Published on February 27, 2014
Using graphic novels as a pedagogical approach with Advanced Placement English/language arts students: A phenomenological case study Dr. Cary Gillenwater | Adjunct Professor of Education | Northcentral University | Prescott, AZ
Traditional literature and comic books/graphic novels are intertextual. However, in comic books and graphic novels a sign or a symbolic message is both narrative and visual. Deriving meaning from these texts is a complicated process that relies on being able to decode both language and images. WHY COMIC BOOKS
The primary purpose of the broader study that this paper originates from was to gain insight into the phenomenon of using comic books and/or graphic novels with advanced ELA students. The aspect of the study focused on here was to understand how these texts are read, analyzed, critiqued, and engaged with by the teacher and the students, and what literacy skills are utilized to make meaning with them. The pedagogical approach of the teacher working with these various texts was also studied and analyzed to further understand what differences, if any, exist in teaching them compared to traditional texts. PURPOSE
The research questions that guided this aspect of the study were primarily concerned with discovering similarities and differences between traditional literacy skills and visual literacy skills and how these skills are or are not applied to comic book/graphic novel reading: 1. How do the teacher and the students make meaning from images in comic books/graphic novels? 2. Can traditional literacy skills be applied to understanding comic books/graphic novel images? 3. Are their visual literacy skills that are necessary for making meaning from images in comic books/graphic novels? QUESTIONS
This phenomenological case study is comprised of a 12th grade Advanced Placement English/language arts (ELA) classroom where the teacher used graphic novels as a pedagogical technique during two units of study. The study’s sample is seven students and their teacher. PARTICIPANTS
Corbin and Strauss (2008) noted that a phenomenological approach to qualitative research is an attempt to try and understand a phenomenon, in this case the use of comic books/graphic novels in an advanced ELA classroom. Case study method lends itself to a more focused and profound study of a phenomenon (Stake, 1995) while also attempting to “illustrate, support, or challenge theoretical assumptions” (Merriam, 1998, p. 108). Case study methodology was appropriate for this study because the primary purpose of this study was to attempt to understand the phenomenon of using graphic novels with Advanced Placement ELA students whom have seldom been studied in this context. RATIONALE
This study consisted of two rounds of data collection, collected on site. Data collection took place in August 2010 & November 2010 and involved approximately 26 hours of data collection. Methods included in-depth semi-structured interviews and follow-up interviews with Mr. Ryan and seven of the students, a total of ten non-participant observations using an observation guide, and a structured think-aloud activity that took place during the interviews involving an excerpt from the graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. METHODS
The combination of these three data collection methods allowed for a richer understanding of the phenomenon of using graphic novels in the AP ELA classroom because it allowed for participants’ multiple perspectives on the experience, their interactions within the classroom, and textual analysis to be gathered, analyzed, and synthesized. METHODS
Analysis was conducted using constant comparative method to begin to understand the phenomenon being studied and to develop and refine further data collection. This method of analysis was used in conjunction with open, axial, and selective coding. The interviews were compared and contrasted with data collected from the observations and the structured thinkaloud as well as with literature and research from multiple disciplines in an effort to triangulate the findings. ANALYSIS
The AP students’ traditional literacy aided in reading and making meanings from the images in the graphic novels. Students who had previous formal art/visual literacy training were able to articulate and discuss artistic elements related to narrative and thematic aspects in the graphic novels more richly. Students who had not had formal art and/or visual literacy instruction benefited from the teacher’s pedagogical approach to visual literacy via the graphic novels utilized. FINDINGS
“I think a lot of, it’s just pure aesthetics, the color, the shapes, positioning of character, the contrast. The perspective, I think that’s a big thing, like how close, how far you are from the main object in the picture, the person. Like with a lot of the frames here, you have close ups on the face and it really shows to the emotion on the face, so I think that you really begin to understand what he’s going through because of that visual image. And just the way, I want to aesthetics, the way the colors go together, what kind of mood you can infer from that. Like these, they have limited color. There are just a few colors and it’s really dark, so you get that dark idea.” – Michael Scott EXAMPLE 1 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, writer and artist Frank Miller ©1986 DC Comics
“In the end when the bat comes in it’s more of like a dark mood because he’s angry with himself and angry at the world, so the bat kind of represents that darkness...Color. Usually darker colors symbolize a darker mood. There’s not a lot of background image, which shows you they’re just trying to focus on the character itself. Like how it’s a dark background. – Tyron Biggums EXAMPLE 2 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, writer and artist Frank Miller ©1986 DC Comics
These findings suggest a need for formal visual literacy instruction, but even when such instruction is absent, students’ reading, comprehending, and making meaning of image oriented texts does not appear to be undermined because they are able to rely on traditional literacy, at least when their traditional literacy is well developed. This study also suggests that comic books/graphic novels are a promising medium for bolstering students’ visual literacy because these texts utilize students’ already established traditional literacy skills while simultaneously cultivating their fledgling visual literacy skills. DISCUSSION
The primary limitation of the study centered on issues of participation. This study may also have benefitted from potential contrasts and commonalities produced by collection of data in classrooms not using these texts, but having a similar advanced population. Another limitation imposed on the study was the realities of time and place In spite of these limitations I believe the study did help in understanding the phenomenon of using comic books/graphic novels in an advanced ELA classroom. This study also has the potential to aid those teachers who wish to use these texts with this population of students, and perhaps the interview guides and structured think-aloud activity could serve as aids in action research as well. LIMITATIONS
Future research on this phenomenon should not be so much about the texts themselves, but instead what these texts when used with this population can inform us about much larger and ongoing concerns such as the primacy of traditional literacy and the resultant neglect of other modes of literacy as well as the arts within schooling. Avenues of future research, whether qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods should work toward a further understanding of what students, advanced or otherwise, may be lacking when instruction only considers one mode of literacy. FUTURE RESEARCH
Cary Gillenwater Adjunct Professor of Education Northcentral University Prescott, AZ firstname.lastname@example.org (919) 923-1894 QUESTIONS?
GRAPHIC NOVELS IN ADVANCED ENGLISH/LANGUAGE ARTS CLASSROOMS: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL CASE STUDY Cary Gillenwater A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the ...
View 1376 Pedagogical Approach posts, presentations, experts, and more. Get the professional knowledge you need on LinkedIn.
... A phenomenological case study ... Advanced Placement English/language arts students and ... Using graphic novels as a pedagogical approach ...
The areas covered include Expressive arts; ... Case studies. Lessons learned; ... Private further education colleges and English language schools;
Using Comic Books and Graphic Novels to Improve ... Tutoring English Language Learners ... and Student Empowerment: A Phenomenological Study of ...
Middle school English language arts teacher Hassan Mansaray ... Nine Strategies for Reaching All Learners in ... students are using the workshop as ...
Art Education and Disability Studies. ... courses already encounter graphic novels, ... Eds.), Issues and approaches to art for students with ...
... and Student Teaching Using Graphic Novels to ... A Cultural Studies Approach to ... English language arts classes, students create ...
Approaches to learning. Active learning. ... Case studies. Lessons learned; ... Private further education colleges and English language schools;