These NH teachers wanted to make phonics fun. So they wrote their own comic books.

Since last fall, Brittany McGuire and Jackie Benson have written 35 books that teach phonics through comics. “We have a similar work style and work ethic,” McGuire said. “And it's hard to stop us once we get started.” (Courtesy photograph)

Since last fall, Brittany McGuire and Jackie Benson have written 35 books that teach phonics through comics. “We have a similar work style and work ethic,” McGuire said. “And it's hard to stop us once we get started.” (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

By SARAH GIBSON

New Hampshire Public Radio

Published: 07-10-2024 5:01 PM

Brittany McGuire got the idea from her 8-year-old son. He struggled to read and sometimes refused to do his reading homework. But he loved comic books.

McGuire, a fourth grade teacher at Governor Wentworth Regional School District, turned to her colleague Jackie Benson, a reading specialist. The two started looking for comic book series that taught phonics, but they came up empty.

“We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Well, we have the training and know how,’ ” McGuire recalled. ” ‘Maybe we should just make them ourselves.’ ”

McGuire and Benson began to write comics that taught students the skill of decoding — that is, how to translate a word from print to speech by sounding it out. When they couldn’t find an illustrator, McGuire learned how to use digital art software and illustrated the stories herself.

So far, the team has published close to 35 books for grades K-3 under the name “Hooked on Comics.” They sell downloadable copies through a education materials website; once purchased, the books can be reprinted and shared with students and parents for use at home. In the past six months, “Hooked on Comics” has sold about 1,000 digital books to teachers across the country and in Canada.

The interest comes as schools seek to address declining reading and writing scores — and rework their curriculum to reflect the science of how kids learn how to read. Until recently, the Governor Wentworth Regional School District, like many others nationwide, used a flawed method that deprioritized phonics and encouraged students to guess words and memorize spelling lists instead.

In recent years, Governor Wentworth has shifted to an approach called “structured literacy.” The district and the state education department have been training teachers, including McGuire and Benson, on how to use this method in their classrooms. McGuire said the revelation that they were using outdated methods was troubling. “I think about students I’ve had, especially when I taught kindergarten and first grade, who were struggling to read,” she said. “And I have to wonder, what would their journey have been like . . . if they had had structured literacy that was founded in the science of reading?”

Benson, the reading specialist, said the pair has channeled their firsthand experiences into their comic book series.

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“A lot of times educational materials are being made by big companies that aren’t people that are working with kids right now,” she said. “They’re trying to guess about what teachers might want, and we’re able to go straight to our colleagues.”

The teams gets feedback on drafts from their own kids and students, and from colleagues who try out the comic books in their classrooms.

“The feedback we have gotten has basically been: ‘These are great,’ ” says McGuire. “Like, ‘Can we have more? How fast can you write them?’ ”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.