Imagination and Interpretation: An Empirical Study of Graphic Novels in the High School Social Studies Classroom

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High school students today acquire information in ways that are not always valued in schools. They often seek visual or multimedia alternatives to traditional written texts. Information acquisition is one click away, yet young people struggle to interpret and critique the vast array of sources from which they are receiving information. Furthermore, in this digital age, young people have more opportunities than ever to publicly compose critiques and interpretations of the visual images they consume. They also have more opportunities to access forums that allow them to produce and present imaginative media of their own. High school students are eager to practice these skills, but teachers often struggle to weave them into the curriculum. Throughout this past academic school year I have been exploring ways to meet this challenge. Drawing on experiences in my high school social studies classroom, I evaluate the effectiveness of using the images in graphic novels to teach social studies to a group of thirty-three eleventh-graders. My research involves an empirical study of a World War I unit I completed with my students. After learning about World War I through an assortment of primary and secondary sources, students completed an end of unit assessment that required them to engage with Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, The Great War, in a variety of ways. Using Sacco’s highly detailed illustrations of the Battle of the Somme, students made predictions, investigated the author’s methods and sources, critiqued, interpreted, and corroborated the work. Additionally, they created their own written narratives and graphic representations of this battle. I conclude that graphic novels can be an effective resource in the modern social studies classroom. Graphic novels can be used to validate students’ background knowledge and experience with new media, teach visual literacy, and require students to practice sophisticated historical thinking skills.

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Nina K. Hoey

Nina K. Hoey

Nina Hoey was born and raised in Taunton, MA and currently lives in Worcester, MA where she is a graduate student at Clark and a teaching intern at South High Community School. After graduating with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Clark in 2014 with a B.A. in History and a minor in Music, she began pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher e diverse group of high school stu- dents in her three U.S. History classes inspired her research on the use of graphic novels in Social Studies classrooms to inspire creativity, teach visual literacy, and practice historical thinking skills with today’s modern learnings.Imagination and Interpretation is Nina’s rst publication and she is thrilled to be a part of Clark’s SURJ.