networking and meeting the students where they are whether interested in graphic novels, anime or gaming.

I allow gaming before school, during lunch and after school but I haven’t done anything formal.  I tried to coordinate my committed players of Magic the Gathering together to organize cross-school tournaments, to recruit members and even go on field trips, but they were happiest playing Magic in their own social group.  I just attended a session at a conference where three elementary teachers had organized Minecraft clubs which included blogging about their experiences.  Most importantly they emphasized that gaming is another opportunity for teachers to nurture social activity in students who not otherwise have a place in a sport or other club.

Similarly in my library, graphic novels seem to reach an audience that I haven’t been able to reach otherwise.  Jonathan Seyfried (2008) had it right when he says “Students who had dutifully read only required books in the past, continued to return to the school library well after the elective was finished…” (p.45).  Their motivation to seek out reading material on their own proves the effectiveness of graphic novels.  Like Krashen,  I agree that “popular culture selections may serve as conduits…” (p. 25).  The body of struggling readers in my school are certainly attracted to the visual, but the most sophisticated readers in my library are also drawn to the nuance that text and visual graphics bring together in this unique genre.  We have a collection of at least 200 graphic novels.  An emerging subgenre in my library is non-fiction graphic novels.  A couple popular titles this year include: Two Generals and Cuba: My Revolution.  Both of these titles involve war and include some traumatic events, but the graphic artist is able to capture the violence in the visuals but emphasizes the horrors of war through the text.  History is often a topic that singularly captures the attention of teens but eludes their experiences. With this new found interest in historical graphic novels, I have recently purchased a graphic novel series called “Defining Moments in Canada“, which I believe has 8 titles so far.  Struggling readers or not, this series highlights Canadian history in a visual context that helps students understand the major players in these events.

One of the components to creating a true learning commons shift in school libraries is to design reading experiences “so that students will:

  • Pursue academic and personal reading and writing interests
  • Examine ideas, information and interpretations critically and creatively
  • Engage meaningfully with multiple kinds and levels of texts and multimedia in a resource rich environment (Together for Learning, 2010)

Both gaming and graphic novels help to motivate, connect and support readers of all types.

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