This week's NCTE INBOX features an article on visual literacy from the Washington Post. As well, they're discussing NCTE's long advocacy and acceptance of visual and media literacy at the NCTE INBOX blog.
Graphic novels aren't explicitly mentioned in either, but it is good to see visual literacy getting attention. Graphic novels are obviously visual, and I think they can act as a good "middle-ground medium" between those who see ELA with traditional lenses and those who think we're at the point where English classrooms aren't really about the same skills that comprised the term "English" for a century or so.
Graphic novels offer conglomerate layers of text, images and words with meanings that aren't complete without both elements. In graphic novels, we see traditional print literacy preserved and a nod to the increasing visually oriented ways of knowing.
The important thing is to make sure that students have the skills to critique and examine both traditional text and pictures, moving or sequential or still or otherwise. My hope is that traditionalists might accept graphic novels and sequential art narratives into their classrooms without feeling like they've let go of their standards and also that those who have moved "beyond English" might respect the format for its strengths instead of coming to see it as a format or medium that only goes "half-way" when it comes to making full use of visual techniques.
My thoughts? Teachers and students should move in and out of various modes in their lessons. Within thematic units, they should examine novels, poems, songs, movie clips, comics -- any and all mediums and formats that deal with the theme at hand. I firmly believe that learning how to examine one form of media can help give students prior knowledge and skill bases for examining other forms. Furthermore, I believe that doing so helps us see how process affects everything. Movies aren't magic; comic books don't draw and write themselves, and news doesn't just "happen." It all has a process.