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Learning from and Getting Lost in Graphic Novels: Their Role in Promoting Vocabulary Learning, Comprehension, Motivation, and Engagement


This study examined the use of sequenced visual images (graphic novels and comic books) to scaffold incidental vocabulary learning and text comprehension while processing visual and textual information. Due to the recent growth of graphic novels as a popular text format, empirical investigation is needed to ascertain its value and to possibly incorporate this format into existing curriculua. This format was hypothesized to be particularly effective for English Language Learners (ELLs) due to the visual, non-linguistically loaded images that accompany text that may scaffold learning. Thus, both primarily English speakers and English Language Learners (ELLs) were examined. In this experimental study, 10th grade students’ ability to incidentally learn the meaning of targeted academic words from reading sequenced visual images versus text-only format was compared. Additionally, the interaction between format (text only versus text with images) and ELL status (English speakers in comparison to ELL) was examined. Further, the role of intrinsic motivation for reading and transportation was investigated, of students reading in each format were evaluated both as an outcome as well as a mediator of vocabulary growth and reading comprehension.

This study showed that 10th grade students learned statistically significant amounts of academic vocabulary from both the script and graphic novel format of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Further, these students showed the equal level of comprehension of the Shakespeare plays across the two formats, with some benefits in the graphic format observed in raw score. In addition, there were significant differences in the Intrinsic Motivation for Reading and Transportation scales depending on the format in which the play was read. The data suggests higher levels of intrinsic motivation for reading (Interest and Enjoyment of Reading scale and Perceived Competence scale) and feelings of Transportation (General and Composite scale) after exposure to the graphic novel format rather than the script version of a play. These significant effects of the graphic novel format were found to superseded the effects of the narrative’s transportative appeal in the Composite Transportation scale. However, only in the Intrinsic Motivation scale of Pressure/Tension felt when reading, students’ feelings were impacted more significantly by the narrative rather than the format. These findings do not show any specific benefit for ELL students in comparison to their predominantly English-speaking peers across all outcome measures. Lastly, moderating effects were unable to be found due to a lack of initial, meaningful relationship between the format and vocabulary learning. Overall, this study proposes an interesting starting point for the discussion of including the graphic novel format in academic environments to further learning and psycho-social benefits for students.

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