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Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal at Clark

Abstract

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 explor- ing 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 assess- ment 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 meth- ods 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 expe- rience with new media, teach visual literacy, and require students to practice sophisticated historical thinking skills.

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