5 Questions: Professor Matt Jones on the Power of Comics in the Classroom

January 13, 2017

Pixton sat down with Matt Jones to talk about his research on the educational benefits of using comics in education.

Pixton: When did you first get started reading comics or graphic novels? What are some of your favorites?

I remember always being fascinated by illustrations of all kinds. I loved going to the book fairs at my school and just looking at the variety of cover art, I always found them to be so motivating. I often wanted to spend the rest of the day drawing after a book fair.

Also, Sunday comics in the newspaper were always a great source of inspiration for me. Although I loved reading The Amazing Spiderman, X-Men, and Foxtrot… the most inspirational comic to me was Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. That remains true to this day as well. In fact my wife bought me as a gift, for our first Christmas together, the hardbound three-book series of all the Calvin and Hobbes comics.

Pixton: What was it about comics that drew you into them as a pathway to reading for enjoyment and/or developing literacy skills?

Initially it was the illustration. I love how different artists had developed their own style, and each independent of the other. Yet, regardless how far each artists had veered from “realistic illustration”, there was no question what type of animal, human, or creature their characters were meant to be.

As I became more interested in the comic and more reflective of my own intentions and purposes I also was increasingly drawn to comics and making my own for two reasons:

  1. I loved being able to create. Create my characters and give them a history, background… which lead to reasons why they behave certain ways. Essentially creating a world in which they live.
  2. As an artist, I also did a fair bit of painting, and sketching based off still life… however, I became increasingly interested in comics because of the ease with which they not only conveyed their ideas, but also the ease in their style.

For example, comics, to me, always seem to have an ease in their lines… like someone writing their own signature. As such, you can convey so much in an image, without needing weeks to develop the ideas in each frame… like you would an oil painting.

Frequently, people don’t want to accept something, in education, that they themselves didn’t experience. Of course, this lack of experience makes new methods of educating unrelatable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

Pixton: At Pixton, we like to talk about comics as being a “serious learning” tool that also packs some “serious fun” for students. How do you think comics can contribute to student learning outcomes?

In order to consider how comics contribute to student learning outcomes, I think the way in which comics are being utilized needs to be defined. I mean specifically, are we talking about them as a visual stimulus, in which they are being simply displayed? Or are we talking about the students creating the comics? In the case where students are collaborating to create comics, I believe this does a whole series of things; a few of which are:

  1. Teaches teamwork
  2. Collaborative narrative creation
  3. Productive application of imagination
  4. Social learning

In all four cases the students are learning not just from independent internal reflection and independent information gathering, but rather through and along with the perceptions, interpretations and ideas of their fellow students.

Pixton: How do you think a project-based learning (PBL) tool like Pixton, combined with comics and storytelling can benefit students in the classroom?

This is an extremely powerful way to learn. This directly applies to the ways in which they can contribute to the world as adults and shows them the ways in which they will work as an adult. (Example: improve literacy, reading comprehension, storytelling, visual learning, engaging boys in reading).

Pixton: What advice do you have for teachers, educators and homeschool parents, who are thinking about using comics in their classroom?

The biggest advice that I can relay has to do with maintaining an open mind. Frequently, people don’t want to accept something, in education, that they themselves didn’t experience. Of course, this lack of experience makes new methods of educating unrelatable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Keep an open mind to the use of comics in the classroom, and when uncertain of its effectiveness, inquire, analyze the point of the comic project being worked on in order to understand its objective.

Pixton: Thanks, Matt!

You’re welcome!

We’re looking for educators who are using comics and Pixton in their classroom. If you’d like to be featured in a future “Teaching with Comics” post, let us know! Give us a shout out at schools@pixton.com.

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