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Sept. 1, 2011
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

 Clemente book inspires novel teaching approach

 SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Those a bit older may remember when comic books were regarded as “Satan’s work,” but for John Hicks, Slippery Rock University assistant professor of secondary education and foundations of education and longtime comic book fan, their latest incarnation, the graphic novel, is worthy of a semester-long course.

            Hicks, who joined the SRU faculty in 2005, is teaching his teacher-education students how they may one day interest their students in reading by using the very popular graphic novels.

            The graphic novel, a substantially upgraded comic book usually published in bound-book format with sequential, often dramatic, art, can now be found in public – and even school – libraries, Hicks said.

            “In my English Language Arts Teaching Methods’ course we are using ‘21 The Story of Roberto Clemente,’ by Wilfred Santiago, a Chicago-based graphic novelists,” Hick said. “The well-drawn book, which tells the story of the baseball great with Pittsburgh connections, gives my students the chance to show how art and language can be combined in a classroom lesson. The students will learn how middle school and high school students may be drawn into literature by the use of graphic novels.”

            Initially, graphic novels primarily focused on super heroes, gothic topics and classics such as “Moby Dick” and “Beowulf,” Hicks said. “The most recent push has been in the areas of Zombies,” he said.

            Hicks, who has taught the upper-level course more than a dozen times, is employing the use of the graphic novel as an education tool for the first time this semester. The course focuses on teaching student to develop lessons plans.

Hicks has also added field trips to his course, both as a way of modeling how such excursions can also increase interest in reading and as a way to further involve his students in their course.

“We will be going to the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals Sept. 14 baseball game at PNC Park. We hope to have a speaker on Clemente, who was a Pirates outfielder and 1973 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, and we will visit the statue of Clemente, which was moved to PNC Park from Three Rivers Stadium. We are going to take advantage of the special ‘Clemente Ticket Package,’ and we will get special jerseys with his number to wear at the game.”

Clemente, who had an 18-year career with the Pirates and was a 12-time All-Star Game selection, was killed in a 1972 plane crash while delivering emergency supplies to Nicaragua following a massive earthquake. The book explores Clemente’s Puerto Rican roots and how he was influenced by his homeland.

Hicks, an admitted longtime, baseball fan, said the graphic novel plays perfectly with both his interest in the sport and his long-held passion for comic books.

“The chance for students to learn about Clemente and think about how they can use student interest in sports to help teach language and art skills provides a very nice triple play for classroom education,” he said. “National standards say we should be including graphic novels in our secondary school classrooms and this project, a capstone course before our students undertake their student teaching will give them some experience with such books. I hope they will be able to use some of their lesson plans as part of their student teaching experience next semester.”

He said some of their ideas for lesson plans already involve linking the book to videos about Clemente, possible lessons on racism of the day and social justice. Other ideas have a Pittsburgh connection to the baseball great.

Hicks also plans to take his class to the Clemente Museum housed in a former fire house in the Lawrenceville area of Pittsburgh for a private tour. “This is another way of showing them how field trips can help motivate their students,” he said. The author will be invited to campus, or an online interview with students may be possible, Hicks said.

Sports Illustrated and other sports-related magazines have carried articles on graphic novels that spotlight sports figures. Hicks said he expects there will be more such sports biography books in the near future. “The are usually beautifully drawn and well written and a natural draw for young readers – and adults.”

Graphic novels are available from large bookstore chains, some offering entire sections, and online, he said. “Many have been turned into feature-length films.”

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives. -