Professional doctorate student, Paul Warren, is a busy man. Not only is he currently studying for an EdD here at the Cardiff School of Education, but he has just started a new job as Strategic Lead for School Improvement in Caerphilly LA, a key role which focuses on quality assurance of the advisory service across all 91 schools in Caerphilly. Before this, he was an executive head of two primary schools having previously worked in schools in Caerphilly and Barnet, north London.
Paul’s research for his EdD explores the value of comics in supporting literacy. This focus arose from a concern between the disparity between boys’ and girls’ attainment. The received wisdom talked about making classrooms boy-friendly by, for example, having books about sport and football available to boys, measures which did not seem to make any real difference. (Paul’s interviews with pupils found that many boys did not actually like sport!) Paul set out to test the commonly held belief that any reading is better than nothing, and turned his attention to a genre of reading that gave him pleasure as a child – comics. He wanted to find out if they can actually support the development of reading skills in the classroom.
Teaching with comics
Comics do not appear to be commonly used for teaching in schools and a review of the literature together with his own survey of teachers suggested that female teachers, in particular, may not personally value comics, which may account for the paucity of comic use of the classroom. With his school colleagues, Paul reviewed different types of comic and they recognised that different types might be good or bad for the classroom. They went on to plan a series of lessons involving comics, and they have been measuring the impact of the intervention on all readers but particularly on reluctant boy readers.
The research is ongoing but it promises to have some interesting findings. It appears to show, for example, that comics have a number of features that really help children to engage with texts, such as visual support, the use of colour, the development of character (e.g. through facial expressions) and the focus on action in a comic. Such aspects help support engagement, and improved engagement appears to be leading to improved attainment. In particular, there is evidence of some pupils making good progress, especially in writing.
Benefits for all
It is not just the pupils appear to be gaining from Paul’s research. Teaching staff have also been developing a better understanding and appreciation of different types of text, and it has enabled the sharing of good practice.
And when Paul completes his research, within the next couple of years, it should add a considerable value to the limited amount of research that currently exists in this area. So watch this space!