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Abby Yeagle '14 discusses a Spiderman episode with a member of the Comic Book Club at the Boys & Girls Club.

Comic books for literacy

March 11, 2014

Two Earlham students use superhero powers to battle for literacy.

Every Wednesday afternoon 15-20 students at the Boys & Girls Club (BGC) Jeffers Unit are excited to read during Abby Yeagle ’14 and Shannon Herbert's ’14 Comic Book Club. Yeagle and Herbert are Bonner Scholars, a program that awards scholarships based on volunteer work.

“We have been really surprised by the popularity of the program,” says Yeagle, a business and nonprofit management major and an art history minor. “I also have been surprised at how devoted they have been to the program. It is notable that at anytime they could go play at any one of the numerous activities at the Club, but they choose to come and read. They choose to do something academic.”

Yeagle taught a similar course at Wolverine Farm Publishing, a nonprofit literacy outreach program in Colorado, and with a Bonner grant, both attended a comic book conference.Shannon -comic -book

“Using comic books in the classroom to promote literacy is gaining speed with people interested in comics,” explains Herbert, a Japanese Studies major and TESOL minor. “We’ve had some really powerful moments.”

Choosing comics for eager readers

Yeagle and Herbert say one of the most difficult aspects is choosing the comics they will use during Club meetings.

“We spend a lot of time reading comics looking to find a balance between comics that are appropriate in nature but also still interesting and engaging for our kids — not little kid comics,” Yeagle explains.

During meetings, BGC students login to ComiXology to gain access to the comic(s) Herbert and Yeagle have selected for the day. ComiXology is a cloud-based digital comics platform and an online community of comic book fans.

“The Club has different reading levels all the way from reading four issues in 10 minutes to reading one issue during the entire hour,” Yeagle says. “We think it is important to allow them to read at their own pace. After reading we have basic comprehension questions and go over some of the vocabulary.”

“We are nerds about comic books,” says Herbert, who is an expert in Marvel Comics while Yeagle is an expert in DC comics with a specialty in Batman.

A worthy genre

“Comic books are a broader genre than what we are led to believe by the media,” Herbert says. “Comic books are more than two beefy guys beating each other up for the fate of a woman in distress.

“In the superhero comic books you grow to love the characters. You get introduced to the character, and you see them grow over time and through the challenges they face.”

Comic books work for a wide range of ages as well.

“If you don’t understand the words, the images tell a lot to new language learners and young children,” Yeagle says. “Between the images and the words, they can piece the story together.”

Yeagle and Herbert launched the start of the second semester with Ms. Marvel featuring Marvel Comics’ first headlining Muslim superhero.

“We promote literacy, but a minor goal is to break down stereotypes,” Herbert adds.

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