Teaching Homer's The Odyssey: A Graphic Novel Approach Using Gareth Hinds' The Odyssey
It is easy to assume that students are lazy. As a first-year teacher, I spent the first two weeks of school explaining the class procedures to my 9th grade students. On that third week, I thought to myself, “Wow! These students are getting it!” It was a validating experience, at first. Shortly thereafter, in October, my students began to forget the importance of recording the time they left my class.
My method was a logbook and I monitored it strictly, day-in and day-out. Yet, my students suddenly stopped adhering to my strict policies. When I asked a colleague what they thought, they responded, “Students are just lazy.” Disheartened with the answer, I went on a year-long quest to repudiate the claim that “students are just lazy.”
Sometime in November, I asked my students the question, “Why is it important to keep accurate records?” Their response? Nothing. My students had no idea. I proceeded to describe situations that might arise, if I had no record of their absence in my class. I informed them of the potential for accusations of misbehavior, safety issues, health concerns, lost accountability, etc. Suddenly, something clicked. My students began to understand my expectations and they rose to the occasion. Given an explanation, they were able to make a conscious decision to perform. I took this spark, this small victory, and applied it to our studies of literature.
The Odyssey (of student choice)
Standing in front of an inclusive classroom, I opened a copy of the textbook. I asked my students to do the same. We began to read about Ancient Greek culture and as we turned to The Odyssey, my heart sank.
“Ladies and gentlemen, put your books down. Close them. I would be insulting your intelligence if I presented this work to you as The Odyssey .”
After explaining to the students that our text was an abridged and elementary translation, I ran to the book room. I brought back six copies of Fitzgerald's translation of The Odyssey , and asked the students to peruse them. Realizing that I had piqued the students' interest, I quickly handed out sheets of paper and asked the students to anonymously write if they were interested in reading the full-text and to explain what their reasoning was. Out of twenty-six students, twenty-one were adamant about reading the full-text.
I repeated the procedure the next class. I asked the students to peruse the books again and this time, twenty-four of my twenty-six students asked to read the full-text. I assigned a reading guide, books, and an edmodo account to the students.
That afternoon, I went home ecstatic. That night, I realized that I was in over my head.
Gareth Hinds' The Odyssey
In a panic, I realized that the students would need some support outside of an edmodo account and a reading guide. I went on the internet and found Gareth Hinds' The Odyssey. Luckily, it was available at my local bookstore. I flipped through the pages to find that Hinds' interpretation of The Odyssey, was surprisingly complete. Hinds, as he states in his notes, borrows from many translations in order to make the text readable and accurate. The illustrations are vivid and relevant to the text. I bought the book immediately and took it home to devise ways to use it. Shortly thereafter, I bought a class set.
Please, whenever using another author's work, be sure to obtain permission from the author and/or publisher. Do not copy materials out of a text unless you have permission.
Show your students a good example of academic integrity. Always be transparent with students when it comes to your sources and borrowed information. You cannot be an authority on plagiarism if you cannot first be an example of avoiding it.
As a Hook/Pre-Reading Activity
My first inclination was to use Hinds' graphic novel to introduce the text. His graphic representations help to illuminate the, sometimes confusing, conversation between gods that occurs in the beginning of The Odyssey . Hinds uses different colors to outline the gods so that, even when Athena takes the form of an old Mentes, it is clear to students that Athena has shape-shifted. After having the students read the Fitzgerald translation of these scenes, students re-evaluated Hinds' interpretation. This gives students a great opportunity to see how important the interpretation of a piece of literature can be.
The chapters in Hinds' graphic novel can be used as a pre-reading strategy for any portion of The Odyssey . Doing so allows students to conceptualize the main ideas before reading the more difficult Fitzgerald translation.
As a Product
Asking students to write and illustrate their own graphic novel is a great way to teach students the value of interpreting text. It also allows for visual/artistic students to organize the text in a way that makes sense to them.
Prior to this activity, teachers may ask students to summarize/simplify what they have read. Doing so will make it easier for them to add text to their own graphic novel.
Rather than using direct instruction to teach the format of a graphic novel, teachers can have students create the format. Ask students to write down a list of things that make a graphic novel and create a class list of requirements. Be sure to lead students into a discussion of form and function. After creating a list of “requirements” the class can create a rubric so that students are involved in the grading process. Doing this ensures that their own graphic novels will accurately represent the format.
Teachers can ask students to create a rationale for their interpretation. This activity forces students to support their opinions and to be self-reflective.
Treating students as “translators” gives them a sense of agency. Teachers can ask students to present what they have found to the class and to explain their choices. This functions as a way to keep students personally engaged in the text.
As an Accessible Text
I found great success using Gareth Hinds' The Odyssey with struggling readers. Two of the students in my class did not have the groundwork skills for reading Fitzgerald's translation. I used Hinds' interpretation to scaffold for these students.
Teachers can give students the graphic novel and slowly introduce excerpts from Fitzgerald's translation. As students develop the comfort with Fitzgerald's text, teachers can choose to wean them from the graphic novel, or to integrate both texts. By the end of the unit, my two students were able to read Fitzgerald's translation with only minor comprehension issues.
With regard to equity and other students' perceptions, none of my students judged these two for using the graphic novel. I don't think that it was a result of their dispositions. Previous to this, students were quick to point-out struggling readers. I believe this was, to some extent, a result of making the graphic novel available to the whole class. I did not make any exceptions, I simply afforded these two students the extra support they needed.
To an even greater extent, I also believe that this was a result of the “class struggle” to read. When the entire class is challenged in this way, every reader struggles. My students began to work more closely together to achieve a common victory over the text. By the end of the unit my students were tired, yet grateful that they had an opportunity to read an “Honors” text.
As a Discussion of Genre
The effect of genre on The Odyssey is conducive to debate/discussion. I used socratic seminar and debate methods to get my students to think about form. Teachers can give students the discussion questions prior to the debate/seminar class so that they have time to take notes on possible responses.
This is also an opportunity for students to reflect on the tenets of epic poetry. Students can discuss whether or not Hinds' interpretation does justice to the poetic form.
Teachers can ask students to hypothesize how The Odyssey would be changed by other genres. After this discussion, teachers can ask students to recreate a scene from The Odyssey in a new genre.
As a Graphic Fill-In the Blank
In order to see whether or not students have read, teachers can present students with a copy of the graphic novel that has the text removed. Students are then asked to fill-in the text with what they think should go there. Students who have read the text will be able to accurately fill-in the blanks. Again, be sure to ask for the author and/or publisher's permission before copying, editing, or distributing text for any purpose educational, or otherwise.
Graphic novels are an excellent way to get students involved in more difficult texts. Before using a graphic novel approach, make sure that they graphic novel you choose is relevant to the main text. Do not choose a graphic novel that is too dissimilar, it can be difficult for struggling readers to differentiate between the two texts.
If you teach The Odyssey, be sure to take a look at Gareth Hinds' graphic novel. It is an excellent rendition and a must have for any inclusive classroom.
Be sure to check back, as I will be editing this hub in the future.
For More Teaching Tips, Check Out My Other Hubs:
- 5 Tips for Teaching in an Urban Environment
5 Tips for Teaching Students in an Urban Environment.