"Reading sucks," mumbled Steven as I directed him to the classroom library.
"You just haven't found the right book yet," I replied. "What kind of books do you like to read?"
"Comics, but I've read them all. I like adventures too, but I like listening to them better. Yours are too hard," Steven sheepishly admitted.
"How about this? It was my favourite book when I was your age, but it's the graphic novel version." Steven looked skeptically at The Hobbit and then flipped through the pages.
"Oh! A comic! Why is it with the novels?" he said with excitement.
"Lots of popular novels are being made into graphic novels these days. It's the same story, but because the author uses pictures he doesn't need so much writing. You can see the descriptions." A smile spread across Steven's face.
"All right…" Steven said to himself, apparently sold on the idea. He took it back to his desk and read in a more focused way than I'd seen all year.
Steven's problems in language arts weren't limited to reading skills. Where he was resistant to read, he was outright defiant about writing, often refusing to even begin tasks. After talking with some colleagues I was told about Comic Life, a program used for creating computer-based comic strips. When Steven came to talk to me a few days later I knew I needed to change the direction of my teaching style to build some momentum with his newfound interest.
"I finished the book," he quietly said to me while the others were heading out for recess.
"Great! What did you think? It's a little different than the other comics you usually read."
"It was good, but what was really cool was I read the novel afterwards and it wasn't too hard anymore," he said with pride.
"Do you think that if you made a graphic novel you'd do some more writing?" I asked.
"No. I can't draw," Steven replied.
"What if we told the story in photographs with you and your friends as the actors?" I asked. "You wouldn't need to draw, but it would still look like a graphic novel. Here, let me show you…"
Ten minutes later, we had strung together eight photos from our field trip into a mini story. "That's easy," he said excitedly and began enthusiastically recruiting actors to tell his story.
Three weeks later Steven had photographed and put together a complete graphic novel, including 52 frames telling the story of a boy who had been kidnapped from his school. His friends were anxious to try it themselves, and Steven's newfound confidence allowed him to direct others in a step-by-step demonstration on how to create a graphic novel using digital cameras and computers. As the "expert" he was able to teach from his own experiences with minimal support. He has created three graphic novels and is in the process of converting his original into a text-based book. Technology has supported his change from literature avoider to author.