As a middle school science teacher, I often encouraged my students to read… read anything. I was of the opinion that it didn’t really matter what they read, as long as they were reading. So, in my mind, suitable reading material could have included online news articles, blogs, magazines, and, yes, even graphic novels. Then I started teaching 5th grade… 5th grade reading and writing to be exact.

At first, I didn’t pick up on what was happening. It seemed as though my students (not all of them but many) were writing their papers as if they were writing a play.  Their papers included headings that documented the passage of time (4 hours later…) formatting that was anything but a paragraph, dialogue written with colons rather than quotation marks (Barbara: I’d love to go!), and descriptions that would be better described as captions without pictures.

We worked through lesson after lesson on grammar, paragraph structure, organization and detail. Still, a number of kids continued to submit papers written in this strange, disjointed manner.  It wasn’t until I took a look at their extra-curricular ready material that a theory started to emerge – their writing habits mirrored the popular graphic novels they were reading, minus the necessary pictures.

It’s hard for me to admit that modern graphic novels may not be the suitable reading material I’ve always touted. Reading should be a joyful experience and if that’s what a kid enjoys, who am I to deny it? Still, it’s hard to miss the fact that the modern graphic novel does not display the same level of depth and comprehension as a literary novel does. Additionally, it models for students a form of writing that relies too heavily on pictures to carry much of the content.

So, what is the solution then? I certainly don’t want to deny a student pleasurable reading experiences, but I also can’t ignore the fact that solely reading from this genre role models poor writing skills (when writing is the sole objective) and limits their scope of comprehension. Balance. As I explained to one student recently, balance is, I believe, the key. Just like anything else, relying only on one genre of reading (graphic novels) limits you as a reader, and as a writer. So, I am encouraging my students not to put down the graphic novels altogether but to pick up a few literary novels in between.

But, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the great graphic novel debate… Do you allow students to read them for outside reading projects in your classroom? Do you find that they limit their abilities as readers or writers? Do you encourage or discourage their use? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!