Research Topic–Graphic Narratives and Literacy Development

As it is my intention to return to teaching after graduate school, I want to focus on classroom literacies. Now this is a rather broad topic, and I have a few areas within that in which I could draw upon for my final project. As I was doing my research for my master’s project, adolescent literacy development really started to stand out as an area where I had a genuine interest. What exactly causes some young adults to become better readers while others just slog along with great difficulty? I had observed more than enough instances of this during my teaching career thus far and have always wondered about that. This now presents me with an opportunity to start unravelling this mystery.

There are many factors that can affect how a young adult gains adult-level literacy skills, but from what I have read and observed I cannot help but feel that it is what they are reading that presents the biggest factor. One particularly vivid image I have in regards to this quandary occurred during my first year of teaching, in which an eighth grader—who admittedly that he hated reading and did not “need” my class due to his future employment on his family’s ranch—literally ran to the library after I made it known that I had just donated two sets of The Hunger Games Trilogy. This sticks out as a concrete example of how what is being read can impact how students read. I will admit that student choice is not always an option when it comes to what they read, particularly in terms of having to read pieces that are considered canonical and “required,” but if there could be a way to elicit reactions like the one illustrated above more often, I am certain students would leave high school reading at or above an adult level.

This is where things get tricky for me in terms of what I wish to focus on. While I had expressed an interest in researching whether young adults gain literacy mastery through reading canonical texts or pieces written with their demographics in mind, there has been another type of literacy-development area that I never really put too much thought into before attending graduate school—and that is the teaching of the graphic novel. A number of classes I have taken have spoken of how not only using graphic novels in the English/language arts classroom, and while they discussed how useful they could be in engaging students and helping struggling readers, I would like to see more said about how they help all students and the impact they can have on reading skills. A lot has been said about how graphic novels require a greater effort to decode and interpret, but how do these skills translate into, say, performance on a reading assessment or comprehending and analyzing a traditional novel? It is with these questions in mind that I am going to start my research.

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