Graphic Novels And The Common Core
By Ellen Myrick

"The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects  are the culmination of an extended, broad-based effort to fulfill the charge issued by the states to create the next generation of K–12 standards in order to help ensure that all students are college and career ready in literacy no later than the end of high school." --Common Core State Standards Initiative (corestandards.org/ELA-literacy)

The Common Core State Standards were created to facilitate learning through a variety of vehicles with an understanding that there is no prescription for good teaching but rather a need to include a variety of approaches to meet the needs of a variety of students for shared literacy.

Graphic novels can be a key component of differentiated teaching because of the importance of the interplay between text and image. Visual learners can access information that informs and provides context for the text. Reluctant readers engage with the narrative through the images and then are motivated to read the text.  English language learners find context for the text within the pictures that can jumpstart a satisfying reading experience. Autistic students broaden their ability to read visual clues when given the common support of both dialog and image.

One of the cornerstones of the Common Core is providing access through a variety of text styles. Graphic novels complement traditional fiction narratives, primary source documents, poetry, audio, and more, adding another layer of nuance and perspective. Let's look at two different graphic novels that each provide dramatic access points to particularly dramatic points in American history.

Crogan's LoyaltyIn Crogan's Loyalty by Chris Schweizer, two brothers find themselves on opposing sides during the American Revolution. When paired with novels like My Brother Sam Is Dead and Johnny Tremain along with the wealth of primary source materials, the student is given multiple points of entry to a very real dilemma faced by colonists on the verge of revolution. Chris Schweizer's years of teaching in the classroom are put to use as he sets up debates about tyranny and loyalty. Even though the pictures are black and white, the subject is filled with gray areas for teachers and students to explore. One of the standards most applicable to Crogan's Loyalty is CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme. The brothers' experiences and interchanges are rich fodder for conversations about motivation and points of view.  

March Book OneIn March: Book One, Rep. John Lewis has teamed with one of the stars of the graphic novel world, Eisner-award winner Nate Powell along with Andrew Aydin. The fact that this autobiography is in graphic novel form is a testament to the power of the format: John Lewis notes that a comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was used by Jim Lawson and others to spread the word about the movement and teach the philosophy of nonviolence when he was a young man just beginning the journey. March can be an important component of an exploration into the Civil Rights Movement by providing an opportunity for shared literacy. March, as many other nonfiction graphic novels, can be used to support many of the English Language Arts Standards in History/Social Studies including text analysis to determine points of view and how structure shapes meaning. March also supports a number of English Language Arts standards that address point of view, character development and motivation, structure as well as comparing and contrasting with other books on the same topic. A comprehensive teacher's guide to March is available at topshelfcomix.com.

Graphic Classics Vol. 24: Native American ClassicsGraphic novel versions of established classics can play a key role in supporting the standards including CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.9: Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics. Eureka's Graphic Classics series presents full-color, beautifully rendered faithful adaptations of everything from Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe to African-American and Native-American classics. The next time you are teaching "The Fall of the House of Usher," consider making Matt Howarth's take on the Poe tale part of your lesson plan. Native-American Classics can be a unit unto itself since it provides legends and folklore, history, contemporary stories and poetry, all graphically presented in a way that especially speaks to the seventh standard for grades five and above: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.7 Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

I'm Not a Plastic BagMuch of the conversation about Common Core has focused on the balance of informational and fiction texts. Graphic novels often present both side by side as seen in I'm Not a Plastic Bag. This wordless graphic novel follows a plastic bag as it is tossed in the wind, finally landing in the great pacific garbage patch. Rachel Hope Allison's book is an artistic reimagining of a very real phenomenon. The back matter provides detailed information about the issue alongside proposed actions to address the problem. Take CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.7: Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums to present a particular topic or idea--how does the fantasy work with the fact to make her case?

Diamond Book Distributors has created a dynamic list of graphic novels for the Common Core organized by grade levels and including correlations. Graphic novels build visual literacy skills, and provide opportunities for transformational teaching by meeting students where they are and building their confidence while guiding them into deeper connections with content.

Graphic Novels included in this article:
Allison, Rachel Hope. I'm Not a Plastic Bag. 2012. Los Angeles: Archaia
Eastman, Charles Alexander, et. al. Native American Graphic Classics. 2013. Mount Horeb: Eureka
Lewis, John et. al. March: Book One. 2013. Atlanta:  Top Shelf Productions.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Edgar Allan Poe Graphic Classics. 2006. Mount Horeb, WI: Eureka
Schweizer, Chris. Crogan's Loyalty. 2012. Portland, OR: Oni Press.

Diamond Book Distributors' Dynamic Graphic Novels for the Common Core:

Diamond Book Distributors' Graphic Novels for the Common Core Pinterest Boards:

Further Reading:

Monnin, K. "Getting to Know Graphic Novels" and "Aligning Graphic Novels to the Common Core Standards." Knowledge Quest , Volume 41, Jan/Feb 2013.
Gavigan, K. Sequentially Smart: "Using Graphic Novels Across the Common Core Curriculum," Teacher Librarian, June 2012