From Manga to Macbeth: Building Bridges to ELA Text
by, William G. Brozo
Contributing Author to iLit
Professor of Literacy, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia USA
In most classrooms a core textbook, such as an English anthology, is the primary source for reading and learning. Anthologies are filled with enduring quality literature and emerging classics. Yet, unless students are able to relate to these texts on an engaging and meaningful level, they may not take from them as much as we know they should. Strategic teachers, therefore, recognize the value of connecting text sources from students’ everyday worlds to required course readings and topics (Hinchman et al, 2003/04). They know alternative sources, when linked to the textbook and given legitimacy in school settings, engage students in meaningful reading and learning that can lead to elevated achievement (Bushman & Haas, 2006).
Teachers who use sources from the everyday worlds of youth as embellishment to core textbooks do so because they know that when students find reading interesting and connected to authentic purposes, their positive attitudes toward reading increases, leading to an increase in reading for information and enjoyment (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2004). Furthermore, students’ reading comprehension has been shown to be greater with high-interest materials because interesting material maintains their attention more effectively (McDaniel, Waddill, & Finstad, 2000).
Bridge Building Texts
With the textbook as the foundation, teachers can infuse their classrooms with a range of interesting, authentic texts. These texts can be used as motivators for learning, to develop critical reading and thinking, and to expand students’ appreciation of ideas and information in the textbook. Teachers who have discovered the benefits of incorporating everyday, real-world texts into their instructional practices find students are more engaged and thoughtful learners because the content is more relevant to their lives and experiences (Brozo & Simpson, 2007).
* Young Adult Literature. The world of young adult literature is wonderfully rich, with countless high-quality books of fiction and nonfiction that cover a wide range of topics. One of the best uses of these texts is as bridge books to the literature in the anthology (Groenke & Scherff, 2010). Current young adult books are about today’s youth, but many can be found that possess similar storylines and themes to the vaunted texts from anthologies. For example, before and during the reading of Romeo and Juliet students might read Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper or Across the Barricades Joan Lingard, two young adult novels with parallel plots to Shakespeare’s timeless play.
* Graphic Novels and Comic Books. National surveys tell us that this genre is perhaps the most popular recreational reading choice of adolescents. Graphic novels come in a numerous genres, and this variety, along with their enormous popularity with youth, makes them an enticing and useful additional resource for teaching and learning in the English/language arts classroom (Brozo, Moorman, & Meyer, 2013). Additionally, because the illustrations in graphic novels and comic books provide visual clues to the meaning of the written narrative, they have been shown to be an invaluable tool for motivating reluctant readers. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet can be found in manga, a type of Japanese-styled graphic novel widely read by teens. Set in modern day Tokyo, this version of the play offers students an interesting contemporary compliment.
* Bestsellers. Many adolescents’ skills and tastes are such that they often select bestsellers from the adult fare for their own recreational reading. Teachers can take advantage of this interest in adult bestsellers by using them as preludes or companion texts to the poems, plays, and novels in the literature anthology. For example, a teacher required the bestselling novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, as summer reading for her rising 12th graders. The story follows a 14-year-old whose dead father haunts him while his uncle moves in and marries his widowed mother, Gertrude. The parallels with Shakespeare’s Hamlet are numerous making this an ideal bridge book that can improve students’ understanding of and engagement in the play.
* Primary Documents. Primary documents are authentic original texts that when made available to youth will intrigue them and provoke thoughtful responses. Evidence suggests that students who read primary documents on a fairly frequent basis have higher achievement scores than their peers who see these sources rarely. So there’s something about primary sources that makes them attractive to students and promotes meaningful and long-lasting learning. Students reading To Kill a Mockingbird might use Internet sites devoted to storing primary documents to access the original 1960 Time magazine review of Harper Lee’s novel or read Southern U.S. newspaper accounts of pre-Civil Rights court trials involving accusations of inter-racial crimes.
* Current Newspapers and Magazines. Virtually every issue that emerges from the study of stories, poems, and plays in the English/language arts textbook can be enriched and made more relevant with current newspaper and magazine articles. There are many ways in which English/language arts teachers can routinely integrate newspapers and magazines into their instruction to help students see connections between content inside the classroom and realworld issues and events. Students can find articles in popular magazines that deal with issues and themes related to those in stories, poems, and plays. For example, as an accompaniment to a poem with a message about finding beauty in nature, students can locate current events’ articles about commercial development of government lands or about preserving wildlife refuges.
* Popular Media and Music. Creative teachers find ways to honor youths’ outside-of-school media while bridging them to the concepts and information in textbook readings. Scaffolding for new understandings means working with what adolescents bring to the classroom, including their interest and knowledge of popular music. For example, this might take the form of asking students to bring in lyrics from their favorite songs to analyze for figurative and symbolic expressions and idioms. Of course, the most pervasive popular medium in youth’s lives is the computer. Students learning about authors’ use of allusion might be asked to find examples of this literary device in video clips of their favorite movies, musical groups, cartoons, and TV shows. These clips can be posted to a class blog along with the students’ explanation of the allusions made in them.
Brozo, W.G., Moorman, G., & Meyer, C. (2013). Wham! Teaching with graphic novels across the curriculum. New York: Teachers College Press.
Brozo, W.G., & Simpson, M.L. (2007). Content literacy for today’s adolescents: Honoring diversity and building competence. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/ Prentice Hall.
Bushman, J. H., & Haas, K. P. (2006). Using young adult literature in the English classroom(4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Groenke, S. L. & Scherff, L. (2010). Teaching YA Lit Through Differentiated Instruction. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Guthrie, J.T., & Humenick, N.M. (2004). Motivating students to read: Evidence for classroom practices that increase reading motivation and achievement. In P.
McCardle & V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.
Hinchman, K., Alvermann, D., Boyd, F., Brozo, W.G., & Vacca, R. (2003/04). Supporting older students’ in- and out-of-school literacies.
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McDaniel, M., Waddill, P., & Finstad, K. (2000). The effects of text-based interest on attention and recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(3), 492–502.