Teaching The Harlem Hellfighters

I am preparing to bring my US and World History students to meet Max Brooks, author of The Harlem Hellfighters at an event at the Autry Museum on February 25th. This lecture is open to the public, you can get tickets at the Southern California Social Studies Association web page.

Many literacy experts have been espousing the use of graphic novels or comics in the classroom because they are high-interest and engage students (Yang, 2008). I was inspired by a colleague from the National Council for the Social Studies, Tim Smyth (on Twitter @HistoryComics) and his story of using comic books in the classroom, which was covered by PBS.

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This post shares some of my students’ work and how I used the graphic novel to engage history students in the study of World War I. Although much has been written about The Harlem Hellfighters, surprisingly they are not even mentioned in my District supplied (2006) US or World History textbooks.
Most of my high school students finished the graphic novel in five, 53 minute class periods. I tracked their page numbers each day to monitor effort. They struggled to annotate double entry journals in order to keep track of the individual characters and events in the story. After conversations with the English teachers at my school, we have tried to design activities that teach students how to paraphrase and cite textual evidence. So one of my post-reading activities was to have students corroborate the WWI information in the graphic novel with information their textbook with parenthetical citations.

I found a set of discussion questions posted online that may guide students through the reading (although I think this disrupts the joy of reading a good story). I am also willing to share my “final exam” on the graphic novel. I hope to see you at the Max Brooks event at the Autry.

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