This question was asked of me on Saturday. A parent whom I have worked with for over a year walked into the Studio with a graphic novel of Romeo and Juliet and asked my opinion. Her son needs to read the Shakespeare play but he has no interest at all in the version he was given. He loves the Walking Dead graphic novels so Mom hoped he would fare better with this version of R & J than say Spark Notes (hey, this version is by SparkNotes!! Check it out at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2220905.Romeo_and_Juliet). And she wanted my opinion about it because in the mile from the bookstore to the Studio, she started second guessing her choice.
Is a graphic novel really that divergent than, say, watching “West Side Story? When I asked the mom that question, her reply was “I love West Side Story! I should show him that!!” Yes, yes you might consider that. [If you don’t know, WSS is a 1950s modern day twist on R & J. As is the version from 1996 with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.]
Is the point to have the student connect with the storyline or with Shakespearean language and prose? Is the point to get the student interested and asking questions or to have them do nothing or learn nothing?
I go back and forth on the phrase I hear oh so often in my world – “It didn’t interest me, so I didn’t do well” or “It didn’t interest me so I didn’t do it”. Ok. CollegeBoard really doesn’t care if you like a passage it includes on its official SAT; neither do the AP tests nor ACT. Let’s face it though – it is easier to deal with the student who is interested than one who is not.
The world is under no obligation to “interest us”. Or is it?
What I do know is that for students who say the phrases above, it is much easier to get them to deal with things they “don’t like” if they learn how to deal with them on things they do like. Once they know how to handle them, they can apply that skill to things they are not as interested in.
For information to be retrievable, it needs to be processed and then attached to other pieces of information so it is accessible when needed. Let’s say someone gives you an address and you have no idea where it is or how to get there. It means nothing, it is just a fact. But you can Google it and you will get a map. The map shows the big picture! It shows the sequence and connections that will get you to that destination. I really don’t, as an educator, care how you make those connections, as long as they are made. Romeo. Juliet. Two random addresses or facts, so to speak. The family feud, the relationship, the plan to live happily ever after that failed are the map, the big picture, the story.
Back to the concept of interest. Much of our ability to be interested in things is based on how we learn best. Some learners are auditory (hearing based), others are visual (sight based), others are tactile (touch based) but most learn when more than one type is used at once. To me, graphic novels offer both auditory and visual modalities. With words only books, although a student is seeing them, they are mainly hearing the words in their head (auditory). The illustrations make it visual.
Yes, please, try the graphic novel. Yes, please, try West Side Story or another modern setting movie. If these options do not trigger interest, we will rethink it and try something else. Because he is not just “a student”. He is your son; he is our student. He matters. His education matters. I know what you have done for him over the past year and it has made a tremendous difference in his education and his life. You haven’t given up and we won’t either.