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The Use of Graphic Novels - Research Paper Example

6 pages
1475 words
Vanderbilt University
Type of paper: 
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Chapter 1: Introduction

This work aims to look at the role that graphic novels can play in learning L2. Many experts and authors within the field of literacy have recognized the use of graphic novels to be a wonderful tool that can be used for engaging the reluctant reader and to have significant literary benefits, and these include appealing reluctant L2 English learners and teaching various literary themes. For instance, in Graphic Novels as Educational Heavyweights, Jonathan Seyfried describes the current trend of losing readers to electronic gadgets. He then states,

Yet, almost as if responding to a distress call, a new type of book has come onto the scene: the graphic novel. This revitalized genre has not only saved the day for recreational reading, it has also turned out to be a heavyweight in the teaching of advanced themes in literature and visual literacy (Seyfried, 2008, p. 45).

The starting premise is that their visual representation of what is often a difficult material to grasp, can ease the process of learning and comprehension. During the past twenty years graphic novels have developed and expanded not only in number, but also in a wide range of content and genres, which includes works such as biographies, nonfiction historical events, places or documents. Although, graphic novels have been in publication since the late seventies, it wasnt known or looked at as an educational tool until Maus: A Survivors Tale by Art Spiegelman, debuted and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. After Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize, only then did people begin to consider graphic novels as a valid and legitimate tool that can be implemented in the classroom.

When introducing the term graphic novel, Eisner (1985) defined it as sequential art, the arrangement of pictures or images and world to narrate a story or dramatize an idea (p. 5). He argues that using graphic novels have the ability to improve the L2 language skills of learners who struggle with foreign language learning. When trying to figure out the best ways to teach a foreign language in a short period of time, many applications and interpretations have come up. Marckwardt (1972, p.5) called this period of searching for the best techniques for language teaching as changing winds and shifting sands since every 25 years, new techniques appeared and each new technique or method drifted from the old but held on to the positive aspects. Thus, one of the positive aspects and outcomes of previous methodologies has been the use of visuals and to this date it has not lost its effectiveness. The use of visuals has become a dynamic and inseparable part in the process of EFL learning. Moreover, Schwarz (2006) indicates that graphic novels deepens and sharpens the visual literacy.

Graphic novels as an English language Learners (ELL) teaching tool, has become more and more popular. In Graphic Novels as Educational Heavyweights, Jonathan Seyfried describes the ongoing inclination of losing readers "yet, almost as if responding to a distress call, a new type of book has come onto the scene: the graphic novel. This revitalized genre has not only saved the day for recreational reading, it has also turned out to be a heavyweight in the teaching of advanced themes in literature and visual literacy" (45).

Visual books, such as graphic novels appeal and interest the younger readers. For that reason, teachers should incorporate and benefit from this opportunity by attracting and engaging students in reading graphic novels. When teaching English as a foreign language, teachers focus on four main skills: reading, speaking, writing and listening. With graphic novels, all four skills can be targeted, and graphic novels can play a notable role in English language education because it can enhance ones critical thinking, vocabulary, comprehension and language skills. Gallo and Weiner (2004) argued the following:

A well-done graphic novel offers the immediacy of the prose reading experience, with the pictures and the words working simultaneously, making a graphic novel not only something one reads but something one sees as well, like reading and watching a movie at the same time. (p. 115)It is important to properly introduce students to this type of format. Thus, the purpose of this study was designed to investigate the role of graphic novels and examine the benefits of using graphic novels in teaching English as a foreign language.

Student-centered learning, which is fostered through graphics, visuals, and comics engages students through a variety of innovative approaches. The idea is to include the students in their own learning. Methods for this learning environment are different from a traditional lecture where the instructor is the primary provider for information. Student engagement using class discussion, graphics, visuals, comics, group projects, and other active learning methods are more involved in learning material. With a student-centered style of learning, involving the use of graphics, visuals, and comics, learners can create a linear diagram to help them develop their knowledge without input from someone else. Instructors need to remain supportive of learners in this stuk8dent-centered style of learning. Constructivist pedagogy through Graphics, visuals, and comics emphasizes the importance of the trainer's support for students to develop basic knowledge. English instructors desire for students to learn similar concepts and understand the relationship between them. By developing graphics, visuals, and comics, students can establish a connection between concepts and thereby understand the concepts in a holistic style of learning. Developing graphics, visuals, and comics enhances the capacity of students to learn complex curriculum content such as that found in the English programs.

1.1 Previous Studies Done in Language Teaching with Graphic NovelsOver the years graphic novels have changed considerably, and many studies done in the past suggest that teachers should start implementing and using graphic novels in their foreign language classrooms. For instance, a study done by Jones (2010) was conducted to rate the attitudes of Japanese students towards reading in English and in their L1. The results of Jones study indicated that overall graphic novels had a positive effect on the students, and it also showed that the results of the post-project survey were promising. According to Jones, 11 out of 25 students felt that the use of pictures was indeed very helpful in acquiring information and meaning of unknown vocabulary, while the other 12 participants indicated that they had no real change of experience in their attitudes. However, they did point out that reading graphic novels were highly motivating and made reading easier and more enjoyable. In this aspect Jones (2010) argues that pictures and context helps in enabling participants general comprehension text and schema formation. This suggests that schema formation helps the student understand without looking up the dictionary use, thus less split-attention reflect.

Frey and Fisher (2004) conducted a study on the effect of how graphic novels can improve students written communication, which the study found that students did improve their overall writing skills, and that the sentence length increased from 11.2 to 12.89 words.

The previous studies done include a wide range of topics to using graphic novels in English Language Learning classrooms.

Table 1

Studies of Graphic Novels in the Classroom

Study Topic Number of Studies

Multimodal Literacy 5

Reading Comprehension3

Gender 1

Engagement 1

Narrative Creation 1

Teacher Uses 1

Total Studies 12

Table 2

Summary of Topics

Topic Summary

Engagement Heaney (2007)Literature Review

Students show improvement in language and literary development.

Students develop inferencing skills.

Can capture the interest of unmotivated and experienced readers.

Engage reluctant readers.

Gender Moeller (2011)Qualitative, Focus Group Interviews

Reading only slightly differed by gender.

Gender differences were in the ways students talked about stories.

Narrative Creation

Postema (2010)Qualitative, Document Analysis

Narrative created in different ways.

Both traditional and new conventions required to read graphic narratives

Readers can approach from the viewpoint of the text.


Reading Comprehension

Lamanno (2007)Quantitative, Single Subject

Slight increase in overall reading skills.

Increased motivation in 4 of 20 participants.

Decreased motivation in 7 of 20 participants.

Students perceived an increase in their reading skills.

Overall findings not supportive of graphic novels with students with severe reading difficulties.

Smetana (2010)Qualitative, Observation & Interview

Students took more time to decode more difficult wordsdue to fewer number of words in graphic novel format.

Kaulfuss (2012)Quantitative, Experimental Design

Students reading graphic versions scored significantly higher on reading comprehension test.

No significant interaction between graphic novel use and academic level.

Strong, positive correlation between engagement and reading comprehension scores.

Teacher Uses

Annett (2008)Qualitative, Semi-Structured Interviews

Teachers still use traditional literary analysis.

Teachers noted value in graphic novels in ELA.

Teachers noted higher engagement in students.

Students enjoyed graphic novels, especially those with interest or/and talent in visual arts.

Multimodal Literacy

Frey and Fisher (2004)Qualitative, Intervention Study

Graphic novels scaffold students in reading and writing development.

Students incorporated devices read into their own writing.

Graphic novels can engage students in writing.

Students developed visual vocabulary.

Monnin (2008)Qualitative, Multi-Case Study

Teachers and students used image literacy in two ways: as readers for school and self.

Both perceived relationship of images and words to reading comprehension.

Found graphic novels...

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